Nourishing Tomorrow’s Leaders Hosts its First 2020 Session

            On Sept. 16th at 5:30 pm, a group of 21 Syracuse residents gathered in the black box theater at SALTspace on the City’s West Side. Selected from more than 70 applicants, they represent this year’s NTL cohort. This would mark the first session of a nine week course designed to prepare individuals to be effective board members and to understand the importance of diversity within nonprofit leadership. Gifford Foundation Executive Director and NTL program creator Sheena Solomon led the first session as she has each year since the program began in 2014.

Nourishing Tomorrow’s Leaders prepares participants to become effective board members, teaching them the responsibilities, nuances, and techniques involved.

            NTL is a leadership development program that is designed to inspire civic engagement among participants. “People are always talking about how they want to get involved, how they want to do more in the community, and a lot of people never actually consider being on a board as civic engagement,” Solomon explains. “[A board] is a decision making entity, so if you’re looking to make an impact on your community, sitting on a board is a great way to do that.” Another key element of NTL’s mission is to expand how people view diversity. “As soon as people hear ‘diversity’ they go straight to race, which is important but there are a lot of other aspects to it – it’s not just black and white,” she says. “We’re talking age, we’re talking gender, geography, sexuality, socio-economics – all of those things are things that we consider when we’re selecting a class for NTL.”

            Launching this year’s program required a reimagining of the process due to COVID-19. While the classes are still held in person, a rigorous set of public health guidelines based on CDC recommendations has been implemented to keep participants safe, including:

  • Tables are spaced apart, with only two participants seated at each.
  • Masks must be worn when participants are not seated.
  • Free personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks and hand sanitizer are provided.
  • Dinner is served directly to participants to avoid the higher contamination risks of self-serving.
  • Equipment has been purchased to allow presenters to have the option to present virtually if they choose.
  • New high quality air filters have been installed in the space – the same type as is required for use in gyms under New York State guidelines.
  • The entrance and exit are separate to prevent contact between people moving in opposite directions.
  • Attendees have their temperatures taken by a contactless instant-read thermometer upon arrival.

Additionally, the choice to host the event in the SALTspace theater was made with COVID in mind: because arts and performance spaces have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, renting out the theater helps support the local venue which would otherwise go unused while also providing a spacious and safe environment for the class. One of the most exciting news about this year’s NTL launch is that The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region is looking to duplicate the program virtually in October under the title Catalysts for Change Leadership Program.

            After enjoying a chicken dinner, the attendants turned their attention back to Sheena Solomon who kicked off the class promptly at six. She broke the ice smoothly, generating more than a few laughs along the way, and introduced the class. When she asked each participant to briefly explain why they were there, a new intensity emerged: participants spoke passionately about city-wide poverty, neighborhood tensions, and above all – a desire to make a difference in their community through their own civic engagement. Leadership Greater Syracuse Executive Director Pam Brunet has been an observer at each year’s NTL program since its inception, and testified to the massive impact that NTL has had on participants’ ability to blossom into effective board members. “I’ve been coming here for seven years and each time I walk away having learned something new.”

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