Through the local Neighborhood Leadership Program, community members and Yale students alike have increased civic participation among local residents, encouraged collaboration between the University and New Haven and built child mentoring programs, among other projects.

The Neighborhood Leadership Program is designed to support community members with leadership training and resources as they propose and develop a pilot project to better neighborhoods in the county of New Haven. Organized by the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven — a philanthropic organization based in the Elm City that has distributed millions of dollars to local groups — the program also offers grants to kickstart and sustain the projects.

“What we try to do with the Neighborhood Leadership Program is to identify, support and raise up … people who are leading,” said Lee Cruz, director of community outreach at the Community Foundation.

According to Cruz, the main focus of the program is to provide a “framework of ideation” to community change-makers, who can follow the outline to develop their ideas into tangible projects. Over the course of eight months, participants brainstorm ideas to address local problems, refine their ideas through group and individual trainings and test their pilot projects by collaborating with others.

At the heart of the trainings are “facilitated conversations,” which allow participants to share their knowledge and support each other throughout the process, Cruz said. Three large group meetings that focus on designing, executing and sustaining a project are supplemented by small-group and one-on-one coaching sessions. The program, sometimes known by its acronym NLP also places an emphasis on the importance of individual meetings between participants and community members. According to Cruz, these meetings can help build working relationships with local residents as well as make sure that community needs are being met.

“We’re not looking for saviors,” said Cruz. “We’re looking for people who see a means to an end to building a better greater New Haven, working with the community, as opposed to working on something.”

John Shively ’15, who participated in the Neighborhood Leadership Program last year, agreed that the experience helped him develop skills for effective one-on-one meetings. Shively said these conversations informed his project as well as generated “opportunities for synergy.”

Shively developed his pilot project — which aimed to help New Haven government leaders make informed policy decisions by connecting them to local experts — into the Civic Impact Lab, which coordinates meetings to foster open collaborative discussion between these community experts and policymakers. To date, he says that his work has been shaped by the Neighborhood Leadership Program; in particular, he strives to cultivate a sense of “joy” during meetings. At one of the Lab’s recent meetings, resident experts, including Executive Director of Elm City Communities Karen Dubois-Walton, met with government officials, such as New Haven Director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking Doug Hausladen ’04, to discuss inclusive affordable housing policies.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned from NLP is that if you reach out to somebody and you sit down for 45 minutes … you will leave with new ideas and new enthusiasm that you didn’t have before,” Shively said. “NLP helped me shape the [Lab]. NLP helped me at every point of the process, asked me difficult questions and helped me see the gaps in my process … in a disciplined way.”

Beyond offering leadership training, the program offers $500 in seed funding to every participant. After developing their pilot projects for eight months, participants can apply for second-stage funding of up to $2,500.

According to Cruz, this is the only program in the Community Foundation’s portfolio that sets aside grant money for individuals to “provide an activity or program for the community.” Prior to the creation of the program, the foundation only distributed funding to nonprofit organizations.

The Civic Impact Lab was the recipient of one of the Foundation’s second-stage grants, according to Shively. Shively said the funding helped the Lab hire a facilitator, who assists with administrative and logistical work.

“NLP is one part of a network of programs that support people who believe in making New Haven a better place to live,” said Shively. “This is something that Yale students don’t often know. New Haven is incredibly supportive of entrepreneurs and self-starters and leaders. I’m so grateful for NLP and just grateful for all the people who are doing work in the same category as NLP.”

Community members of New Haven, East Haven, West Haven and Hamden are all eligible to participate in the program.

Ruiyan Wang | .