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Part 2: Diana Davis Spencer, A Pioneer in International and Domestic Youth Education Initiatives

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Part Two

At a time when the United States' declining share of global college graduates threatens our country's future economic competitiveness, Diana Davis Spencer continues to support international and domestic youth initiatives by promoting through education youth empowerment as recently noted in yesterday's Huffington Post.

Kachi Udeoji grew up in Northern Nigeria, the son of a police man and a school teacher. In this emerging third-world nation only the elite can afford a good education for their children. With his mother's tireless effort, Kachi studied hard, scoring high enough on his national exams to obtain a scholarship to attend one of Nigeria's premier boarding schools. There, he won a two-year scholarship to attend the United World College in Wales, an international preparatory school for gifted students that come from families of meager means. He focused on marketing and business, and then applied to enter Diana's alma mater, Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., as an undergraduate.

Kachi lived on campus at the Davis House, Wheaton College's International House, a residential facility created by the Spencer family. Soon after moving to America he met Diana Davis Spencer. He recalls, "She was the first American to invite me into her Washington, D.C. home for Thanksgiving dinner" -- a tradition that's been carried on for the past four years. Last summer, the 23-year-old worked as an assistant to Yuna Yang, a fashion designer in New York and now attends Bentley College as an M.B.A. student. Dale Rogers Marshall, former Wheaton College President, says, "As a member of the college's Board of Directors, her support of Davis House and other educational projects which pioneered global youth issues forever changing the campus culture. As a result, Kachi dramatically transformed himself and many other American students who had contact with him."

***

Most people have never heard of Coadi -- a remote, poor farming village in Guizhou Province, in central China. Twenty-seven-year-old Ling Zhang became a successful entrepreneur, studying business through an initiative of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) -- a worldwide organization supported by Diana and her family. Growing up, Ling watched his parents toil over crops of sweet corn, potatoes and wheat, manually pulling their plows and working their plots 18 hours a day. Their land barely provided enough food to sustain their family of six children.

"We had no money for medicine. I lost three brothers and a sister," Ling Zhang said.

While attending Guizhou University, Zhang took a series of NFTE classes. Today he runs several businesses, employing four full-time employees, selling agricultural products from his village as well as clothing through his website. Diana Davis Spencer and her family continues to impact NFTE's rapid growth in the Far East. Today, China is the fastest growing country adopting this organization's entrepreneurship programs outside the United States. Zhang said, "The NFTE classes helped me start my own business, which supports my family and brings new money to my village."

Diana Davis Spencer introduced the NFTE program to Chapel Haven -- a post high school program in New Haven, Conn., that offers supportive services for adults with cognitive and social disabilities to live productive lives. She looks for new ways to empower these young adults especially in the vocational area. According to Michael Storz, Chapel Haven's President, Diana came up with the idea of starting an Internet café where students not only run the business, but train in the food services industry and learn the importance of teamwork. As Storz notes, "As a result of Diana's initiatives, we attract new funders and recruiters from major businesses including STOP & SHOP, PETCO, Yale-New Haven Hospital who value the work ethic of our graduates. Her outreach is multifaceted. "

Diana and her family have not only welcomed former President Gorbachev of the now-dissolved Soviet Union and Nobel Prize winner Dr. James D. Watson, but also hosted prisoners on furlough. A quiet presence with a lasting influence, "Diana shies away from the limelight" states Steve Mariotti, NFTE's founder. "She makes a big difference."

Part Three will dig deep.