In May 2021 the Ogden Civic Action Network Board of Directors approved the creation of a Community Leaders Network with the first cohort beginning their training in October 2021 and finishing in June 2022. The Community Leaders Network has become the “flagship” intervention for OgdenCAN.
Purpose of the Interns
The Community Leaders Network is a paid internship program established to provide educational and professional opportunities for residents of the East Central Neighborhood of Ogden, Utah to develop as leaders in their community. Through this program, interns are trained in civic engagement, community development, and engaging local government and other anchor institutions. Interns are given the opportunity to create their own impact through a community organizing project. The vision of the Community Leaders Network is for interns to emerge as public leaders in East Central Ogden and beyond and to maintain their impact long after their internship is completed. Interns’ community organizing projects will directly nurture community assets and strengthen OgdenCAN’s five areas of focus. Civic competence and engagement in East Central Ogden as a whole will broaden and increase as volunteers from the neighborhood engage in interns’ community projects.
The curriculum created for the internship covers an eight-month time frame. This curriculum trains interns in Asset Based Community Development, introduces them to community resources, acts as a guide with milestones to complete their own community organizing projects, and includes principles of leadership, community organizing and mobilization, civic and democratic engagement, and public advocacy and activism.
We assert that the single and most fundamentally important element of infrastructure in the East Central Neighborhood is the people who live, work, worship, learn and play in this already vibrant and vital community. These residents are untapped reservoirs, changemakers, and leaders in their own right and represent a large missing piece of critical engagement in the larger conversations happening in our community regarding issues related to high rates of poverty, structural racism in the community at large, and inequitable health outcomes – among others.
We believe that active civic participation, through a community leaders network model such as this, will build valuable capacity in our community and empower residents to engage in self-determination. It will then contribute to more equitable health outcomes, stronger community engagement, increased social and cultural capital, and ultimately democratic wealth building.
The community organizing projects for the first cohort of interns was impressive. The projects included the following:
- Climate Solutions Market
- Power in Parks
- Cultivating a Collective Understanding of the Renter/Landlord Social System in East Central
- Locally Written Children’s Books to Inspire Literacy
- Change in My Neighborhood: Collective Infrastructure Improvements
Cohort #2 began in October 2022 and completed their program in June 2023. From observations of our first year, as well as through a formal plus-delta conversation with our first cohort of interns, emerged the goal of increasing the overall social capital of interns and OgdenCAN as an organization. We refined our curriculum to reflect this social capital goal and tightened the focus of the training on engaging with neighbors and facilitating emergence, allowing neighbors to inform interns what direction their community project should take. We also shifted instruction to be more active and experiential, so that, for example, rather than talking about the uses of a capacity inventory, the interns actually made a capacity inventory and then talked about why it was useful.
One of the most significant updates has been the community group project, led by the Training Coordinator. By working with a real community asset and including hands-on experience, interns were given the opportunity to see the tools and methods of asset-based community development and design thinking applied to a real case study. Interns actively recruit community members to participate in the process, conduct interviews, synthesize data, plan workshops and develop community interventions.
The community group project this year was “Oasis Community Garden: Growing Community not just Plants.” Looking at Oasis Community Garden as a community asset, the community leader interns were given the opportunity for an applied, experiential learning project by helping to create more links between the neighbors of the local community garden and the garden's managing organization. Neighbors were engaged in one-on-one interviews to learn their perspective, invited to share new ideas for strengthening community around the garden and then invited to try out (or validate) those new ideas. Suggestions ranged from organizing monthly potlucks/social events to changing signs in the garden to be more inviting and making the process for renting the garden easier for neighbors to host birthdays, BBQs and other neighborhood activities there.
Our 2nd cohort of interns have implemented community organizing projects addressing:
- Effective Community Composting
- Walkability of Taylor Avenue
- Little Libraries and a Culture of Literacy
- Neighborhood Art Walk
Meet the Interns
Andrea Díaz (also hired by United Way) – Andrea’s community organizing project was “Little libraries & a culture of literacy.” In addition to her connection with United Way, Andrea has been collaborating with Ogden Weber Community Action Partnership with a series of reading readiness classes. She's also gathered the local hosts of little libraries together to brainstorm literacy events and is starting a reading group for teens and adults at the local Grounds for Coffee.
