Project Helps Young People "Imagine Big"

La Tasha Vanzie was a talented businesswoman, grateful for the circle of professionals throughout her life who helped her—in big and small ways—to achieve success.

But she was keenly aware of many young people who were not so fortunate. To combat that problem, Vanzie will use her OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship to build a youth leadership development project called EVOKU Actualized Global Leadership Experience (EAGLE). The project is designed to empower and train underserved youth to design and implement social entrepreneurial community service projects, network with professionals, establish a portfolio of work and travel outside the country.

“There are so many underserved youth who have talents, who have goals and dreams,” Vanzie says. “But they don’t have the network, or the training, or the things necessary to help make those dreams a reality.”

EAGLE focuses on career, leadership and professional development and will include students from across the city. Many of the youth—referred to Vanzie by youth organizations and schools—are transitioning out of homelessness.

“We identify professionals in the community who are willing to help young people develop their career path, so they can have an ongoing network of support,” Vanzie says. “We teach students how to develop a professional portfolio—not just a resume—but a portfolio of work. Then, as they apply to schools and apply for scholarships, they will have both a go-to network and something to show.”

Youth in EAGLE will take part in monthly leadership training seminars, focusing on such areas as career development, leadership styles, networking and fundraising. The youth will be required to do monthly community service projects and will also learn professional etiquette.

“Then we challenge them to come up with their own social entrepreneurial community service project, either as individuals or as a group,” Vanzie says.

The training is capped off by an international trip, providing the young people with an opportunity they may never have had.

Vanzie piloted the EAGLE program during the 2010-2011 school year and is proud to say she took five students to Costa Rica. These first EAGLE Scholars are partly the insipiration for this initiative and are her former career and entrepreneurship development students of a local Baltimore-based charter school.

“In our pilot year at EAGLE, we taught them how to fundraise and network, and we did an organizational gifting campaign, so these young people were able to raise money to get passports for the first time and to travel outside the country for the first time,” Vanzie says. “It was wonderful because it was something they did themselves.”

To launch EAGLE, Vanzie, of Owings Mills, gave up a successful career as a consultant providing executive management advice to nonprofits.

“To do this, I had to sacrifice, my whole family had to sacrifice,” says Vanzie, who has two small children at home, and whose husband is serving in the military in Afghanistan. “But it has been so rewarding. There are no regrets, and we have been blessed with a lot of support from a lot of people.”

“My goal is to really help my young people, to build them as individuals and make them highly adaptable professionals,” says Vanzie, whose personal mantra is: “Imagine big. Think big. Do it bigger.”

“I wanted to develop and grow this thing,” Vanzie says. “The OSI grant allows me to finally work the plan.”

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