When Teach For America assigned Caroline Letner to the Kuumba Academy Charter School in Delaware, the Boston-area native could have lived in nearby Pennsylvania, where she had gone to college. Instead, she moved to Wilmington’s Trolley Square area.
“The cost of living in Delaware is unbeatable in my opinion, especially for a young professional just starting,” says Letner, who graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.
Letner, who relocated in 2016, soon learned that Delaware has many other advantages. And through her jobs, she’s gotten a taste of the tight-knit business and nonprofit communities.
Previously, Letner was the program coordinator for Intern Delaware, founded in 2019 to give interns experience in Delaware’s community, culture and economy. Today, she is the marketing manager at Strive: How You Lead Matters, a Wilmington-based educational nonprofit dedicated to spreading the power of character-driven leadership.
Kevin Morgan, Kevin Small and Jeremy Edwards founded Strive in 1996 as the Sports Challenge Leadership Academy in response to the critical leadership gap they’d observed in high school and college student-athletes.
“We’re taught how to read and write, but there’s no formal teaching of skills, such as listening, communication and empathy,” Letner says.
The organization initially began as a summer leadership academy for student-athletes in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. It moved to Washington, D.C., in 2006 and added programs for coaches.
Ten years later, its name changed — and so, once again, did its headquarters. The organization became Strive: How You Lead Matters, and it’s now operating out of The Warehouse, a Wilmington center for teens.
When Caroline Letner chose Delaware the move accelerated the introduction of programs for education- and community-based organizations, in addition to athletic programs. In 2019, Strive copyrighted a curriculum with an emphasis on middle school educators and students.
Unlike many organizations that offer leadership training, Strive is a hands-on program that develops character-driven qualities, Letner says.
“We’re busting the myth that there’s one right way to lead. We help our students get to know themselves to lead those around them better,” she says.
Creating a range of adaptable programs has been easier to do in Delaware, which is small but diverse. Caroline Letner has led programs in the City of Wilmington’s Riverside communities and in rural communities in Kent County. Although very different, they are only an hour apart.
Strive collaborates with the many Delaware nonprofits that want to serve students.“We can share our resources to ensure our students are receiving high-quality programming — no matter where they are — and to make Delaware a top destination for youth-serving programming,” she says.
If young professionals or community-minded individuals want to make a difference, follow the lead of Caroline Letner and choose Delaware. Delaware is the place to be, notes Letner, a queer woman. “It is small enough that change happens quickly,” she explains. “I’m passionate about educational equity and making Delaware a better place for our students.”
Although she’s lived in the state for five years, she’s continually discovering new places and events. “There are so many things happening,” she says, “and you can discover something every weekend.”
Letner has even shown some of Delaware’s attractions to lifetime residents. Consider the local whom Letner took to lunch on Market Street Mall. The young intern was delighted with the number of downtown eateries.
She also values the ability to experience different landscapes within a short drive. “That’s such an incredible thing about Delaware,” she notes. “If you’re in the mood for a night in the city, you can have that in Wilmington, but if you go 30 minutes to an hour away, you are in the country.”
And no matter where you go in the state, you’re still close to home.