"The education gained from the weekly classes, paired with the experience of getting out into the community to shape my project, I truly feel like I am making a difference in my community. The world may seem like it is filled with big problems that can't be fixed locally, but that's how change starts! Think small and big things will happen."
Camelia Becerril (also works for the Sustainability office at Weber State) – Camelia’s community organizing project was “Effective community composting.” Lia has been able to connect with Oasis Community Garden, Farmer Karl of Grow Ogden/ Eden Streets, and WasteLess Solutions and will be meeting with all three this week to see if they can pool resources for a sustainable community composting program. She also has connections with Steve Ballard, a local restaurant owner who grows greens at Oasis. She's planning composting workshops at Oasis and earlier ran a composting activity at our April community breakfast.
"Since being part of the OCAN community leaders internship I have gained practical experience and fostered a deeper understanding of community engagement and leadership. One primary value that I gained from this experience is personal development. Asset-based learning promotes a more inclusive and equitable environment by focusing on the diversity of community assets and experiences that members bring. My self-efficacy and self-confidence have enhanced thanks to Isaac’s teaching of asset-based learning. Rather than focusing on deficits or weaknesses, asset-based learning seeks to discover and build upon the existing assets and resources within individuals and communities. This has shaped a new way of thinking and approaching community engagement for me. The ideation workshops gave us the opportunity to motivate each other, delegate tasks, and collaborate on ideas. This is something that I value greatly because it develops empathy and compassion by interacting with one another and working towards the betterment of the community."
Luis Montenegro Calla – Luis’ community organizing project was “Walkability of Taylor Avenue.” Luis has been most successful at connecting with grassroots in his neighborhood to brainstorm solutions. He's also connected with Jenn Bodine of WSU Sustainability and Liz Elsemore at the Weber Morgan Health Department, as well as a mayoral candidate who lives on his street, and is coordinating with them to get the word out about his neighborhood campaign for street safety.
“My internship experience has been truly extraordinary. I never imagined the existence of programs like this, especially since they are not commonly found where I come from. Many individuals have the desire to help and make a positive impact in others’ lives, but often lack the necessary tools, knowledge, and resources to do so. Being part of this program has provided me with all three— the tools, knowledge, and both social and economic means. It has truly expanded my perspective, introducing me to a reality I was unaware of. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be a part of this program.
The internship has profoundly influenced how I perceive myself and my future aspirations. While pursuing my degree in chemistry, I have discovered the significance of personal growth in various dimensions. This experience has inspired me to develop myself holistically as a human being. In addition to my passion for chemistry, I have a strong aspiration to pursue a career as a physician in the future. I know that by immersing myself in social work, I can enhance my understanding of diverse perspectives and foster essential skills for potential future healthcare practice. This internship has instilled in me a deep sense of compassion and a commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of others, with the hope of one day fulfilling my aspirations as a physician.”
Sophie Beck – Sophie’s community organizing project was “Neighborhood art walks.” Sophie has connected with last year's intern Eva Barnett, as well as the Weber Morgan Health Department. Sophie is starting a series of monthly neighborhood walks connecting to Eva's Art Stroll at Lester Park along a route with historic and architectural interest.
"My experience as a community leader intern with Ogden CAN has been absolutely incredible. This time has meant so much to me because I have seen that there are so many different ways to be involved with one's own community than I previously knew. Our weekly meetings and training exercises were always fun and exciting and taught me so much about how to connect with people and make an impact in our community. I am so excited to take on new projects and roles in life where I can apply what I have learned here and will always reflect on this experience positively!"
Another update this year has been the creation of two second-year positions for standout interns from the first cohort to continue to develop as community leaders. Eva Barnett and Flor Lopez have served as the second-year interns. Both Eva and Flor have had a significant impact on their community. Here are their stories.
Eva Barnett - This year Eva has continued her work to make Lester Park safer and more usable by local residents by convening city planners, parks & recreation, local landscape architect Shalae Larsen and other community members. Eva’s efforts have resulted in new soccer goals and she has made progress on a stalled plan for a park renovation. Eva has also worked with the Ogden City, Ogden/Weber Health Department and Get Healthy Utah to put together funds for a new crosswalk with flashing lights to be installed for increased safety for neighbors and children to have more access to the park.
