Uplifting neighborhoods: Mandel Foundation programs produce community, CDC leaders

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation has a mission to help people and communities thrive as inclusive, compassionate, and democratic societies, and improve the quality of life in Cleveland neighborhoods.

As part of that mission, for the past 17 years the foundation has hosted the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program (NLDP) to identify community leaders looking to make positive changes in their neighborhoods.

Founded by former Cleveland Mayor Michael White and the Mandel Foundation in 2006, the NLDP has identified engaged and passionate community leaders who improved their neighborhoods and are looking to expand their leadership roles to continue the momentum into the entire region. Through training, participants are able to take a comprehensive approach toward enhancing their neighborhood leadership.

CDCLP sessions, “Who You Are Is How You Lead” with Scott Allen, dedicated to learning about the many different leadership stylesCDCLP sessions, “Who You Are Is How You Lead” with Scott Allen, dedicated to learning about the many different leadership stylesThe people who apply to the program have a project that they're already working on, or a plan to create one,“ says NLDP program administrator Sandra Kuluk. “Somebody might want to start a youth group for young girls, and they just don't have the leadership skills to do that. They need to learn a lot before they do it. [Many] of them want to start their 501(c) (3)s, so they come to learn how to run a program like that.”

The NLDP program has been so successful, three years ago, program director White and the Mandel Foundation in 2021 launched a second leadership model designed specifically for Community Development Corporations (CDCs)—the Community Development Corporation Leadership Program (CDCLP).

The CDCLP also focuses on developing leadership skills, but also helps leaders with running a successful CDC and equitable community engagement. After completing the program, graduates are eligible to apply for CDCLP grants.

The cohort of participants each year ranges from 12 to 20 participants and CDCLP has graduated 54 leaders in its first three cohorts, says CDCLP assistant program director Jillian Svala.

“We have had [everyone] from the executive director, board members and board chairs, to coordinators,” she says. “It's designed to be both vertical and horizontal.

Svala says just about every Cleveland CDC has gone through the program—from Northwest Neighborhoods and Jefferson-Puritas West Park,  to Midtown Cleveland and St. Clair Superior, to Union Miles and Famicos Foundation, to Slavic Village Development.

Applications are open for the fourth cohort set to begin August 29, and Svala adds that suburban CDCs are also welcome to apply.

CDCLP Tango Lesson done at the beginning of the year to loosen everyone up learn a little about their leadership styleCDCLP Tango Lesson done at the beginning of the year to loosen everyone up learn a little about their leadership style“The goal is, we always say, is to cover the CDC earth—like Sherwin-Williams, cover the earth with paint—we would love that,” she jokes. “We want every single Community Development Corporation that works in, within, and around us here in Cleveland.”

Each cohort goes through a 14-session, 10-month leadership training program designed to enhance specific skills of current CDC leaders. Each program session lasts the full day.

Additionally, Svala says participants work with CDCLP coaches to ensure that what they learn from the sessions is applied in their everyday operations.

“It's a very packed day,” she says. “It's like getting a master's degree, but all pushed into a limited 10-month time frame—and I only say that having gone through a master's degree program myself—and then going through this, I thought, ‘Wow, this is intense.’ And we've had graduates who have repeated that.”

While the cohorts meet twice a month throughout the 10 month program, Svala says those who go through the program say it’s worth it.

“Every single one of them, especially the executive directors, have said, ‘It was very hard to get me to be in this chair, but I would do it over again, times-three, because it was the one or two times a month where I could unplug and just focus on me and our organization,” she boasts. “They share how beneficial that was to them.”

Those interested in the fourth cohort can apply online. For more information, call (216) 776-6172 or email CDCLP. The deadline is Friday, Aug. 2.

Applications for the 17th NLDP cohort are due by Wednesday, Aug. 14.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.