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Uniting Leaders For Change

Uniting Leaders For ChangeDisillusioned with disillusionment, a group of Tufts graduates are working to build a new political vision for their generation. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.12.03] While 60 percent of college students believe that community volunteerism is the best method to address national problems, studies show only 35 percent believe political engagement to be an effective way to approach issues. But a group of Tufts graduates want that view to change. In a grassroots effort of inspire a new generation of public policy and political leadership, a team of recent Tufts graduates has created a growing non-profit organization that helps community volunteers transform their ideas into political policy.

"We, as a generation, have a new vision of politics, a new vision of leadership," Tufts graduate Larry Harris told The Boston Globe.

A former student body president of Tufts, Harris is now working to encourage activism on a larger scale - with a nationwide nonprofit.

"Harris, 24, and former Tufts University pal Jesse Levey, 23, are spreading the word about United Leaders, an organization they describe as the City Year of politics," reported the Globe.

Started by Harris and Levey while they were still at Tufts, the mission of United Leaders is to inspire youths to pursue careers in political service and to help them see politics as a means for social change.

"It's about putting public interest before self-interest," Levey told the Globe. "I want to inspire a new generation of political leadership, and right now this is the best way for me to do that."

Offering paid fellowships and training for promising youths, United Leaders shows young people how to translate their volunteerism into careers in government and public service.

The idea was spawned by what Levey told the Globe was a "dichotomy" of attitudes held by students regarding community and political service.

"I started United Leaders my freshman year at Tufts because I saw a growing disconnect between young people who are actively engaged in their communities through volunteer service but who are not engaged politically," Levey said. "Virtually 80 percent of Tufts graduates will have done some form of community service before graduation. United Leaders bridges the gap between traditional forms of service and political service."

Since then, United Leaders has been working towards that goal.

"In the three-plus years since forming the organization on the Tufts campus, Harris and Levey have personally led a small but growing movement to change politics from the ground up," reported the Globe.

Now United Leaders has expanded to offices in Boston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, which are working to give young people the opportunity and skills to work in government and public policy.

"We want to have a new face for politics," Levey - who was named to USA Today's Academic All Star Team during his senior year at Tufts - told the Globe.

The team of Tufts graduates - which also includes Erin Ross and Jack Schnirman - has received significant support for their effort.

Harris persuaded the Institute for Politics at the Kennedy School of Government to donate funding and office space for the program. He also convinced the philanthropic segment of eBay - a company founded by Tufts graduates Pierre and Pam Omidyar - to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to United Leaders.

With United Leader's budget now more than $1 million, the program has expanded from 12 fellows in its first year to 48 this upcoming summer.

The Tufts team has achieved such unprecedented success that even former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, speaking at a United Leaders forum last year, told the Los Angeles Times that he was "blown away" by their efforts.

"These kids make my generation look passive by comparison," Dukakis said.


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