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After the 2008 recession, the State of California, made many cuts, including in redevelopment agencies across the state. Redevelopment agencies had the capacity to build leadership in communities in the course of their daily work. After the dissolution of the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative in San Jose, CommUniverCity had the opportunity to develop and implement what is described in these articles by Dr. AJ Faas.
Thanks to this program, we have had the privilege of being in the presence of fantastic community leaders like Dee Barragan, Jeff Levine, Maria Marcelo, Moises Mena, Chris Esparza, Bert Weaver, Rita Torres, Carmen Cautiverio, Alfonso Mendez, Rosalinda Aguilar, Patty Lozano, Estefania Rosas, Ana Uribe, Francisco Luna, Diana Moreno, Ismael Marure, Raul Valdivia, Maria Villicana, Citlally Sanchez, Maria Tovar, Juana Escamilla, Graciela Leon, Monica Vazquez, Yaneth Duran, Maria Claudio, Eva Cruz, Lourdes Becerril, Paulina Leon, Domy Sandoval, Lupe Sandoval, Delmy Cerna, Rosario Gaspar, Socorro Castaneda.
Below are some article highlights of the findings:
“In 2015, leaders in CommUniverCity, San José, California, began developing a program intended to foster the development of new generations of community leaders in the central district of the city…
We asked focus group participants to indicate and rank resources that a person may need to be an effective community leader. …
Rather, established leaders and community members seemed to prefer charismatic leaders who could act as bridgers and who perhaps work with planners to effectively organize the community…
One particularly noteworthy trend was that, by and large, emerging leaders tended to be more focused on personal relationships—support from partners, family, and friends—than others…
Emerging leaders mentioned how their personal relationships enabled them as leaders, while established leaders and community members focused on political and professional connections and emphasized how having the right professional connections helped get things done…
What was genuinely surprising, however, was those study participants began speaking up about how much they enjoyed the focus group process and that, for them, it was more like a capacity building than research participation; they never had an opportunity to take an inventory of their leadership skills, knowledge, and resources, and now they could focus on maximizing their strengths and addressing weaknesses. Several suggested that we continue this project, in multiple languages (Spanish, Vietnamese, etc.) to help train other community leaders in San Jose…
This led to our collaboration developing into a two-year participatory action project in which we worked with Spanish-speaking community leaders on focus group methodology for targeted community dialogue (see Part II in this issue). Leaders then developed their own focus groups with target groups in their respective communities in order to develop community-driven agendas for action on key issues.”


Central San José communities face challenges in developing neighborhood leadership. The Community Leadership Program seeks to create a pipeline of emerging leaders to become ambassadors and advocates for the communities in which they live. CLP provides an opportunity for leaders throughout Central San José to meet each other in structured workshops with SJSU students to discuss solutions to similar issues. Becoming a leader in a challenged community requires proficiency in particular skills. Led by SJSU Environmental Studies professor, Dr. Carolina Prado, neighborhood participants attended a series of weekly facilitation workshops conducted in Spanish to acquire the necessary skills and resources to drive their community building efforts. Workshop topics included community emergency plans, affordable housing, children’s education, neighborhood, safety, community building, data collection, and data analysis.

The confidence to speak: Measuring impacts of a community leadership program on community leadership skills and self-identification

by Carolina Prado, Katherine Cushing, Elizabeth Figueroa, Imelda Rodriguez, Mayra Pelagio & Marisela Castro

This case study explores the participant perspectives of a Community Leadership Program (CLP) in an underserved community. The CLP aimed to improve community conditions by increasing participants’ knowledge, skills, and confidence to participate in local governance forums. Our three research foci were to understand (1) how successful the program was in building individual leadership skills, (2) how skills were applied through participation in leadership activities, and (3) identify the barriers for practicing leadership in marginalized communities. Findings show that CLP participants highlighted the program’s impact on their: confidence to express their findings in public, ability to outreach to members of their community, and self-identify as leaders. While participants were participating more in social and political activities, they also expressed that the program did not equip them to deal with serious barriers such as responses to community members’ practice of leadership, access to institutional power and knowledge, and lack of resources.


By the Numbers | 2019-20

5 SJSU students engaged

26 residents engaged

361 hours of service

$50,000 value

Project Impact

100% of emerging community leaders now believe their voice is important in creating community solutions

90% of program participants found the necessary resources to confront problems in their community

80% of emerging community leaders developed the ability to create a plan to find solutions to community problems

Community Voices

“This program took me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to re-engage with my community.”
–CLP Participant

“My heart is in the community. My imagination soared thinking that the day will come when my dream is a reality and I have maximum support from my community. One day I will achieve it.”
–CLP Participant

“I received so much information that I feel the need to continue sharing. This is really motivating for us and I feel proud to have been a part of this program.”
–CLP Participant