Neighborhood College graduates new crop of community leaders

One year ago, Carolyn Mitchell was on the verge of abandoning her involvement with the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, a private non-profit organization that strives towards lessening tensions within the Southwest community of the District. Now, upon graduating from the GW-run D.C. Neighborhood College, Mitchell’s attitude is quite different – she is now the organization’s president.

The college handed diplomas to 18 new graduates on Friday in the Marvin Center. Managed by the Center for Excellence in Public Leadership at GW, the D.C. Neighborhood College strives to educate a select group of District residents in community leadership and public management so they can be more effective agents for change.

“There are things we can change, and now I have hope that I can make a difference,” said Mitchell of her experience in the program.

The program attracts students from all ranges of work experience, interests, age, gender, ethnicity and location within the city. Students attend classes taught by GW faculty, District government employees, members of local non-profit organizations and a variety of other people who work in the District. Tuition is free.

“Some students are already currently involved in leadership opportunities, and many others will go on to pursue other opportunities as a result of the skills they attain from the program,” said Karima Morris Woods, director of the D.C. Neighborhood College.

The recent graduates have wasted no time in applying their proactive teachings.

“In this program, we can do things for our community at the same time as we are in class, but with a broader perspective,” said recent graduate Vandana Sareen.

Sareen had the opportunity to apply the lessons she has learned from the program when plans to build a community center were halted in Southwest D.C., where she lives. Motivated by her studies in the D.C. Neighborhood College, she worked with the Advisory Neighborhood Commission to testify in front of the Zoning Commission and revamp the community-building project. As a result, the project is now on hold and under review.

Ashaki Goodall said three quarters of the year-long program was all it took to inspire her to redirect her career path. In October 2008, she resigned from her job in the District government to start her own consulting business directed towards developing organizational structures for community-based organizations and schools.

“I have changed personally and especially professionally,” she said.

Michael Patterson, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 6B, embodies the spirit the D.C. Neighborhood College aims to cultivate. When asked about his future aspirations, Patterson nodded with firm resolve and said, “I aspire to be the mayor of the District of Colombia.”

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