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Student leaders aim to improve

| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2003

Liz Weiss was a freshman at Gateway High School when she learned how important it is to understand the meaning of what she says and does.

"(United We Stand) helped me realize that we can say and do things to hurt people and not even know it," Weiss said. "More people should realize what they're saying."

She learned, for instance, that saying something like "so gay" is more than a figure of speech.

"It became a habit of people's speech," said Liz, now a junior.

Liz is among 13 juniors and seniors working with the high school's Community Service Program, which has two main divisions -- United We Stand and Project Area Leaders in Service, or PALS. Both programs help develop young leaders and give them an opportunity to share what they learn with others.

Gateway community service coordinator Leigh-Anne Weiss, no relation to Liz, said the program is great for training young leaders and helping them get experience dealing with their peers.

"I think the overall theme of our workshops is respect," Weiss said. "If the kids can learn from each other, that's a good thing."

The mission of the program is to guide students in serving the needs of the community.

Students learn valuable lessons and develop a commitment to community service. Program coordinators also encourage students to establish long-term friendships and take a pride in their service projects.

United We Stand has student leaders in 11th and 12th grades teach introductory multicultural programs to ninth graders.

PALS is a leadership development program for student volunteers who have displayed a commitment to serving others. The students coordinate and participate in various events and service projects, such as the Unite Our World Multicultural Festival.

Leigh-Anne Weiss said many students get inspired to become involved by watching other student leaders take charge of projects and facilitate them from beginning to end.

"I remember it as a ninth-grader," said senior Ajeet Mehta. "It opened my eyes to diversity and tolerance and other things that I wasn't aware (of)."

Senior Rui Zhang agrees.

She participated in the scavenger hunt project and is coordinating it this year.

"The scavenger hunt promoted diversity in school," she said. "You promote community service. You're doing something worthy. People make your experience worthwhile."

Liz Weiss wants more ninth-graders to eventually help facilitate the program.

"I just want to make it to be fun so other people can get as she much out of it as I did," she said.

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