Seeking neighborhood leaders: Neighborhood Leadership Institute provides tools for community advocates

Jan 7, 2016

Published on The Akronist

Program seeks new members, deadline is Jan. 8

 Do you have an idea for improving your neighborhood, but need the tools and connections to accomplish this? If so, Neighborhood Leadership Institute can connect you with the people, organizations and possible funding to make this vision a reality.

The grassroots program, run by United Way of Summit County, enables residents who are passionate about their community to advocate and take action. The organization is accepting applications through Jan 8, and the Institute begins with an orientation and two-day retreat, followed by weekly classes that feature guidance from neighborhood leaders throughout Summit County.

“NLI gives you an opportunity to learn from the best and how to most effectively engage in your community,” says Aundrey Somerville, program director for Neighborhood Leadership Institute, who’s also a graduate of the program. “My community passion is for getting kids in the garden,” says Somerville, who works for University Park YMCA. “I grew up gardening with my family, growing and producing a lot of the food that we had.”

Her project involved growing a “pizza garden,” showing young people how to cultivate items like tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, oregano and basil.

“It will allow you to begin and really understand the role of a neighborhood advocate,” says Sharon Connor, a 2010 graduate of the program who leads the Residents Improving Goodyear Heights Together (RIGHT) Committee, which publishes a newsletter and runs neighborhood engagement projects. “I believe there are thousands of people out there who want to do a great thing for their neighborhood.” She says she was surprised at the vast networking opportunities offered within the program.

Along with guidance of community development and coalition building, participants also will tap into their own potential as neighborhood leaders and learn how to see projects through to their completion. Oftentimes great ideas need the help of others to be fully realized.

“You’ll be connected to some of the leaders of the community that you may not know about and you’ll meet other grassroots community leaders that know the neighborhoods and some of the resources that are out there and how things work practically and realistically,” says Joe Tucker, who’s a 2012 NLI graduate and executive director of South Street Ministries

Christal Silas, a 2014 graduate, says she was able through the NLI to launch the West Akron 5K, a professionally timed inner city race whose proceeds benefit Buchtel Community Learning Center. The event has been so successful that this year there are plans to implement a health fair.

Check out the video below, where some of the alumni describe their experience in the program. Applications are accepted through Jan. 8. For info, e-mail [email protected] or [email protected], call Somerville at (330) 434-9622, ext. 1212 or visit

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