The seeds of Neighborhood Leadership Institute were planted by graduates of early classes of Neighborhood Leadership Cleveland (NLC), which started in 1994 as a program of the Neighborhood Centers Association, under the direction of Don Slocum. Alumni of NLC came together to form the Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Forum to continue networking and discussions around building community. In 1998, three of these engaged grads—Blaine Griffin, Bill Newsome, and Muqit Sabur, worked with Don to develop a plan for a new organization that would allow for a more comprehensive vision and organizational structure to foster grassroots leadership.
Their persistence resulted in the incorporation of Neighborhood Leadership Institute in 2001, with the three grads as trustees. Over the next year, they explored options for the Institute’s funding and operations. At the same time, NCA’s board of trustees undertook a strategic planning process that led to their decision to end their sponsorship of any programs not directly connected to one of their member settlement houses. That meant programs such as Neighborhood Leadership Cleveland, as well as the out-of-school time program Schools as Neighborhood Resources, though still funded, could be transferred for management and growth to the Institute.
With two key programs, Griffin, Newsome and Sabur were able to leverage support for operations with support from local foundations and name Don Slocum executive director. A contract for support of the Neighborhood Connections small grants program of the Cleveland Foundation provided additional revenue. The founders then enlisted additional NLC graduates to serve on the board of trustees. The Institute secured office space and opened for business on January 2, 2003. The Board of Trustees expanded to nine members and began to meet on a monthly basis.
Since that time, the Institute has operated afterschool and summer SNR sites and graduated leaders from 33 classes of Neighborhood Leadership Cleveland, plus numerous neighborhood and special-focus sessions.The strength of this ever-growing pool of trained leaders, along with the gifted and giving staff Don has developed, has allowed the Institute to become the go-to organization for grassroots engagement in Greater Cleveland, along with providing technical assistance in starting analogous programs throughout Ohio.