Foundation Empowers Neighborhood Leaders to Make a Difference

The Neighborhood Leadership Program "helped me build a level of trust with my neighbors," says condo owner and program graduate Jacquelyn Pheanious, who organized neighbors to reactivate a dormant board.

Neighborhood Leadership Program Connects & Inspires

Neighborhood Leadership Program graduate Jacquelyn Pheanious says the program helped her "connect with the right people." Photo by Kathleen Cei

Jacquelyn Pheanious' concerns with the management company of her condominium association began not long after she bought her unit. She says the company was unresponsive to her requests for routine repairs and maintenance issues, and complaints from neighbors about suspicious activity in one of the units were ignored.

Pheanious should have been able to raise her issues with the condo association's board of directors. But the board of the New Haven-based, 77-unit complex had stopped meeting long before she bought her unit. Digging further, Pheanious discovered that the president on record with the Secretary of State had sold her condominium, and the remaining board members had sublet their apartments and moved out.

Deciding to take action, Pheanious started talking to neighbors about organizing a new board. She also reached out to the city for help in holding the management company accountable. To help strengthen her relationship-building skills and gain resources for her effort, she enrolled in the Neighborhood Leadership Program at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

"It helped me build a level of trust with my neighbors," says Pheanious. "It gave me the opportunity to talk to more people. Now I'm able to fund our meetings with refreshments and get us organized so we can connect with the right people."

Since participating in the program, Pheanious has held several meetings and met with an attorney to start the process of forming a new board. She and her neighbors have also been attending neighborhood management team meetings, the official forum for bringing quality of life concerns to the attention of city officials.

Pheanious is one of more than a dozen recent graduates of the eight-month training and grant program that supports community leaders. Each leader in the program is involved in imagining, developing, testing and realizing projects which build community and provide positive outcomes in New Haven neighborhoods and bordering towns of West Haven, East Haven and Hamden. At the completion of the program, each participant can apply for up to $2,500 for a project.

Kurtis Kearny enrolled in the program after growing tired of hearing his 11-year-old son complain about not having enough to do. Kearny lives at an apartment complex for seniors and the disabled, where there are few opportunities for children to meet and play. He wanted to do something for the many children who routinely visit or live with other residents, but was unsure where to begin.

During his Neighborhood Leadership Program sessions, Kearny developed a plan for a summer kick-off party in the apartments' courtyard. He involved his apartment's resident services staff which, to his surprise, was more than happy to allow him the space.

"Grandparents and parents loved it, and my son made some new friends," Kearny says. "The program taught me how to coordinate with people and with resident services. I used to think, 'Oh this can't be done.' Now I think anything is possible."

During the Leadership Program, participants are coached in relationship-building strategies through group exercises. Participants also use the sessions for talking though their project ideas and soliciting feedback, and members of each cohort often support each other by showing up for a peer's event.

"Sitting in a room of leaders with all different backgrounds, and talking about leadership and putting your project under a spotlight is so valuable," says Margaret Lee.

A recent Yale graduate, Lee and her friend, Caroline Smith, developed a facilitated meeting series called the Collaboratory. Designed to break down the town-gown divide between Yale and New Haven, the first Collaboratory brought Yale students and city residents together to share and develop ideas for bringing economic development to a neighborhood.

"The problems we face as a community at Yale and in New Haven are shared issues, and it takes profound and persistent relationships to deal with them," notes Lee. "If we were to have a commodity, it's relationship building."

Relationship building also brought Nadine Nelson to the Neighborhood Leadership Program. A master chef and educator, Nelson has a mission that goes beyond cooking classes to promote overall health and wellbeing. During the program, she developed an interactive art project that asked each participant to arrange various vegetables into a mandala, a symbol of the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism religions.

"We connected and supported each other. It was especially beneficial to be able to bounce ideas off each other and to show up for each other's events," says Nelson. "Now we all have a network as we continue to do our projects. That is really inspirational."

The Neighborhood Leadership Program is open to residents of New Haven, West Haven, East Haven or Hamden who have demonstrated a commitment to making a positive difference in their neighborhoods. During the eight-month training program, participants learn relationship building and organizational skills. Each participant designs and implements a pilot project that has a positive community impact, and has the opportunity to apply for a grant to support the project.

Click here for more information about the Neighborhood Leadership Program.