New neighborhood leadership program featured at national conference

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The new Neighborhood Leadership Institute at Cardinal Stritch University was highlighted at a national conference of Grassroots Grantmakers, held in Milwaukee. Grassroots Grantmakers is a network of individuals and organizations working to build communities through neighborhood participation.

Initiated by four local organizations committed to improving the quality of life in central city neighborhoods, the NLI’s mission is to build neighborhood leadership capacity among residents and nonprofit professionals.

“The partners that do neighborhood work in Milwaukee were looking at the continuity of leadership, at sustaining leadership in the community,” said NLI Director Jeanette Mitchell.

After more than a year of planning and 10 months of meeting with participants, the NLI is nearing completion of its pilot program. A final celebration is planned for October.

A nonprofit professional and resident from each neighborhood applied for the program as a team. Beginning in January, participants met three times each month, twice at Stritch City Center, 1037 W. McKinley Ave., and once in the participants’ neighborhoods. Guest speakers addressed the participants regularly.

According to Mitchell, the group focused on three main issues: assessing their neighborhoods’ assets, studying best practices from around the country and developing participants’ leadership skills.

In addition to working on such skills as public speaking, participants examined their own strengths and weaknesses and considered, in detail, how to add new perspectives and ways of working to their repertoires, Mitchell said.

In addition, the pairs created projects for their neighborhoods. Many of those were aimed at increasing resident engagement, Mitchell said. The projects included establishing a neighborhood association, providing landlord training and developing a strategy for formalizing neighborhood communication.

Over the course of the program, Mitchell said she observed an increase in self-confidence, especially among the neighborhood residents.

“The residents now are asking more questions,” she said. “You can’t tell in the class now, who’s who.”

In addition to sharing information and resources, the participants have formed friendships. They work through issues together in class and offer each other ideas, she said.

“Neighborhood work can be isolating,” Mitchell pointed out, and the participants “are understanding the importance of building networks and relationships.”

Part of the university’s agreement with its partners was to “train the trainers,” according to Mitchell. The next step will be to select participants from this year’s program and train them to become trainers for next year. The next session is planned for 2014.

Zilber Family Foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, LISC Milwaukee and United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee partnered with Cardinal Stritch. The Northwestern Mutual Foundation provided significant financial support.

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