Oak Park, River Forest leaders emerge through intensive program
Caleb Field, 25, received his graduation certificate from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Leadership Program at Domincan University Friday. Fields was one of 15 young leaders to participate in the eight month course at the Brennan School of Business.
Updated: October 26, 2011 1:09AM
Leaders are developed, not born. Community must be fostered, not taken for granted.
Those ideas are at the heart of a 2-year-old collaboration between the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation and Dominican University.
The Community Foundation manages endowed funds to “encourage programs and activities that support community sustainability” and improve the lives of people in those villages and surrounding communities.
Dominican’s Brennan School of Business educates business professionals with the goal of creating principled business leaders who impact their communities positively.
The Community Leadership Program was created by the two organizations to identify “emerging leaders” and foster their professional and personal development with the higher purpose of sustainable community and committed leadership.
“Engaging with the community and having a positive impact on it,” is how Arvid Johnson, the dean of the Brennan School of Business, explained it.
Fifteen emerging leaders graduated from the second class of the program on June 17.
Three groups gave one-hour “final project presentations” on selected topics, including “Mapping and Shaping Shared Experiences, The Expectation Gap (related to high school students) and addressing childhood obesity.
Brennan School faculty Ron Bacci and Jean Bruno facilitated the leadership program, helping lay the academic groundwork with such basic skills as creative problem-solving, developing and managing talent and team building, conflict resolution project management, negotiation and strategic planning.
The eight-month studies drilled down into each topic, educating the participants. They then identified issues and developed strategies for addressing those issues.
Johnson said the goal was three-fold: to develop emerging leaders, expand participant’s community perspectives and foster networking.
He said those chosen to participate in the program have already demonstrated basic leadership and community involvement.
“They’re already leaders,” he said. More important, he said, was underscoring “the importance of network building.”
At the heart of both leadership and community, all involved agreed, is networking. Meeting and getting to know people, utilizing others and being open to being utilized by others.
Caleb Fields, 25, is manager of Young Alumni Relations at Fenwick High School. He also owns and operates a children’s summer camp business.
“It was definitely worth my time,” Fields said. “It expanded my network.”
“I learned to go out and meet as many people as possible,” he said, adding, “The most successful people are those who are known and trusted.”
Johnson praised the commitment of the participant’s employers, noting each person received nine full days away from work.
One of those employers, Gary Balling, executive director of the Park District of Oak Park, said the connection for his organization was obvious.
“Our mission statement says in part, ‘in partnership with the community,’” he said.
Karen Schindel, Balling’s superintendent of business operations, agreed that networking is key.
“I’ve got a face to put with the name now,” she said.
Field’s group focused on childhood obesity. The process paid dividends not just for the participants, but likely for the community at large, with the creation of a pilot program for addressing the challenges of childhood obesity.
A second challenge, after developing an effective program, was answering the question, “Who owns this after us?”
“We needed to make sure there was some sustainability to this project, we didn’t want to start it and then watch it die,” said Fields.
The solution was to turn it over to the YMCA. The group presented a program folder to YMCA officials and turned over all the materials they’d gathered.
The team said what it developed “is easily replicated, which justifies the cost.”
West Cook YMCA Executive Director Jan Pate said she was particularly pleased with her organizations’ involvement, as health and obesity are issues central to the YMCA’s mission.
“For one of the groups to select (childhood obesity) and come up with a replicable model is wonderful,” she said.
Johnson shared that enthusiasm and satisfaction, admitting he was “busting my buttons.” However, he stressed to the graduates they were not done with participating in the program.
“The community around you has made an investment in you, and as a business school dean, we’re looking for a return on that investment,” Johnson said.
To learn more about Communityworks or the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, visit www.oprfcf.org or contact (708) 848-1560.
Applications for the next Community Leadership Program, beginning in September are available from the Brennan School of Business at: http://www.dom.edu/bsb/programs/community_