“Project Blueprint is a wonderful program that led to a lot of growth professionally and personally,” said Schanel Harvey, Hub Director for Stark County Community Action Agency and recent Project Blueprint graduate. “It connected us to people through other organizations, gave us space to develop intentional relationship-building, and encouraged active involvement in the community. I wouldn’t have known about Tom Tod if I hadn’t been through the program, and it helped me determine that I wanted to be involved with them.”
Project Blueprint is designed to train more volunteer leaders of color (African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other racial minorities) to have a greater voice in the community by having more opportunities with boards and committees. It provides participants with the knowledge to serve effectively through gaining new skills, experiences, and the confidence essential to these roles.
“When I was growing up in Columbus, Gene Harris was the superintendent of Columbus City Schools, Ohio’s largest school district, and I wanted to be her, “said Angela Rembert, Youth Services Coordinator, Stark County Community Action Agency. “I graduated from Project Blueprint recently and I wish I could have had the knowledge I learned from it back then. It would have taught me how to use my voice and be effective much earlier on. I was already on a board when I started Project Blueprint but everything that was taught helped me because now, I can add to the conversation. It helped me to know how to implement and ask questions to guide the board in a specific direction. The information given was rich and deep, and even though many of the topics are layered and complicated, they are presented in a very understandable way. The experience and knowledge of each of the presenters for this program is beyond valuable. I am grateful and honored to have participated in the program.”
Hands-on training introduced the class to the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit boards and committees, which included session topics such as economics, boardsmanship, Roberts Rules, fiscal/ethical responsibilities, strategic planning, and agency spotlights. The program is designed to help participants understand the impact of being on a board or committee, while also creating a safe space and opportunity for networking and a chance for personal and professional growth. Local leaders who provide valuable insight from the perspective of organizational or board leadership present and lead discussion of the various topics. Participants also learn about the strengths and challenges in Stark County from those in the community who are committed to making a difference through their work.
Rembert also said, “This program opened up a lot of networking opportunities, which are priceless to me. It shows the importance of intentional relationship building and sustaining and to not take any opportunity to connect for granted.”
La Tarsha Miller, another recent graduate of the program, is Kent State University at Stark’s Director of Business Affairs & Operation. “I have made contacts that I never would have without the program, contacts that make the program very rewarding and valuable. I was nominated by a classmate to be on the Stark Library Foundation Board, and I never would have had that opportunity before this. It is something I am dedicated to, and I cannot think of a better program for me to be at during this stage of my life. Project Blueprint gave me direction by helping me get to know my community better, and honing-in to narrow down my interests and passions. I believe many people do not understand their responsibilities on the board and this program gives you that playbook you need to properly be involved in a Board – what questions to ask, what information you will need, how to be a more efficient and effective board member. “
One of the workshop’s goals is to create intentional social progress through better representation of the community in volunteer leadership on boards and committees. Each session of Blueprint offers a chance for more people of color to have a leadership role in organizations that shape our community.
Harvey said, “Your voice matters. This program helps you find your voice and teaches you how to be heard in a way that you might not even realize. It also helps you be prepared to approach a board and be prepared in the right way to create positive change, how you get it done behind the scenes. It gives you the knowledge and know-how to make those changes you want to implement. It gave me more boldness to be voiceful to provoke change.”
In fall of 2021, this program was offered to a small group of Walsh University students. Mel Gravely from the Gravely Group was one of the presenters, and Iliana Smith, one of the workshops’ college graduates, said “I am happy and proud to have been a part of this program, and to be using my voice for change in our community. I’s also like to thank my mentor, Carrilyn Long, for bringing this amazing leadership opportunity to Walsh to help us grow as young professional.”
Miller, Rembert and Harvey all agree that “At a young age, there are so many things that shape our future. Learning this information earlier could absolutely be beneficial. The college version of Project Blueprint is absolutely beneficial to the community. The earlier people can participate in a program like this, the longer you can have an impact in our community. It teaches you how to be more impactful when you voice your thoughts and introduces the fundamentals of catalytic change in the community.”
“Project Blueprint is a preparedness program,” said Flo Ginanni, Director of Project Blueprint at United Way of Greater Stark County. “It teaches you the levels of community involvement, the different stages – starting with getting involved and volunteering. It allows participants to begin to see themselves in roles they never thought possible before. There is a value and need for this program.”
Many workplaces sponsor an employee to go through this program because the benefits include opportunities to: sharpen leadership skills; create highly motivated and challenged employees who are prepared to go above and beyond their job responsibilities; enhance corporate image in the community and demonstrates community involvement; invest in employee development; showcase organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion; and network among companies in the community.
“We are so grateful for the connections we have made through this program,” said Michelle Charles, President and CEO of Canton Symphony Orchestra. “We attended last session’s Meet & Greet for the graduates and brought in two new Board members from that interaction. They are helping us create a new path, starting with building a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee. This is our 85th anniversary year and we are very excited for this new journey of bridging the gap as an organization.”
Project Blueprint’s Spring session starts soon, and more information can be found at uwstark.org/project-blueprint