She has collaborated with the public library and Golden Hours Senior Center to lend out activity kits for outdoor play. Last spring while waiting for things to progress at Lester Park, she set up an outdoor play program after school at James Madison Elementary.
Her current effort is the First Friday Art Stroll in Lester Park to get more neighbors feeling a sense of ownership in the park while showcasing the work of local artists. Eva has also been working with MJ Munger to streamline the process for community members to use the Community Education Center for their own classes. She looks forward to the prospect of a series of simple, free education classes to be taught there.
Flor Lopez - Last year Flor talked with her own neighbors who agreed their biggest issue was neighborhood clean-up & safety. They worked together to fix and paint some older neighbors’ houses, including donated labor and supplies from neighbors who were plumbers, electricians and landscapers. When they hit a wall with the city to put in lighting along their back alley, the neighbors got together and surprised Flor with solar lighting to improve safety in the alley.
This year Flor started our Spanish language internship pilot program and has been working with MJ Munger to make it sustainable long-term. Her efforts with her cohort of four Spanish language interns has been remarkable for the quality of the interns, as well as those who have participated with their projects. Both Flor’s and the interns energy to uplift their neighborhoods is palpable and we see this Spanish-speaking cohort as a huge step to providing resources for all residents of our community.
It has also been exciting to watch Flor put many of her internship skills to work as she opened the Little Rainbow Candy Shop in Ogden with one of her close friends and now business partner. Because of her excellent marketing skills and friendly nature, the business is going well and she has brought some of her Mexican culture with special pinatas and Mexican candy to Ogden.
Here are the stories of the three Spanish language interns that participated in Flor’s pilot project:
Danya Bernal – Danya’s community organizing project was “community fitness and nutrition.” Danya has begun a well-attended series of free community exercise and nutrition classes at the Marshall White Center, the public library, and hopefully at James Madison Elementary as it transitions from being a public school to a community space. She's been able to work out an arrangement where she provides free classes and then can use the space free for additional paid sessions.
“Thanks for teaching us that there are no limits when it comes to achieving our goals. Because no matter how much we feel that we can’t take it anymore or that we’re not moving in the right direction, people like you always appear and encourage us to keep going.”
Lissette Díaz – Lissette Diaz’s community organizing project was a “support group for Spanish-speaking immigrant women.” Lisette has begun a multi-faceted program she's called Fearless31 to connect Latina entrepreneurs and provide training, mutual help and encouragement, including speakers and support groups. As part of her program, Lisette has started a local book group to read motivational and business training books together online.
“It’s wonderful when we realize the true potential we have within, and even with fear we start to use it! It’s amazing to have mentors who provide insight into what one can achieve!”
Miriam Oteo – Miriam Oteo’s community organizing project was “non-violent parenting workshops.” Miriam held a very well-attended, and impressively prepared and dynamically presented parenting workshop, focusing on non-violent ways to work with children. Miriam has made a connection with OWCAP's Circles program to run ongoing parenting workshops in Spanish. Miriam has connected with the Family Support Center of Ogden who are thrilled to partner with her and are searching for ways to reimburse her for her time. Miriam was just hoping for space to teach her classes, but Family Support has needed parenting classes taught in Spanish and recognize the value of what she's doing.
“OgdenCAN provided me with resources, education, tools, and step by step to create and consolidate the foundations of my project. In addition to bringing people committed to the community to the table to guide us and connect with the right people to collaborate with each of the projects.”
When regular community members showed up for a "Community Breakfast" intended only for service providers in the community, we knew there was an interest we could tap into to create another "bumping space" where interns and people in the community could connect over ideas and projects.
With the generosity of local caterer Dwain Burbank and the kind cooperation of the Weber State University's Community Education Center, we began hosting a once-a-month breakfast focused on a theme (so far: honoring neighborhood heroes, gardening and composting, and literacy), each of which have been well-attended, each bigger than the last. Over the summer, we'll switch to community dinners held at the Oasis Community Garden to get the ball rolling there before urging them to begin a regular community potluck when we resume breakfasts at the Community Education Center in the fall. It's been exciting to see people lingering to talk afterwards, getting excited about things happening in their own neighborhood. We've been able to help our interns make connections and recruit applicants for our next year's internship.