A Deep Dive into the CORE 2023 Program’s Impactful Community Engagement Projects
It says it in our mission:
We connect and prepare leaders to build thriving and inclusive workplaces and communities.
At Leadership Montgomery (LM), we bring together leaders in a way that facilitates change and impacts our community every day. Our strategic plan created a Community Leadership Framework to guide all five LM programs, allowing us to make maximum impact across the county and region. The Community Leadership Framework names civic engagement as one of its five elements.
LM leaders are active participants in the community. With their diverse skills and expertise, they can contribute to improving the quality of life in Montgomery County in various capacities.
As a required component of LM’s CORE program, participants enhance their civic engagement and apply their talents and leadership by engaging in community engagement projects.
Last fall, our 2023 CORE program participants began working on the projects during their opening sessions. They proposed issues and opportunities they felt needed to be addressed in the community. The cohort formed small groups based on their interests, experience, and potential impact. Once formed, each group partnered with existing organizations that may have needed more resources than money or staff could provide. (Note: Encore was on hiatus for 2023. We are happy to debut the revamped program in 2024)
The small groups met outside their session days to complete their projects and presented their work to their classmates during the closing retreat. Many groups provided a call-to-action that further encouraged their classmates to become involved.
Let’s look at how they tackled some of the county’s challenges:
(Warning: contains mention of domestic violence)
Domestic Violence Group
Members of the DV Group visited the Family Justice Center (FJC), a co-location of government and nonprofit organizations working together to assist and support victims of domestic violence and their children. After touring the Family Justice Center and learning about its services and resources, the team decided to assist FJC’s annual RespectFest—an event with activities to help middle and high school students learn about dating violence, consent, how to help a friend, warning signs of domestic violence and community resources that can assist domestic violence situations. The group created marketing materials for the festival and volunteered during the event. The marketing materials included graphics for social media with messages about dating violence awareness and prevention and promotion of four webinars held during the week leading up to the in-person event. DV group members helped set up the event site tables, chairs, signage, etc., and registered event visitors as they arrived, including supporting Spanish-speaking guests with their information needs.
First-Time Voter Engagement Group
Voter engagement increased significantly in the 2020 Presidential election. Estimates show that youth ages 18-29 voted with a remarkable 11% increase compared to the prior election. Of the 6.2 million first-time voters in the election, 2.6 million were over 40.
Yet, troubling opportunity gaps and inequities prevent individuals and communities from thriving, particularly among non-white, immigrant, and/or low-income communities and individuals. These individuals are underrepresented in both civic and political spaces. Too often, their voices go unheard, their problems go unaddressed, and a vicious circle of disengagement and neglect perpetuates injustice.
After conversations with county and municipal leaders from the City of Gaithersburg, Montgomery County Board of Elections, City of Rockville, and students at The Universities at Shady Grove (the partnering organization) about the opportunities and challenges facing youth voter engagement, they found:
- Montgomery County has approximately 670,000 registered voters and one of the most active election boards in the country.
- Future Vote, which works with Montgomery County Public Schools Student Government Associations, has had mild success and has found that peer-to-peer engagement is where there are most results.
- There is an increased need for younger poll workers.
- Many USG first-generation students have parents who are not eligible to vote due to their citizenship status and, as a result, are not engaged in the election process.
To build a cadre of first-time voter engagement for the 2024 elections, the Voter Engagement Group created a Voter Engagement Toolkit to be shared with students and the broader community. The goal for this toolkit is to be housed on the USG and LM websites for all to find.
Montgomery County Arts Proclamation Group
Centered at the intersection of mental health awareness and the arts and humanities, this group’s project, Montgomery County Arts Proclamation, was a recognition of the artists and performers who contributed their talent, time, and craft to Montgomery County residents through the pandemic and continue through our collective recovery providing opportunities to access dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts.
Through this project, this group recognized artists and performers, built awareness of the arts and the mental health challenges collectively addressed by artists and performers, and built support for the sustainability of the arts in Montgomery County, since art was a key to the community’s post-pandemic recovery. They organized a county proclamation and held a special event with local art, mental health, and civic leaders to read it.
Up 2 Us Scholarship Program Group
The “Getting it Done” team assisted the Up 2 Us Foundation in developing a new initiative that aligns with their mission of improving the quality of life for families in need. Up 2 Us was ready to explore new ways to improve the quality of life in Montgomery County, and the Getting it Done team helped to develop a strategic plan for a scholarship program to support individuals from underserved communities seeking to pursue or advance careers in the healthcare field.
The Up 2 Us Scholarship Program support students enrolling in short-term certificate programs offered by Montgomery College (MC) that facilitate rapid entry into the workforce, such as Certified Nursing Assistants, Dialysis Technician, EKG Technician, and Pharmacy Technicians, as well as those pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) at MC and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG). The program will partner with the MC Foundation and the USG Foundation, which have established infrastructure to administer these needs-based scholarships. Working with these partners, Up 2 Us will set eligibility criteria to support low-income healthcare workers and minority students.
Up 2 Us will raise funds for the scholarships, with an initial goal of funding ten certificate scholarships and $33,000 in scholarships for ADN and BSN students. Up 2 Us aims to support 30 certificate scholarships by the fifth year and provide $125,000 for ADN and BSN scholarships. The scholarships will help awardees pay their tuition and fees and offer a small stipend for books, transportation, food, and other necessities. Up 2 Us will build ongoing relationships with scholarship recipients through occasional in-person events and continuous follow-ups after completing the program.
This group focused on the challenges of immigration in Montgomery County. This project was selected based on several more recent changes in the population of individuals arriving in the county. Beginning in the spring of 2022, the states of Texas and Arizona began busing individuals directly into the county without any intended destination or resource support. The District of Columbia and Montgomery County were the only two counties to step up and provide support to these migrants, including the set-up of a respite center.
While consulting with Montgomery County Government officials and Identity, Inc., the group realized the challenges went beyond housing (their initial focus). It included healthcare, legal, food insecurity, and family separation, to name a few. Immigrants that Identity works with all have harrowing, traumatic, and inspiring stories of their journey to Montgomery County. Despite all they had faced, every immigrant said they would do it again to give their families a better life.
As a result, the group developed a white paper to inform the county and its partners on how to better serve immigrants, especially with an anticipated surge in arrivals due to the expiration of Title 42 at the Federal level. This group’s key challenges provided feedback on housing support, legal services, volunteer & donations management, and food insecurity, among other issues.
College Graduate Career Transition Mentoring Group
This group worked to provide professional guidance to students at The Universities at Shady Grove, focusing on soft skills needed for a successful transition into employment in Washington D.C. metropolitan area business communities upon graduation. Group members have seen a trend within the workforce among new hires: They desire work environments tailored to their lifestyles vs. adhering to their work organizations’ rules and regulations. They wanted to provide students with a framework to better understand the business communities’ needs and how they, as new hires, can position themselves for success once they accept a position within a company.
In consultation with Dr. Anne Khademian (CORE 2023), Executive Director of USG, team members identified student resource groups to invite to their sessions. They also engaged with USG’s Career and Internship Services Center as partners to help connect them with interested students, advise on their approach, and facilitate logistics.
Working in small teams, members hosted two hour-long sessions for students covering how to best select work environments, how to understand a company’s culture, and how to develop an internal mentorship network. Team members got to draw on their own experiences and advise the students to make the best choices for their own career paths.
Leadership Montgomery looks forward to continuing the Community Engagement projects with the 2024 classes. We can’t wait to preview their work as they get started with their project groups this fall. In highlighting their projects, LM alumni will have plenty of opportunities to help continue the work.