Wheelock Partnership Develops Community Leaders in Boston’s Mattapan Neighborhood

The Mattapan Community Leadership Academy—sponsored by a partnership between Wheelock College, ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center, and Mattapan United—recently celebrated its first graduating class. The program was designed to cultivate new community leaders from within the Mattapan neighborhood.

Led by Wheelock professors, as well as community leaders, the eight-month program comprised a series of classes focused on competencies related to nonprofit leadership. The 12 applicants who were chosen to be part of the inaugural class all signed a contract promising that once they completed the training program, they would serve on a local board of directors or advisory board based in Mattapan. Their graduation ceremony was held in June.

“Once they went through the academy and learned those skills, they were committing to use them in the community,” said Irwin Nesoff, Wheelock College Associate Professor of Nonprofit Leadership. “It’s been wonderful watching their growth level, in both their interest and their knowledge.”

Nesoff says the idea for the Mattapan Community Leadership Academy grew out of a capstone project led by students in Wheelock’s Nonprofit Leadership master’s degree program. The graduate students’ original project was to work with the Mattapan community to create a plan to develop community leaders who would run the Mattahunt Community Center after the expiration of Wheelock College’s five-year contract to oversee the center ended. In the end, the City of Boston decided to take over running the Mattahunt Center, but Nesoff said the students’ work shone a spotlight on an unmet need for new community leaders in the neighborhood.

Nesoff joined forces with ABCD and Mattapan United to broaden the program to include anyone in the community who wanted to develop leadership skills and give back to the neighborhood. He then lined up grant funding, enabling the launch of the Mattapan Community Leadership Academy.

Members of the inaugural class ranged in age from their mid-20s to mid-70s and Nesoff said all 12  accepted students successfully completed the full eight-month program. Classes, held once a month on Saturdays, focused on topics such as nonprofit budgeting, program planning, funding and fund-development (including proposal writing and grant research), community outreach, communication, board governance, program design and implementation.

“There’s no other organization that’s investing in community leadership of residents in Mattapan,” said Yusuf Ali, Lead Organizer for Mattapan United/ABCD Mattapan FSC. “This program we were able to put together creates the sustainability of future leaders in Mattapan with the skills and knowledge of what it means to be engaged.”

ABCD Mattapan FSC recently secured funding to continue the program for a second year; applications will open later this year.

Watch this video about the Mattapan Community Leadership Academy project and its goals: