'To empower people': Spokane, Gonzaga partner up to launch training academy for neighborhood council leaders

<p><p>The city of Spokane and Gonzaga University are partnering up to provide leadership training for members of the city’s neighborhood councils.</p></p><p><p>The inaugural Spokane Neighborhood Leadership Academy will take place over five months starting in January, centered around four-hour sessions across six Saturdays.</p></p><p><p>As part of the free academy, the 12 participants will also meet regularly with volunteer mentors who have previous neighborhood council experience.</p></p><p><p>There are 29 neighborhood councils across the city’s three council districts. Since their establishment around two decades ago, neighborhood councils have served as “sounding boards” for government agencies and departments, including – but not limited to – those with the city of Spokane to make sure their community’s voices are heard on various developments, said Carly Cortright, director of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services.</p></p><p><p>Rachelle Strawther, director of Gonzaga’s Center for Lifelong Learning, said prospective neighborhood council members are not required to participate in the academy, which is launching as a pilot program.</p></p><p><p>“It’s really just to empower people, to make them build their confidence, build their skillset,” she said.</p></p><p><p>Strawther said Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs first proposed the idea a few years ago about working with Gonzaga on neighborhood leadership training. She said while neighborhood council members are passionate, some don’t understand city government or the nuances of issues related to diversity and inclusion.</p></p><p><p>Some of those knowledge gaps were seen in the findings of <a href=”https://static.spokanecity.org/documents/neighborhoods/reports/final-report-spokane-neighborhoods-assessment-2021-08-31.pdf” target=”_blank”>a strengths and needs assessment</a> Gonzaga conducted with Spokane City Council support from February to July. With the assessment, Strawther and Cortright said evaluators conducted interviews, focus groups and a survey while observing neighborhood council meetings in action. Most councils meet monthly.</p></p><p><p>Many neighborhood council members, she said, are interested in learning more about conflict resolution, such as dealing with big personalities and differences in opinion.</p></p><p><p>Others don’t know where to go to apply for certain grants or with whom to meet about safety and traffic issues, for example.</p></p><p><p>Evaluators also noticed that while some councils are good about passing on information and training to new leaders during transition periods, others lack in that department.</p></p><p><p>“For other councils, we learned, ‘Hey I got a box. I just got a box of stuff and that was it. That was my training,’ ” Strawther said. “We want to be able to use this program to give people these kinds of essential skills and knowledge they’re going to need to be effective.”</p></p><p><p>The Office of Neighborhood Services is paying for Gonzaga’s time to host the academy, with attendance free for participants. The program has a $10,000 budget.</p></p><p><p>“This is a great partnership between Gonzaga, the city and our neighborhoods that is intended to provide ongoing training and engagement this year and into the future with additional cohorts,” Beggs said in a statement.</p></p><p><p>As part of the academy, program administrators are expecting participants to remain in a neighborhood leadership role for at least two years from the start of the program.</p></p><p><p>“We’re not saying, ‘Hey, you have to be a chair or you have to run for this elected position.’ We’re not trying to put those kinds of boundaries or those expectations on people, but we’re asking people to serve,” Strawther said. “If they only do that for one year, there’s not a lot of impact, but if they do it for two, they can actually see some shifts and some changes. They can make a real difference in their neighborhood council.”</p></p><p><p>Cortright said the needs assessment found some of the veteran leaders on the councils are ready to step down and want to pass the baton, but nobody is stepping up.</p></p><p><p>Accordingly, the volunteer mentors with the academy will go through some training before working with participants.</p></p><p><p>“I think in a perfect world, if we can continue to build this relationship, perhaps we can develop a training that works for those already in an existing role,” Cortright said, “but I think our initial focus was to really look at those new and emerging leaders, support them so they can take over for some of these more seasoned individuals and to focus on creating some of those safe spaces for better inclusion.”</p></p>