Taking Leadership Skills Back to the Neighborhoods
City, Gonzaga partnership academy energizes volunteers to take next steps for their community
SPOKANE, Wash. – Eric Swagerty took his passion for community involvement to another level.
Swagerty was among nine neighborhood council leaders who enrolled in the pilot Spokane Neighborhood Leadership Academy, a partnership between the City and Gonzaga University’s School of Leadership Studies.
“It can be intimidating to become involved in your neighborhood, but instead of complaining about it, I did something about it,” said Swagerty, a member of the Audubon/Downriver Neighborhood Council.
Academy participants learn about city government structure, whom to contact at the City about neighborhood topics, managing conflicts, how to run meetings, principles of diversity, equity and inclusion and other subjects.
“I like neighborhood politics because you discuss quality of life issues – topics you talk to your neighbors about over the fence that really make the community work,” Swagerty said. “By knowing who talk to, whether it’s about transportation, planning or sanitation, you can be a more effective leader for your neighborhood. We’re taking leadership skills back to the neighborhoods.”
The academy was City Council President Breean Beggs’ idea and further developed by Carly Cortright, the City’s Office of Neighborhood Services Director.
Sessions are led by two facilitators and three mentors with experience in neighborhood councils and City politics. The academy, free for participants, consists of six Saturday classes, as well as virtual mentoring and individual readings and assignments outside of class. The final class is June 4.
The academy will be used to develop the program’s final structure with the goal to have the next cohort launch in 2023.
“Spokane has a wealth of neighborhood volunteer leaders,” Beggs said. “This academy enhances their skill set and provides them with strong support to continue leading.”
Spokane has 29 Neighborhood Councils across three council districts. With City Council support, Gonzaga in 2021 conducted a strengths and needs assessment that revealed volunteer leaders desired civic leadership skills.
The expectation is that academy participants will serve in a neighborhood leadership role for at least two years from the start of the program and maintain connection with their cohort after the program ends.
Gonzaga University's Rachelle Strawther, a co-facilitator, is impressed with how the participants have increased their engagement in the City. They have researched boards, committees and commissions and attended various meetings to learn how work gets done and decisions get made in Spokane. One participant even organized a welcoming event for newcomers in his neighborhood.
“I’m inspired by the passion of these community leaders,” Strawther said. “They are eager to make a difference in their neighborhoods and communities and have a desire to learn as much as they can so that they can effectively navigate the City’s processes and systems. More importantly, they are making observations and raising questions that challenge the status quo.”
Emily Gwinn, who serves on the West Central Neighborhood Council, said the academy rekindled her interest in neighborhood involvement.
“I walk away from these sessions wanting to jump back in with new ideas,” she said. “It helps me believe that I can take on more of a leadership role so I can serve my community more.”
Cortright said the partnership builds tomorrow’s leaders.
“It’s an energizing opportunity to work with people who want to serve their community and equip them with leadership skills,” she said.
For questions about the academy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services Communications Manager
City of Spokane