Writer: Roger Nielsen
Mary Gay came to the Community Leadership Institute of Atlanta with a vision, and by the time she finished classes in the Institute of Government’s yearlong training program she had a plan.
Gay and 20 other citizen volunteers in the inaugural Community Leadership Institute class were honored Dec. 5 for successfully completing a course of study designed to make them more effective members of Atlanta’s neighborhood planning units. NPUs are citizen advisory councils that work with the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board to make recommendations to the mayor and city council on zoning, land use and other planning issues.
Through the Community Leadership Institute of Atlanta, Gay’s vision of helping people who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods developed into an action plan informed by the training she received. Gay added community planners and citizen volunteers to her professional network—a critical new part of her plan to help the unemployed find decent-paying jobs. She also learned about the intricacies of neighborhood planning.
“I understand the value of relationships, because that’s how I grew my company to help people find jobs in the tech field. But because of the class, I am also able to understand more of the best practices and what other neighborhoods are doing,” she said.
The Community Leadership Institute is designed to equip NPU volunteers like Gay to become more effective liaisons between residents and government planners. The expectations placed on NPUs have grown well beyond the original task of informing Atlanta City Council about neighborhood zoning issues, according to Institute faculty member Chrissy Marlowe, lead faculty for the CLIA. “The community sees NPUs as a conduit to and a way to communicate with the council,” Marlowe said.
CLIA participants work with Institute of Government faculty and other subject matter experts to strengthen their understanding of critical topics such as leading community change, citizen engagement, consensus building and problem solving.
The program has been well received. Soon after the inaugural Community Leadership Institute began last January, Atlanta leaders asked the Institute of Government to expand it to accommodate two cohorts in 2018.