Building community from the ground up

In part 3 of our Q&A, Celeste Licorish reflects on her experiences with the Neighbourhood Leadership Institute.

Neighbourhood Leadership Institute is an HCF initiative that enables residents in Hamilton neighbourhoods to get together and work on projects that help improve those neighbourhoods in different ways. Can you talk a little bit about your own experience with NLI?

Two years ago I had the opportunity to participate in the NLI program as a resident. I had a partner who had a great idea, a project about rehabilitating Lake Ontario and it was really an amazing experience.

CL Blog_3Through the 10-week process, I met other neighbours, we travelled to different areas of the city and we learned how to think through challenges. After we’d developed our project idea, we had to figure out things like how to get support from community stakeholders, how to develop a business plan, how to pitch an idea to someone, how to articulate the vision in ways that are going to be engaging.

What was your best takeaway from NLI?

The biggest benefit I got out of NLI was the network, the people that I met. Some of them I’d met before but by going through an intensive program, spending 10 weeks with them, and then graduating with them, it made me feel like I was part of a really rich alumni. We’d developed these great ideas and then through NLI we were able to go forward and realize them. So any time I hear that one of my NLI alumni is working on a project, my first thought is how can I help them, how can I support them.

And this is a very motivated network of people.

Absolutely! NLI has made me feel more connected to community and even more proud to be a Hamiltonian because I was just blown away at how creative and courageous and inspired people are! And just how much goodwill there is to make the community a better place – not based on experience or money but just a passion for making things better for people. When you’re around that energy and you have inspired leaders from the community who are coming in to support and nurture that energy, you can’t help but be excited and want to do your best.

NLI has been one of the very best processes I’ve been a part of to build the community from the ground up. So for residents who maybe don’t have connections to the community, NLI is a great place to establish them.
Recently, NLI collaborated with McMaster Centre for Continuing Education for the Professional Development stream of NLI. What’s the value of this new stream?

Sometimes community engagement and leadership are talked about in vague terms. NLI on the other hand is grounded in the kinds of research and best practices that will make a huge difference for participants in the way they are able to engage with others, empower others and add dignity to processes for people who come from all different kinds of backgrounds and experiences. I think the PD stream is a fabulous way to offer the professional credentials and confidence for people who are going to go and do this kind of work in a meaningful way.


In next week’s final instalment, Celeste talks about what she loves best about her role as donor advisor at HCF.