The following is a publication on behalf of Leadership Mendocino composed by Susan Baird Kanaan
Nonprofits are vital to a thriving Mendocino County and support for these critical organizations is at the heart of the Community Foundation’s mission. We have partnered with Susan Baird Kanaan, a local writer, to pen a series of nonprofit feature articles, including this one on Leadership Mendocino, a program of North Coast Opportunities.
Since 2002, Leadership Mendocino has received $39,475 in grants thanks to the following funds: The Fund for Round Valley, the COVID-19 Nonprofit Relief Fund, the Ted and Wilma Westman Fund, the John and Sandra Mayfield Family Economic Development Fund, and the Community Support Grants Program.
Holly Madrigal, Program Director of Leadership Mendocino since 2018, calls the program “a Master’s Class on Mendocino County.” From October through May, after an opening retreat in September, 25 class members take part in monthly, day-long field trips to cultural and political centers, farms, and businesses from Covelo to Gualala. The experience is often likened to drinking from a firehose because of the volume of information conveyed in a short time. Through these experiences and a leadership curriculum, participants learn about the county’s regions and issues, enhance leadership skills, and cultivate lasting interpersonal bonds. Each year adds a new crop of informed, motivated, and interconnected leaders to the ranks of hundreds of program alumni.
Now 30 years old, Leadership Mendocino has been a program of North Coast Opportunities (NCO) since 2012, after initially being coordinated by the Ukiah Chamber of Commerce. A Steering Committee of five alums helps guide the program, oversee the budget, and review proposed projects. Individual donations, grants, and special events help support scholarships and the Program Director position.
Holly is the latest in a long line of dynamic Program Directors who somehow combine the qualities of impresario, facilitator, summer camp director, and change-agent. In particular, she said, “I have to mention my immediate predecessor, Heidi Dickerson, who has been a huge mentor. She has such a breadth of connections; I know a lot of people, but she knows everybody! And she always elevates everything she does and makes everything beautiful.”
“Having a diverse set of participants each year is super-important,” she explains. “This makes for a very rich experience.” She recruits widely to bring into the mix people with a range of ages and cultural, professional, and economic backgrounds from around the county. “Not everyone starts out thinking they are ‘leadership material’; but we build on the idea that everyone can improve their collaborative and leadership capabilities.”
To give back to the community, Leadership Mendocino alumni are expected to design and carry out a special project and/or join a nonprofit board. Two recent examples illustrate how alums see a need, design a solution, and work—often collaboratively—to make it happen:
- To address the local housing crisis, Jason Island created architectural plans for Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) and in 2020 gifted them to the City of Ft. Bragg for free use by residents. The free designs, with significant permitting already approved, represent large savings for the property owner.
- Anticipating the retirement of many nonprofit founders in the county, Megan Barber Allende and Sarah Livingston created the Executive Director Leadership Institute in 2019 to educate and support new executive directors and board members. The Institute operates under the auspices of the Community Foundation, with 25-30 participants in each year’s 9-month-long class.
Every non-profit leader has a unique story about how they weathered the COVID pandemic. For Holly, “The last three years feel like one long year. It was a stressful time. The Leadership Mendocino mission involves getting people together, and it was very hard to do what we do without physical contact. The pandemic also disrupted many alumni projects, and made it hard to roll out our new strategic plan.” To adapt, in late 2020 she organized zoom-based “community conversations” so that class members could talk with small business owners, first-responders, and high school students about the pandemic’s impact. The 2020-21 Leadership Mendocino class was cancelled; and nearly all of the 2021-22 class days (vaccinations required) took place out of doors. Support from the Community Foundation helped sustain the program in the absence of the usual fundraising events.
When asked what is most challenging about her position, Holly echoed many of her nonprofit colleagues: “Honestly, the most challenging thing is the constant fundraising. Big events are fun, but hard; and it’s especially hard to plan anything since the pandemic.” As for the rewards, she readily named several: “The first is seeing the connections get made. The second is when people learn something new about our county. I’m tickled when people say, ‘I had no idea!’ And third, I love the overnight retreat that starts every year. It’s rare for adults to step outside their professional roles, show vulnerability, and bond on that level. It’s a gift.”
Holly is confident that Leadership Mendocino will remain vitally important for Mendocino County. “The coming years, with their issues around climate change and natural disasters, will require of us collaboration, experimentation, and adaptation. We’re all in this together, and we can solve these challenges by working together outside our traditional ways of thinking and acting. Leadership Mendocino has a role to play in connecting people across the county with each other and with resources, assistance, and ways to cooperate. We encourage adaptive thinking and the idea of leadership as collaboration. And we help people develop the skills to make that happen.”
Holly Madrigal, Program Director
707-467-3230, textable 707-841-0612
North Coast Opportunities Inc.
413 N. State Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
Donations can be sent to Leadership Mendocino at its NCO address or via LeadershipMendocino.org