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Institute is busy making new leaders


Ford foundation program participants aim to improve their futures, connections

by: COURTESY PHOTO: ART HEERWAGEN - Forest Grove High School junior Rubi Vergara-Grindel (left), C.S. Lewis Academy student Tajanae Perkins center) and Community Alternative Learning Center student Justin Wilhelm (right) discuss Ford Family Foundation Learning Institute project possibilities at the Forest Grove Public Library.When they meet for a third time next Friday, participants in this year’s Ford Family Foundation Leadership Institute (FFFLI) program will select projects to benefit the Forest Grove community. The 30 men and women, who meet at the community auditorium on Main Street, have brainstormed 50 possibilities since January and pared them down to six finalists.

But according to Forest Grove resident, institute graduate and class facilitator Marian Cakarnis, the project isn’t the main focus of FFFLI. While it’s important, she said the program is more about learning and applying leadership skills and working together.

“For the first cohort in 2012, we made improvements to Forest Grove’s Community Alternative Learning Center (CALC),” Cakarnis said. “So, although we’re all excited about selecting and completing this year’s project, the leadership institute is really more about the process.”

The Ford foundation, based in Roseburg, Ore., has been offering the year-long, free institute to rural communities in Oregon and northern California since 2003. It is now in the third year of a five-year course rotation in Forest Grove.

The program is designed for a diverse mix of participants, representing business, government, and nonprofit sectors — and includes students ranging in age from teenagers to senior retirees.

“The three-hour classes consist of four Friday-Saturday sessions, and two mid-week mini-sessions,” noted Cakarnis. “We’ve completed two sessions already where we’ve worked on communication skills and discovering personality and leadership styles.”

For 15-year-old CALC student Justin Wilhelm, the institute appeared to be a good way to improve his resume. “The teacher asked if I’d like to participate, and it looked like an excellent opportunity to develop some leadership skills,” said Wilhelm, who plans to attend Portland Community College and then enlist in the Marines.

Cakarnis said she was pleased Wilhelm had decided to participate, because the program is a good way to demonstrate that all students are important — and that it matters for them to feel connected.

Forest Grove High School junior Rubi Vergara-Grindell said the program is another way to improve her chances of being admitted to a top-notch university. “I enjoy learning about and helping our community,” said Vergara-Grindell, who would like to become a journalist. “I’ve learned a lot about who I am, discovered what my leadership style is and [seen] that a community needs all styles of leaders to succeed.

“It’s also given me a chance to work with older community members, which will help prepare me for any future community I work in.”

High school sophomore Tajanae Perkins recently moved with her family from Portland to a farm near Gaston. She attends the C.S. Lewis Academy in Newberg, and said she was eager to develop her leadership skills. “I’ve learned what type of personality I have, what my leadership style is, and more about the communities I live in,” said Perkins. “I’d like to become a United Nations multi-lingual interpreter, and having good leadership and interpersonal skills will be essential.”

Session four of the institute program is scheduled for April 14. “We’ll announce what our project is just as soon as we make the final decision,” Cakarnis said. “We have mini-sessions in May and August, and have until the end of this year to complete and present our project to the community. This class will graduate on Jan. 24, 2015.”