VCE and Roanoke City Offer Leadership Program

Dr. Martha Walker

by Valerie Garner

Since the fall of 2003 the city, through Neighborhood Services, has offered its residents biannual Leadership College classes. Leadership College is a free nine-week course for citizens to learn how their city works – who does what and whom to call when something needs fixing. It takes a lot of time and people to keep a city vibrant, clean and safe.

It teaches citizens “how to access city services and become a resource for others within their community circles,” said Bob Clement, the Neighborhood Services Coordinator.

Now the city, in partnership with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, is taking it one step further with the Innovative Leadership Program. The $65 program is offered at no charge to Leadership College graduates.

It all started at the 2010 Statewide Neighborhood Conference held in Roanoke. Dr. Martha Walker, Community Viability Specialist with VCE, held a workshop that inspired Steven Niamke of the Melrose-Rugby neighborhood, to lobby for the program in Roanoke.

Clement was already looking for a way to take Leadership College to the next level.

Last Thursday was a “train the trainer” class for seven individuals. “The individuals selected represent a diverse group throughout the community,” said Dr. Walker. They will each lead the discussion of one of six modules over six-weeks starting February 9th.

A letter was sent out to all 469 Leadership College graduates on January 3rd and the 25 seats in the class filled up in a week. There are nine more on a waiting list as of Thursday. “I will have enough people waitlisted from this program to fill the next one; this shows how people in Roanoke want to be engaged,” said Clement.

The program “teaches the language and process of leadership,” explained Dr. Walker.  It teaches participants how to network with each other and discover new facts about their community. They then can identify ways to improve or fill the gaps.

“It prepares every community to be well positioned for economic development; it strengthens that community foundation,” said Dr. Walker.

From Clement’s perspective, the Innovative Leadership Program coupled with the city’s Leadership College classes, “prepares an individual to become literally a leader in any endeavor they decide to go into  – a neighborhood group, a nonprofit organization, a business or even as an elected official.”

“It’s more about the nuts and bolts of how a leader leads,” said Braxton Naff, a member of  Roanoke Neighborhood Advocates.

Dr. Walker said, “There is no one option – there has to be multiple ways to develop individuals.”

The program includes a project participants will complete. It will start with a community assessment review that will identify a gap in the community. They will then research ways to fill the gap by analyzing the accumulated data. Dr. Walker gave examples of past projects – one filled the need for a reading program for disadvantaged children; another was a search for retail outlets where none existed before.

Guests from the city will be invited to hear their presentations. “All stakeholders are not going to be for you,” Dr. Walker will tell them, “they’ll learn how to work with those who oppose them.” One stakeholder may be entirely open to new ideas while another may be resistant to change. The latter may require the team to be more assertive. The participants will know how to approach the stakeholder differently on a second try.

Naff added that after completion of the program the teams could then identify on their own who in the community can implement it. The program’s methods will give them the knowledge, confidence and patience they will need as they present their ideas to diverse stakeholders.