“Honestly, I was expecting a roomful of older men in local leadership positions,” said the current Fellow, who also serves as Housing Stabilization Program Coordinator of the Sister Carmen Community Center, a grantee of the Community Foundation. “Instead, I quickly appreciated that I wasn’t the youngest person in the room, and that the program participants represent a diversity of ages, experiences, and ethnicities among both established and emerging leaders.”
Indeed, since 2009, the Leadership Fellows program provides its participants with a broadly-based overview of Boulder County’s economic, civic and cultural drivers. The idea is to equip graduates with deeper insight, information and knowledge to apply to their own careers, as well as to encourage and expand their engagement in local communities by taking on additional leadership roles (e.g., joining a nonprofit or government board or commission, working on a candidate or initiative campaign, or leading a neighborhood or school association, etc.).
“It’s incredibly beneficial to hear from experts in multiples sectors,” says Jen. “I work in the human services sector, so topics related to our economy, government, and issues of inclusivity are mostly new to me.
“I really appreciate learning about the differences among sectors, as well as experiencing the diversity of individual fellows from those sectors – like business owners, entrepreneurs, and people in the arts. It’s really cool to learn other perspectives, and to make new connections.”
One of Jen’s a-ha moments in the program, thus far – and as reported in the foundation’s TRENDS Report – was the realization that more people in Boulder County have jobs in professional, scientific and technical services than any other sector.
“I learned that we live in one of the highest educated areas, but that’s not the reality I know. The people I work with aren’t as educated, and they’re struggling to find entry-level, lower-wage jobs. But that’s not where job growth is happening. Add to that the high cost of living here, and it’s even more of a struggle for non-skilled workers to make ends meet.
“Not everyone has a bachelor’s degree, and is earning $60K a year or more. The people I work with might have a certification of some kind, and earn more like $11 per hour. I know people who spend 80 to 90 percent of their income on housing, and that’s just not sustainable.”
Another a-ha moment for Jen was learning through Leadership Fellows the disconnect between local politicians and whom they represent. As also reported in our TRENDS Report, Jen says “we need to do more to ensure that our elected officials actually represent their communities. We need to reach out to our community’s underrepresented populations to make their voices heard, so they have a place at the table, too.”
So far, Jen summarizes Leadership Fellows this way: “If you think this is a traditional leadership training program – like learning skills of effective leadership – that’s not what this is.
“It’s so much more. It’s networking and collaboration and expanding your view across so many topics and issues that affect our community as a whole.”