Building Organizations that Stand the Test of Time


Valerie F. Leonard (center) poses with some of the workshop attendees.


Valerie F. Leonard, a local expert in community and organizational development, recently partnered with Chicago State University, the Monroe Foundation and the Independent Bulletin Newspaper to host “Lasting Impact: Building Sustainable Organizations”. The information-packed workshop provided an overview of what organizational capacity building is; the current trends in capacity building in the Chicagoland area; the characteristics of sustainable organizations and how organizations can begin to assess their own capacity.

The audience was diverse in terms of backgrounds; they were engaged, and contributed significantly to the discussion.  Participants also had an opportunity to hear about an upcoming luncheon sponsored by Prudential Insurance, as well as an overview of the Inmates for Change program.

Most of the evaluation questions were scored on a scale of 1- 100, with 100 being the highest.  So far, the average response is in the 98 range. Judge Patrice Ball Reed indicated that she found the workshop to be “… concise, clear and informative. Valerie was respectful of our time and kept to the schedule.”

When asked his impression of the workshop, Jeffery Willis, an accountant with the Bobby E. Wright Behavioral Health Center  responded, “I have a knowledge of how to build the organization capacity to make a stronger impact to clients”.

Budder Jones, CEO, Inmates for Change  concurred. “This training session is so well thought-out and presented…, if anything else was done to it, it would be criminal!”

Leonard stated that it is her intent to partner with different organizations around the City of Chicago to have similar workshops. The next workshop will be in North Lawndale, in partnership with Pastors Marvin and Terri Hunter and the New Jerusalem CDC, on June 24, 2017, from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm. The organization is located on the corner of 15th and Kenneth.

“I’m also very cognizant of the fact that, as organizations build their internal capacity, they must also work with local residents of changing communities to build their capacity to take advantage of the opportunities the changes bring”, Leonard said.

There are a number of community planning processes going on throughout the City of Chicago, with varying levels of community engagement and capacity building for community residents.  Leonard indicated that in her role as Vice Chair of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation’s Social Capital Committee, she gets to hear about innovative planning processes around the City of Chicago and Cook County, including the proposed redevelopment of the old United States Steel site on the South East Side of Chicago and Woodlawn’s comprehensive planning process.

“What I like about these processes is the fact that they have created mechanisms to authentically engage rank and file residents, institutions, public agencies, churches and organizations while actively building local resident leadership capacity to stay in the community as it changes. Rather than hoping and waiting for manufacturers to select their communities and bring jobs, these communities are actively building manufacturing plants and providing specific job training to ensure local hiring.”

Leonard also noted that Alderman Sue Garza of the 10th Ward is working collaboratively  with a coalition of community groups to negotiate a comprehensive community benefits agreement with the developer. At the same time, community organizers are developing strategies around a number of issues, including public safety, public education, the environment, housing, and health and wellness.

“The level of self-determination from residents of Woodlawn and the South East Side of Chicago will make the difference in whether residents are displaced, or whether they can stay in their respective communities as they go through the next phases of development”, Leonard said.  “At this point, it looks like those residents are creating win-win strategies for themselves and the developer.”

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