Guest Author: Kelli Duncan. This article originally appeared in the Vail Daily News.
Eagle County’s Family Leadership Training Institute has provided locals with the leadership and civic engagement tools they need to be forces for change in our community since 2013.
The free, 20-week program is overseen by the Colorado State University Extension in Eagle County and features local facilitators and guest speakers who present on a wide variety of topics.
“Participants not only have success at making their community dream come true through their community projects but the leadership and civic skills they attain will stay with them forever, possibly passing them down to their own children and local youth, thus creating more grassroots leaders within our Eagle County communities,” said Erik Martinez, one of the program’s facilitators.
Martinez encouraged anyone who is curious about the program to apply.
“You are a leader, you have the power in you to make a difference in your community,” Martinez said. “Whatever way you may want to create that change, we are here to support you and grow together.”
Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney first brought the Family Leadership Training Institute to Eagle County in 2013 through her work with Early Childhood Partners, Wentworth said.
Early Childhood Partners is an organization that strives to uplift young children by strengthening support networks within their families and communities. McQueeney decided to start a local family leadership training program to engage residents in creating a better world for their children, Wentworth said.
Plenty of participants are not parents, but the program is rooted in empowering individuals to take matters into their own hands when it comes to addressing local issues they feel passionately about, she said.
It is about “the realization that all of the participants are agents of change, and that this change is born out of love for the children and members of their communities,” said Martinez, who works as a communications specialist for Eagle County Schools.
“Our children are our future and leading by example is the best way to instill in them this passion for serving our community,” he said.
The program will run from October to May as the typical January to June timeline was complicated by COVID-19.
The program kicks off with an all-day retreat that helps build relationships between participants and then classes proceed every Monday evening. It is broken into two phases, each taught by two local facilitators.
“Phase 1,” the first 10 weeks of the program, focuses on building leadership skills and awareness, said Martinez, who teaches classes in this phase. These classes teach participants to recognize other community leaders that they can build connections with to make change.
“Phase 2” focuses on civic engagement, said Beth Reilly, who works in the Early Childhood Department for Eagle County Schools and leads classes in this second phase.
This portion of the program includes information and discussions on a myriad of topics from the creation of a budget to law and policy to the workings of state and local government, Reilly said. Participants even take a trip to the state Capitol in Denver.
Classes are taught in English, but most written materials are also available in Spanish. Bilingual Spanish speakers are encouraged to apply.
Jennifer Prongo, another Phase 2 facilitator who began as a program participant in 2014, said the institute helped her build her public speaking skills and gave her the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of people she may not have connected with otherwise.
“It really is the group that is bringing the knowledge and bringing the information to the rest of the class,” Prongo said. “It makes it unique and different from year to year because everyone has their own experience, everyone has their own story.”
“It’s almost like a family when you walk out of there,” she said. “When someone’s really passionate about a project, there’s no better place to go to be supported and to get all of your resources.”
Each participant is required to work on a “community project” throughout the course that addresses a local issue they feel passionately about, Wentworth said.
“Although each does their own community project, they often find overlap and synergy with other projects,” Reilly said.
Participants are encouraged to take these plans and put them into action during and after the program. This impact then continues to ripple throughout the broader community, Wentworth said.
Many recent community initiatives — such as the Vail Valley Salvation Army’s community garden — have their roots in passionate individuals who came together because of the Family Leadership Training Institute.
“It is fair for me to say that most of my success after the program I owe it to (Wentworth) and the FLTI team,” said Fernando Almanza, a local 911 dispatcher and past participant. Almanza’s community project led him to launch a public safety awareness campaign aimed at local Spanish-speakers, Wentworth said.
“The community benefits as all these projects to help our community are initiated,” Reilly said. “There is a more diverse and skilled leadership pool for about everything from elected to volunteer boards, policy councils, and advisory committees. The benefits are long lasting.”
About the Family Leadership Training Institute
FLTI of Colorado seeks to bridge the gap between local residents and decision-makers in order to foster the co-creation of programs and policies that reflect multiple community voices. Since 2009, FLTI of Colorado has partnered with communities throughout the state to implement a transformational 20-week training program designed to increase civic participation and promote greater collaboration between individuals, families, institutions, public administrators and elected officials as they seek strategies to respond to emerging social, health, and economic issues in their communities. For more information or to register for FLTI in your county, FLTIOfColorado.colostate.edu