Ford Institute's Leadership Program brings together diverse group of citizens

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Ford Institute Leadership Program participants Theresa Cherniak and Morgan Parks take part in a group activity. Cherniak is a member of the Oregon Chapters of the American Planning Association and the American Society of Landscape Architects. Parks works for the Clackamas River Basin Council.Estacada’s best and brightest are putting their heads together to come up with a project for the betterment of the town.

Participants in the Ford Institute’s Leadership Program spent all day Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9, brainstorming a feasible, sustainable project to make Estacada a better place.

Three years ago, Lisa Brookshier requested the leadership program to come to Estacada.

“There’s no other program like this in the country,” said Leadership Program Trainer Shawn Morford.

The program is designed “to promote vitality in rural communities” through leadership training, group decision making techniques and sparking collaboration amongst different organizations in the community.

The program focuses on rural community hubs in Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif.

When the Ford Family Foundation agreed to send the program to Estacada, Brookshier and Jane Reid brought a group of community leaders together to nominate people to participate.

The list had 100 names on it.

All were encouraged to apply and 25 were selected to take part in the first leadership development training.

Artists, educators, fire department personnel, library employees, high school students and city government officials among others were represented in the first cohort of leaders.

Brookshier explained that it is very unusual to have an opportunity like this in Estacada.

“Just to have an opportunity like this in the community ... they bring the program to us,” she said.

The Ford Family Foundation pays to have the program come to the rural community, which is a significant benefit for a place like Estacada.

For one thing, people aren’t discouraged from participating in the program by a long drive.

In Estacada, opportunities like this are rare as large-scale trainings tend to be expensive.

This program costs thousands of dollars per participant, but the Ford Family Foundation pays it all.

Reid, who was in the first cohort of leaders, said the training helped her to learn about herself as a leader, how to work with different personality types and groups and how to lead a meeting.

“One of the things (the program brought) is an appreciation of all the things going on in this community... how many Estacada lovers there are,” Reid said.

The first group made the revitalization of the Ranger Woods Trail their group project.

Through partnerships with several organizations, the group beautified the area.

“It used to be a place I wouldn’t ever walk as a woman and feel safe,” said Morford. “They cleaned it out, it’s safe to be there, it’s beautiful (now).”

In year two of the program, people were invited to participate in an effective organizations training.

Now in year three, a new group of leaders has been nominated and accepted into the leadership development training.

Four leaders from the first group; Brookshier, Reid, Attorney Joanna Harbour and City Councilor Rob Gaskill; stayed on as community ambassadors to help the new cohort of leaders.

Brookshier said that so many people applied to be part of this group that they had to turn many away.

Morford said that this group is one of the most diverse she has ever worked with.

Several participants had never met before the trainings.

“It’s been really interesting bringing together people who wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to connect,” Morford said.

The group includes educators, church volunteers, county officials, technology experts, high school students, Philip Foster Farm volunteers, Chamber of Commerce employees, artists, environmentalists and actors.

“I don’t think you would be in this group unless you really cared about Estacada,” said Connie Redmond, Chamber of Commerce administrator.

Redmond said she is interested in participating in future Ford Institute trainings.

The group decided on a project, but Morford asked that it not be revealed in the press until relevant parties had been notified of the project.

Next year the Ford Institute will offer a community collaborations training.

In the fifth year of the program, a third group of community leaders will participate in a leadership development training.

After the fifth year, alumni of the program will discuss options for moving forward. Perhaps a Ford Family grant for carrying on projects or another leadership class.

“It is a way of leaving a legacy in the community,” Morford explained.

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