Evanston program trains future leaders

Grace Johnson

For 19 years, Leadership Evanston has churned out more than 400 leaders of block clubs, parent-teacher associations, boards and committees.

Leadership Evanston, part of the Evanston Community Foundation programming, trains people who live and work in Evanston to get involved in the community and gives them the tools to do so, said Evanston Community Foundation senior program officer Marybeth Schroeder.

Leadership Evanston offers several different sessions including a Public Service Challenge held every two years, a half-day program and a program just for senior citizens, but the 10-month long Signature Program was the first program created in 1992.

‘Our three goals for the program are to help people learn more broadly and deeply about Evanston,’ Schroeder said. ‘We also want people to gain and practice community leadership skills and our third goal is to create a network of people to work together in the future.’

RJ Coleman, a 2007-2008 alumnus, has become a part of the network since his completion of the program and now is part of the program committee for Leadership Evanston.

‘The people in my class had a really strong bond,’ he said. ‘After the class, we decided we were the most fun class ever and we would get together socially and find out about the projects we were working on and offer each other encouragement.’

The informal alumni events Coleman attends with the people from his class are part of a larger alumni network Leadership Evanston maintains. Events held to facilitate networking include alumni reunions and speaker events, Schroeder said.

The varied background of Leadership Evanston alumni strengthens the network even more, Schroeder said.

‘We recruit a really diverse group,’ she said. ‘Diverse not only in terms of gender balance and racial diversity, but also in terms of diverse perspectives.’

Alumni include both YMCA and YWCA directors, Northwestern staff, police officers and Evanston politicians.

Throughout the 10-month program, participants meet once a month and work on projects in between sessions within interest groups.

Coleman’s economic development interest group created the West End Market in Evanston, which is now in its third year.

‘We all agreed we wanted our project to have an actual outcome, and even if it started small, we thought we could bring a little bit of economic development to the west side of Evanston,’ Coleman said.

Helping Leadership Evanston participants to create projects with viable, rewarding outcomes is one of Coleman’s goals as a member of the program committee.

‘We want people to have real projects and outcomes that give people real experience and lead to something that’s change to fill the need of a community and isn’t just vapor,’ Coleman said.

Dick Peach, chairman of the steering committee for Leadership Evanston, emphasizes the variety of leaders the program helps to train, whether they be future politicians or leaders of a block organization.

‘As far as we are concerned, leadership in Evanston takes many forms,’ he said. ‘We try to provide skills any good leader should have in order to make Evanston a better place.’ The large nonprofit sector of Evanston provides ample opportunities for leaders to step up in Evanston, Peach said.

‘Our alumni are scattered across the board in these not-for-profits, and it’s a really big plus to the city,’ he said.

As an alumnus, Coleman found the program most rewarding for helping him to see he had something to provide to the community.

‘We tend to get so involved in our lives and our jobs, but a program like this reminds you that you live within a community,’ he said. ‘It’s rewarding to be involved in this community and realize this community needs your help.’ [email protected]