The Harold M. Marsh, Sr. Connections Institute (formerly Metrotown) is the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ signature Emerging Leaders Institute program. Since 1993, this peer leadership experience has prepared student delegates to make decisions based on an appreciation of the vast diversity within Virginia.  Connections is a yearlong process of challenge, growth, and impact for high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The experience begins with a five-day residential program during the summer that allows student delegates to break barriers, deal with biased behavior, and develop an action plan to reduce prejudice in their schools. In addition, delegates gain insight into their own lives and values. They are able to forge a connection between what they understand cognitively and how they feel about their experiences with prejudice. In the words of one delegate, Connections is “wonderful and eye-opening – a true life lesson!” This lesson is brought about through carefully constructed interactive workshops, intense small group discussions, and experiential learning. The delegates are not only the beneficiaries of their Connections experience, but also the co-creators of it.


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The Connections Experience

At the Connections Institute, students share ideas and feelings, discover their own unique talents, and experience a variety of perspectives on prejudice, discrimination, and identity. They come up with creative solutions to the tough challenges they may face in the future. Because delegates are leaders in their schools and communities, they often arrive with previous experiences in communication and leadership training. However, they quickly discern that the Connections experience is different. The goal of the Connections Institute is to promote respect and understanding among all people. Throughout the program, delegates come to better understand themselves and others. By the time they return to their home communities, delegates are able to relate to each other with a deep and unprecedented level of mutual regard and acceptance.  (return to top)


Student Delegates

Connections delegates represent the wide diversity of Virginians, with a variety of racial, economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Together, they possess a range of perspectives and experiences that provide the perfect foundation for the learning that will occur at the summer Connections experience and throughout the school year while implementing their action plans. High schools select a team of up to five delegates, based on students’ interest, motivation, and leadership ability. All delegates must be entering grades 10 through 12 in the upcoming school year.  (return to top)


School Action Plans

With the assistance of Connections staff, student delegates develop action plans to implement in their school communities. Through the action plans, delegates apply their appreciation of inclusion and actively involve other students from their schools to initiate positive change throughout the year. Past action plans have included school-wide assemblies, teacher in-service trainings, the formation of clubs or dialogue groups, diversity awareness campaigns, and the creation of mentoring and mediation programs. All students are taken through a structured planning process that allows them to design strategies that meet the specific needs of their schools. To support the implementation of your school team’s action plan, VCIC is able to provide three follow-up workshops at your school during the 2020-2021 school year for an additional cost of $375.  (return to top)




Connections Staff

Staff members at the Connections Institute are as diverse as the delegates, representing many races, religions, and backgrounds.  They come from across Virginia, united in a desire to promote understanding. Composed of professional adult leaders and college students with experience in human relations education, Connections staff members provide caring support and careful supervision to guide the delegates throughout the week. One aspect of Connections’ success is the devotion of the staff, who view the program as much more than a week-long training, giving their time and lives to the core values of unity and understanding.

  • 2020 Experienced Volunteer Application Form (coming soon)
  • 2020 New Volunteer Application Form (coming soon)

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Dates, Location, and Fees

The 2020 Connections Institute will take place from Monday, August 3 – Friday, August 7 at the W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center in Wirtz, Virginia. Located on the shores of Smith Mountain Lake, the site was chosen as a beautiful backdrop to the activities that occur at Connections. Thanks to generous donors, and with particular appreciation to the R.E.B. Foundation, more than 30% of the costs for a school team to participate in the Connections Institute are subsidized. Participating schools pay only $2,000 for a delegation of up to five students. That fee includes round trip bus transportation from central locations, meals, lodging, delegate insurance, and ongoing support to schools throughout the academic year. Each delegate receives a t-shirt, materials, and a follow-up networking package.  (return to top)

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