When Julian Smith enrolled in the United Way of Greater Rochester’s African American Leadership Development Program, or AALDP, his goal was to have a better understanding of Rochester, while exploring opportunities to contribute and make his community a better one.
“I also saw it as an opportunity for me to expand my personal leadership DNA,” Smith said. “So I saw the community, the organization that I work for, as well as myself, all benefiting.”
Smith, who works for Harris Corp., was encouraged by his supervisor and human resources manager to enroll in the program. Harris is an advocate for the leadership programs United Way offers, Smith noted, and the company allowed him to participate without using vacation time.
AALDP is the second of a number of programs the organization offers to improve the community and strengthen Rochester’s workforce. United Way’s inaugural program, the Latino Leadership Development Program, or LLDP, began 35 years ago as a way to tap the full potential of the Latino community.
The unique program identifies, trains and promotes the placement of Latinos on boards and in policymaking and volunteer leadership positions at community organizations in the Rochester area. LLDP has graduated more than 700 individuals since its inception, including nearly two dozen this year.
“United Way started it because they understood that there was a lack of diversity of leadership in the Greater Rochester community to serve on board and policymaking areas to effect change in the community,” said United Way chief human resources officer Wynndy Turner. “So that was the impetus for the leadership development programs.”
A decade after the LLDP program began, United Way started the AALDP. More than 900 individuals have graduated from the program since 1992, Turner noted, including nearly 40 at a ceremony held in Henrietta Oct. 25.
LLDP takes place over the course of six days, or 48 hours, while AALDP is a 75-hour, or nine-day course. Participants learn about effective communication strategies such as decision-making, conflict resolution, leadership insights and responsibilities of board memberships.
The curriculum provides attendees with a realistic understanding of issues surrounding the communities that are the focus of each program, including disparities in health, education, income and wealth, and how to make a positive difference.
“They learn a lot of things, from governance to policymaking to working in groups—how to make decisions, how to serve on a nonprofit board,” Turner added.
Employers have been instrumental to the programs’ success, Turner said.
“We have to thank the employers for investing in their staff, to allow their staff to take off from work to come to the leadership program over a two-week period,” Turner explained.
Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, an affiliate of Hillside Family of Agencies, has sent a number of staffers to both AALDP and LLDP.
HW-SC provides comprehensive health, education, and human services for children, youth and families whose challenges threaten their ability to realize their full potential.
“With its long history of successfully preparing employees for board positions, AALDP is a perfect fit to help Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection staff expand their reach beyond the great work they do to prepare students for graduation, college and career,” said HW-SC President Augie Melendez. “This is a win-win, empowering HW-SC staff for leadership roles while ensuring that community organizations benefit from dynamic, diverse board participation.”
Participants are expected to read assigned books and do homework. They also participate in volunteer projects, either before, during or after the leadership program’s duration.
Smith said his program began during the summer and included roughly eight hours of volunteer work at local organizations as well as summer reading. The class kicked off in earnest in September, he said.
United Way offers a number of leadership development programs in addition to LLDP and AALDP, including the Union Community Assistance Network for union members, the Asian Pacific American Leadership Development Program and the PRIDE Leadership Development Program, which is designed to broaden participation from the LGBTQ community into influential board leadership roles within the Greater Rochester area.
United Way’s first two programs have evolved through the years, Turner said, noting that the time commitment for each of the groups differs based on that particular community’s needs and wishes.
Upon graduation, United Way helps pair participants with local organizations, where they will serve on boards and committees or work in other volunteer capacities. Since Smith was named as the class representative for his cohort, he will have the opportunity to work with United Way’s board of directors during the organization’s 100th anniversary year.
“So graduates will come back and be on the steering committees, they’ll be on the curriculum committees, interview committees, recruitment committees,” Turner said. “So this is also giving them the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned in the class in a safe environment. They have that comfort level, then they can launch and go and serve (elsewhere).”
Graduates names, photos and areas of interest are posted on the leadership programs’ websites, Turner noted, to help better match them to organizations that meet their needs and interests. It is a win/win, she said, because the region is well known for its philanthropic organizations and community outreach efforts.
“We really want to diversify boards within the Rochester area,” Turner said. “That’s how you get people invested, but also to have diversity and inclusion of thought.”
It’s also a sharing of perspectives, she added.
“It really lends a lot to, ‘Well, I never thought of it that way,’” Turner explained. “Let’s talk to people who are being affected by something, to have them at the table.”
Smith said the program is a great opportunity to contribute and to grow personally.
“One of the key purposes of the African American Leadership Development Program, as well as other such leadership development programs, is to provide a group of trained individuals that are minorities that could well serve on not-for-profit boards of directors, on policymaking organizations,” Smith said. “So the fact that we have such a program is an indicator that we need to continue to grow the number of folks participating in those boards that are minorities.”
[email protected] / 585-653-4021n