NEIGhborhooD LEaDErShIp aCaDEMy
On April 11, United Way and PresentingSponsor Fifth Third Bank recognized theaccomplishments of the 18 members of theinaugural class of the Neighborhood LeadershipAcademy as they graduated from the program.The Academy is designed to enhance theskills of existing and emerging neighborhoodleaders while empowering them to promotesustainable change for their neighborhoods.Participants represent communities acrosscentral Ohio, with emphasis on United Way’sfive priority neighborhoods — Franklinton,King-Lincoln, South Side, Northland andWeinland Park. The eight-month programprovides an intensive training curriculumof activities that help leaders engage andmobilize their neighbors to drive neighborhoodrevitalization efforts and create a strongersense of community collaboration.Throughout the eight-month program, which ismodeled after United Way’s highly-successfulProject Diversity and Pride Leadershipprograms, the Academy participants attended50 hours of in-class instruction and interactiveactivities. The focus of the Academy is onadvocacy, communication skills, effectivecollaboration, and consensus building, andplaces great emphasis on community assets.Fellows studied mapping both physicalcommunity assets like churches and schools,and non-physical assets like the skill sets ofcommunity members. “Often a community’sstrongest assets are the people living rightnext door,” said fellow Christine Happel, whois a member of the Weinland Park CommunityCivic Association. “Working together with ourcommunity members to combine our uniquesets of knowledge and skills will build strongcommunities.”Staff from The City of Columbus played animportant role in the Academy curriculum byeducating fellows on the intricacies of workingwith the city government and preparing them foractivities like attending City Council meetings.Fellows also received first-hand knowledgefrom several experienced community leaders,including: Jim Sweeney, Executive Directorof the Franklinton Development Association;Donna Bates, a community volunteer, andSteve Sterrett, Community Relations Directorof Campus Partners.One activity that many graduates foundespecially compelling was visiting some ofColumbus’ priority neighborhoods in order towitness the strengths of these communities andthe challenges they face, as well as to betterunderstand how their skills can help solvethe community’s issues. The neighborhoodtours helped educate the graduates on thediversity that exists within many of Columbus’neighborhoods and how utilizing such diverseresources can be a major asset.During a diversity activity at the Academy,Amanuel Merdassa, who was raised in Africa,and Judy Box, who was raised in Australia,discussed their childhood experiences. Despitegrowing up in vastly different surroundings,the two graduates discovered how similartheir experiences were, particularly theirviews on community. Merdassa, YouthProgram Manager at Ethiopian TewahedoSocial Service, and Box, Chairwoman of theFranklinton Area Commission, appreciatedhow two children from opposite sides of theearth could experience similar upbringingsthat would ultimately shape similar viewson the importance of community. “Diversityis what should bring us together, not whatshould keep us apart,” said Merdassa.The Academy was made possible by a generousgrant from Fifth Third Bank. Fifth Third willcontinue to support the Academy along withnew sponsor The Grote Foundation.
Front row (from left) Barbra Goins-Nellons, Megan Fitze, Anthony Howard, Peggy Williams,Amanuel Merdassa, Felicia Robin Sinkler. Back row (from left) Judy Box, Belinda Nelson,Kimberly Cole, Quay Barnes, Kristen Easterday, Christine Happel, Jennifer Gable, Marilyn Rice,Pamela Hobbs Reeves