CLEVELAND — To build something up, it all starts with a strong foundation. It’s that philosophy at the core of the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program. It’s a skill-based curriculum program helping community members turn into leaders.
“They try to help you maximize your personal and professional potential to help you apply the leadership skills and to be the best you can be in the neighborhood,” said Julia Ferra with the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program.
The program targets Northeast Ohio’s passionate leaders.
“These people hail from Cleveland. They come from the inner-ring suburbs. But, they see a problem and they want to fix it,” said Ferra.
The applicants in the program have an idea of how to make their communities better, but they might not necessarily know how to go about doing it.
“Some just have projects that might turn into larger organizations and nonprofits. Some come here and they work in jobs that are community focused and think they need more skills,” said Ferra.
Some of the applicants, like Letitia Lopez, already have a nonprofit, but just want to develop themselves.
Lopez is the program director of the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center in Cleveland. It preserves and promotes the latino heritage.
Among weekly dance and art classes, the center also has mentoring and leadership programs for young Latino children. Lopez said it’s a place where people in Cleveland can go to escape.
“We’re first and foremost a safe space for our families,” she said.
But the 20,000-square-foot space they’re in now on 2800 Archwood Avenue, was merely a dream for Lopez before NLDP.
“We’ve had to rent some very small spaces,” said Lopez. “This whole building is art. It’s everything about what we do here and I don’t have to move anything. I don’t have to take it down. This is our space. This is our home,” she said.
Lopez is one of NLDP’s 229 graduates.
“Everything they do is intentional. They take care of you,” she said.
The applicants come in with an area they’re passionate in, it ranges from homeless pets, increasing literacy in Cleveland’s kids, to community gardening. Once a month for 11 months, the cohort meets and NLDP provides sessions that range from how to start a nonprofit, community engagement, financing, planning and much more.
“Becoming the best leaders they can be will ultimately sew into Cleveland and sew into the development and revitalization here,” said Ferra.
Just like the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center, Lopez believes it makes our communities a bit brighter.
“It just makes our city so much better, so much more colorful,” said Lopez.
This current cohort is about halfway through its program. They meet every third Saturday of the month. NLDP is free, all you have to do is apply and get accepted. Apply here.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.