Nine northeast Michigan nonprofit leaders recently completed an eight-month Leadership Learning Lab program, leaving them with enhanced skills to strengthen the organizations and communities they serve presently and those they may serve in the future.

The members of the 2019 cohort were Bradley Somers (Boys and Girls Club of Alpena), Denise Bearre (Alcona County Library), Arleen Wood (Iosco-Arenac District Library), Kimberly Scott (River House, Inc.), Annette Wells (Community Mediation Services), Christine Dunaj (MidMichigan Community Health Services), Jeffrey Mindock, and Katie Dunaj (Association to Rescue Kritters).

The cohort met for their final session and celebration in mid-December and plan to keep their connections strong through an optional continuation program.

“The whole Leadership Learning Lab has been an investment in my professional development. Gathering the perspectives of others and walking through scenarios has helped me adapt and become more cognizant,” said Bradley Somers. “Taking a step back and seeing what is working and not working has been instrumental in engaging my staff and putting us all in a position to succeed.”

Topics covered throughout the eight-month program included adaptive leadership, time management, board development, fund development, mission-driven storytelling and more. Throughout the program, participants create lasting, supportive relationships with other nonprofit leaders in the region. 2019 is the second year of partnership for this program between the Otsego Community Foundation (OCF), Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan (CFNEM), the Frey Foundation, Rotary Charities of Traverse City, and 10 Michigan community foundations.

“Helping to build the capacity of our nonprofits is part of our strategic plan, as it is a key element in strengthening the entire nonprofit community,” said OCF Executive Director Dana Bensinger. “When leaders and boards of these organizations are strong, the organizations are better able to fulfill their missions, serving our communities’ needs more effectively.”

“The Leadership Learning Lab (LLL) was a wonderful experience. I gained valuable knowledge about becoming a leader within my organization, how to handle different situations and how to communicate effectively with my colleagues. After completing the Leadership Learning Lab, I was able to continue with the Peer Learning Circles. That was another fantastic opportunity. We took our knowledge from LLL and continued to grow beyond the structured format of LLL. In our [Peer Leaning Circle] (PLC) group we were able to discuss situations happening within our organization, in a safe and non-structured setting, and get great feedback and advice from peers who were typically dealing with similar situations. I’ve gained valuable tools and valuable friendships during my time with LLL and PLC. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to grow personally and professionally,” noted Jennie Zoll, 2018 Leadership Lab participate and 2019 Peer Learning Circle member.

2019 was the second year of this three year capacity-building initiative. The majority of funding for the Leadership Learning Lab across all of northern Michigan is provided through a grant from the Frey Foundation with additional support from partnering community foundations. For northeast Michigan in particular that includes the Otsego Community Foundation, Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan, and Roscommon County Community Foundation. Through this support, nonprofits are only required to put forth $200 of the $1,500 cost for participation in the program. The remaining cost is covered by the partnering foundations.

The 2020 Otsego County participants are Erin Mann from Otsego County United Way, Rik Rikkard Rambo from Crossroads Industries and Jennifer VanRyckehham from New Life Pregnancy Center.

The Otsego Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization created by and for the people of the communities we serve. Through collaboration with donors, nonprofits and community, managing permanent charitable funds, and making purposeful grants, we magnify generosity and impact—helping meet critical needs and capitalizing on local opportunities that matter most. Our services cover the entire county and all fields of interest, including Arts and Culture, Conservation, Community and Economic Development, Health and Human Services, Education, and Youth Initiatives. Ultimately, our efforts help fill forests with trees, minds with knowledge, youth with dreams, workforce with skills, society with art & culture, pantries with food, communities with connections, and hearts with that joyful feeling of making a difference.