Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Training to Change the World

By Sara Varela, Community Building and Organizing program

October 25 to the 28 marked not only NeighborWorks Community Leadership Institute (CLI) in Orlando, Florida, but also my nine year old’s birthday, Hurricane Sandy passing through the East Coast, the closing on my house and much more. So needless to say, things have been crazy recently. However, it's worth stopping to reflect on the great things that came out of the CLI and why it matters.

The CLI is an annual gathering of 110 different resident volunteer teams from across the country. NeighborWorks America holds the event because we believe that residents are in the best position to make substantial positive impact in their communities, and that their impact will be even greater if these leaders are trained in best practices and can learn from the experiences of others.

Attendees are part of teams, each comprised of six to eight people who live nearby and come together to address a specific problem. During the CLI, team members participate in top-notch trainings with some of the best instructors in the country. Teams who submit an Action Plan to NeighborWorks America receive a $2,000 seed grant to help them leverage local resources and see their plans turn into reality.

These plans lead to great community projects, like the Sabor del Northside community festival in Houston, Texas, where schools, businesses, artists, community organizations, and residents came together to put on an event attended by more than 1000 people. Other CLI-related projects have included a cross-state safe prescription drug disposal program, a safety awareness fair, community gardens and youth leadership programs.

The CLI supports these community enhancement projects by providing a contagious, positive and invigorating experience for attendees that helps them to go from concept to completion. The CLI instructors are not what you might expect from a big corporate training event. Each of them was passionate about their work, so much so that their energy radiated from every classroom. They have taught me important skills, but most importantly, they have inspired me as have many of the participants who strive for greatness, to overcome obstacles and to expect positive change when communities join forces to solve their problems.

Dorothy Richardson mural from the Orlando
Neighborhood Improvement Corporation
The CLI is also the time where we honor the Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership recipients, people who exemplify a spirit of service and a commitment to a better future in their communities. For profiles of these amazing people, check out There’s also a great video there with stories about what a difference resident leaders can make.

Adding to these indoor activities, the CLI had practical workshops and tours of the Orlando communities. We also had a virtual presence via Twitter (see Storify summary) and a Facebook group for participants. Using these tools, attendees could comment on their experiences, talk with others and tocapture the event from their perspective.

It is the first time I’ve see so much interaction and engagement online from so many people. The Facebook group allowed many of us to meet in person, to learn what was happening in the sessions and tours, and hopefully it will continue to capture the energy and enthusiasm of participants as they implement their action plans over the next year.
Tap Bui (center) with her team from Mary Queen of Vietnam
from New Orleans. She was my partner in one of our sessions
and it's great to keep in touch using the Facebook group.

I am really hoping we can continue to see updates, photos and videos from every single team who attended the CLI. It would be fantastic if we could keep up with the successes, road blocks and challenges of the teams as they go back to their communities.

Overall it was a tremendously successful event that reminds me why I do what I do, and which I believe can change the world, one community project at a time.