Joggers, parents and children visiting Stephens Lake Park might have noticed extra activity in the Reichmann Pavilion, where the Neighborhood Leadership Program held its graduation on Tuesday, April 20.
Participants applied to take part in the program, which started in January and consisted of eight sessions that covered topics related to strengthening Columbia’s neighborhoods through leadership.
Angela Haigh, one of the 2010 session graduates, organized the graduation event.
Haigh, who has been active in the Hominy branch area near Blue Ridge, was encouraged to apply for the program by Leigh Britt, manager of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to this Neighborhood Leadership Program and seeing what else I can hand to my neighbors,’ ” she said. “I want to see what I can bring back to the neighborhood and make it grow.”
It took Haigh about six weeks to plan and prepare the graduation event.
The agenda for the night included a casual dinner of pizza and cake followed by a visit and Q-and-A with Chris Belcher, the superintendent of Columbia Public Schools.
The group was then led into a “talking circle,” a group reflection that was introduced to the program this year.
The purpose of the talking circle is to allow each participant standing in the circle to speak, without interruption, and share their complete thoughts with the group.
Bill Cantin, the response coordinator for the Neighborhood Services office, said this new addition to the program has been appreciated.
“We have actually gotten really good feedback from some of the participants,” he said.
Cantin said that some participants have used the talking circle method for purposes outside of the program.
During the talking circle session at graduation, many shared their hopes for more communication within neighborhoods and the different neighborhood associations. Safety within the communities was also a common concern.
Leigh Britt then recognized all who were involved with the program, including the graduates.
The graduation closed with Haigh and Scott Cristal, another 2010 graduate, introducing a new way for neighbors to communicate through Facebook.
“I mostly worked on the Facebook page — designed it and created it,” Haigh said. “I started inviting back all of the people I knew, all of my connections, neighborhood watch, everybody I could get.”
According to Haigh, the goal of the Facebook page, titled “Columbia Neighborhood Alliance,” is to create another way for the city to communicate with the different communities as well as provide many resources in one place.
“I launched it on Sunday about 5 o’clock,” she said. “And we have almost 100 people.”
Although the program has ended, many participants plan to move forward in their communities using the knowledge they have acquired.
Cristal, who is a resident in the Park Hill neighborhood area, said he wants to get other people in his community involved by providing them the resources he has found through the program.
“Now I have more mechanisms for who to reach when questions come up for somebody,” he said. “Instead of kind of guessing, I have had the chance to have met them and say ‘This is what department you need to talk to,’ or ‘This is the person you need to talk to.’”
Along with the Facebook page, Haigh hopes there will be other tools created in the future to help connect the neighborhoods.
“The one thing I want with the city is to continue to build tools for the neighborhood associations because those people need their help,” she said.
Cantin said Neighborhood Services intends to hold this program again around this same time next year.
For more information on the Neighborhood Leadership Program, go to http://www.gocolumbiamo.com/Volunteer/NeighborhoodLeadershipProgram.php.