CVLP graduate at podium

Leadership Tri-County Celebrates 2019 Community Volunteer Leadership Program Graduates

Six Pottstown residents recently graduated from a novel leadership training program designed to connect community members to the boards of local nonprofit agencies. At the graduation ceremony on December 10, 2019, the six graduates shared their stories of finding their leadership voice, developing their self-esteem by giving back to their community, and discovering a passion for community service. Leadership Tri-County and Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities piloted the training program with support from HealthSpark Foundation’s 2019 Innovation Lab grant program.

People naturally want to have a voice that is heard and valued, yet often don’t know how to share their input.  Similarly, community leaders value resident input and strive to include the voices of donors, volunteers, and people using their programs in decision-making, yet often struggle to include client perspectives. The Community Volunteer Leadership Program addressed these challenges by helping participants learn more about their community, develop connections to volunteer with nonprofits, and identify ways to contribute as a volunteer.

“Our voice is needed and it is wanted,” Tamara Charles, one of the six graduates and pictured above, stated at the graduation ceremony.  She went on to say that the program helped the participants to “learn the skills to take our ideas and organize them, so we can make a big impact on our community.”

Jennifer O’Donnell, director of the training program at Leadership Tri-County, adapted an existing training program designed for business leaders to join nonprofit boards. The new curriculum focused on the skill gaps of community members who had previously lived in poverty or struggled financially, and included sessions on what they would need to learn in order to join boards, to feel welcome and heard, and to learn about nonprofit opportunities in the Pottstown area.

The idea for this project came from Barbara Wilhelmy, Executive Director of the Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities. “We had an opportunity through HealthSpark Foundation to try an innovative model- to think outside the box and see if it would work,” Barbara noted. The Innovation Lab grant was an opportunity to learn about how to support residents in joining boards or volunteering with nonprofits in ways that hadn’t been tested before. “Many grants require us to [have participation of a consumer on our board], but this is the first grant program that’s allowed us to figure out how to do it,” she shared.

The Innovation Lab grant program is designed to offer safety net providers and their partners the opportunity to research, design, and test out new projects that create a more coordinated, equitable, and culturally appropriate service system. HealthSpark Foundation awarded ten Innovation Lab grants in 2019.

“In order for your story to be told you need access to resources that you may not have had,” training program graduate Billy Lottman shared. “There are so many people whose stories aren’t heard because they don’t have these resources.” This pilot program demonstrated how thoughtful consumer engagement can change that.