COLUMBIA – Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade wants to see a community that is grounded in its residents and supported by strong neighborhood organizations.
“One of the things that I wanted to do when I got on the council was to help Columbia develop a strong neighborhood leadership program,” Wade said. “I think that it is the city’s responsibility to provide opportunities for people who want to make a contribution in the civic arena to develop their capability and skills.”
Residents interested in the Neighborhood Leadership Program can download the registration form online at gocolumbiamo.com/Volunteer/NeighborhoodLeadershipProgram.php. The program consists of six sessions held on weekday evenings from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The registration deadline is Feb. 6.
The city will begin its first Neighborhood Leadership Program on Feb. 17, and Wade hopes the initiative will help build a new generation of leaders. The program, with six sessions that span 10 weeks, is open to all Columbia residents. It was designed to provide information and resources for those who play an active role in their neighborhoods as well as for those who would like to get more involved.
Space is limited to 25 participants, and 20 had registered by Tuesday.
If neighborhood associations are going to be effective, Wade said, “there have to be people that can provide leadership, can have an understanding of how organizations like that can work and how you can make them successful.”
During the program, Wade will be speaking from his perspective on the city council about how to work with the city to address neighborhood issues. Other speakers include elected officials, city staff and neighborhood leaders. Paul Leistner, neighborhood program coordinator for the City of Portland's Office of Neighborhood Involvement in Portland, Ore., will be speaking via teleconference on the strengths and weaknesses of Portland’s 34-year-old neighborhood system.
Leistner also plans to share three goals for the community of Portland and how they can be applied to other communities wanting to strengthen their neighborhood structure. The first goal, he said in a phone interview, is identifying outreach to engage more people and get them involved. He said community organizations can be less effective when the same leaders are doing all the work.
Wade met Leistner after listening to him speak on a workshop panel at the National League of Cities Conference and was very impressed with his knowledge of neighborhood associations and his leadership skills.
“I brought his material back and shared it with people in the city government, and they have been in contact with him,” Wade said.
The idea for the program has been in the works since June 2008, when a planning committee began discussing topics that would be useful to Columbians interested in strengthening their neighborhoods.
“We did a poll of neighborhood association presidents and asked them, ‘What are the topics you want to find out about?’” said Leigh Britt, the city's volunteer coordinator.
The topics included in the program narrow in on building Columbia from a strong foundation of citizen involvement. Britt explained that the Columbia Chamber of Commerce already has the Leadership Columbia program, aimed at a greater awareness of the entire community. The Neighborhood Leadership Program is much less broad and will focus only on specific neighborhood issues, she said.
Participants will learn more about the role of neighborhoods in the development process and about how neighborhoods can work with the city to get issues addressed quickly. Residents will also be able to participate in panel discussions concerning successful neighborhood activities and the planning and zoning process.
Wade hopes to see neighborhood associations become a more active force in helping neighborhoods build themselves. “What I hope more of them can move to is being an organizational framework for neighborhoods to take control of their own well-being and their own development,” he said.
One of the ways associations can do this is by providing the city with feedback on how their efforts can be supported. “Too often, organizations tend to pop up when there is something to be against,” Wade said.
The Neighborhood Leadership Program will provide the tools residents need to give their neighborhoods a louder voice in the community. Britt said the program "will help answer the question, ‘Where do we go next?’” She said each session will allow time for open discussion so that participants can network with community leaders and other residents.
"We want to have part of the session be this two-way communications," Britt said.