2017 NLC-SA fellows during the Finance, Fundraising and Education Institute weekend March 4-5 at Geekdom. Credit: Courtesy / NLC-SA

Voters went to the polls this weekend to decide the city’s new mayor and six new City Council members for the coming term. But if a new group in San Antonio is successful, the names on future ballots might belong to those who are already preparing for public office.

The New Leaders Council (NLC) is a national nonprofit founded eight years ago in San Francisco. Now the group that is “dedicated to educating a new generation of leaders and to providing those leaders with the tools they need to succeed,” has found its way to San Antonio. NCL-SA completed its second annual Institute here in May.

There are NLC chapters in at least 48 cities across the country, including Dallas, Houston, and Austin. The San Antonio chapter debuted in 2016, graduating its first group of 13 NLC Fellows last year.

To apply for the 2018 NLC-SA Institute, click here. 

“While the primary objective is to get people to run for office, I love the fact that there are other opportunities for people to be engaged, too,” said Andrew Solano, NLC-SA board chair and a policy advisor in the City of San Antonio mayor’s office. “It’s [becoming] president of your neighborhood association, working at a nonprofit, or in other professions where you can make a difference in your community.”

Though NLC states that it serves only as an education leadership training ground and does not support or oppose any candidate for public office, the group distinguishes itself from other leadership programs by taking a stand on policy issues facing all levels of government today.

Dan DeBauche and Katie Kinder DeBauche of Kinder + Debauche break down data with NLC-SA fellows during the Political Management and Coalition Building Institute April 8-9 at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Credit: Courtesy / NLC-SA

“They are more issue-based [than other leadership programs],” said MaryEllen Veliz, incoming NLC-SA chair and an alumna of the program’s inaugural class. Veliz is a native San Antonian who graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio before going to work in the local office of U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett (D-San Antonio), who serves on the NLC advisory board.

“NLC comes out with a lot of positions,” Veliz added. “For example, the NLC just released a statement pushing back on the president pulling out of the Paris Agreement. So we are recruiting and training progressives in San Antonio to get engaged in these issues, to make a difference, and move our city forward.”

NLC reports that 57% of its 5,000 alumni are non-white and 53% are women, “a true reflection of the Millennial generation,” according to the NLC website.

For San Antonio’s Millennial population, there appears to be some growing interest and involvement in local issues, according to data from the civic engagement nonprofit Move San Antonio, but perhaps not enough: Although just 9.3% of adults age 19 to 34 came out to vote in the recent city elections, that’s up from 3.4% in 2015.

One member of San Antonio’s new class of NLC Institute fellows has already put what she learned into action. Fátima Menéndez, 30, is a senior staff attorney with the children’s program of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a nonprofit specializing in immigration defense and advocacy.

A week into this year’s New Leaders Institute, Menéndez said, President Trump signed an executive order expanding the priority enforcements for immigrants deemed removable.

(From left) 2017 NLC-San Antonio Fellows Kristopher Ryan, Sonya Hernandez, Victoria Echeverri, Veronica Haywood, Molly Neck, Jessica Estorga, Michelle Swisher, Denise Hernandez, Fátima Menéndez, Chris Stewart, Melanie Castillo, Demonte Alexander, Coda Rayo-Garza, Julia Grizzard at the Progressive Policy Institute weekend May 6-7 at the San Antonio Zoo’s Donkey Barn. Credit: Courtesy / NLC-SA

“I attended several advocacy events shortly after this happened and quickly realized that none of these events were being attended by the population that was being most affected – undocumented immigrants,” Menéndez said.

She also realized that many undocumented immigrants felt safe approaching school teachers and administrators about their growing concerns, so she created a handout in both English and Spanish and a presentation providing immigration information.

“I was informed of an upcoming SAISD school board meeting … I had never been to a school board meeting before, nor did I know how school district resolutions and policies were created and passed, until [I joined] NLC and [began] speaking with some of the other fellows,” Menéndez said.

“I attended the school board meeting and testified in favor of the school board passing an immigrant-friendly resolution to ensure the safety and privacy of immigrant students in the district.”

The school board passed the resolution that evening. Menéndez’s testimony was the only one the board mentioned during its decision-making process.

“NLC inspired me to take action by using the entrepreneurship, advocacy, and leadership tools they provided me with by reaching across different sectors and finding a void that I could help fill within our city,” she said.

One of last year’s fellows, Alberto Altamirano, is CEO and co-founder of Cityflag. His organization developed the interactive mobile app that will be used by the City of San Antonio for its 311 services starting later this summer.

Part of the initiative to make San Antonio a “smart city” by increasing its digital connectivity and Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives, Cityflag incorporates a social media tangent and mapping system where people can report infrastructure and service issues in their neighborhood by posting pictures and messages.

A goal for the app is to increase civic engagement, especially among Millennials.

With a goal to see more young leaders run for public office, NLC is realizing some success in other cities. Last month, in municipalities such as Pittsburgh, Portland, and Los Angeles, five NLC alumni won spots on their city councils and school boards. Two are now mayors.

The NLC-SA board is currently recruiting for the 2018 class of fellows. As established by the national board of NLC, the suggested age for applicants is between 25 and 40 years old — men and women who have already completed college and started a career.

“We also want people who are open to new ideas,” Solano said. “In general, that means being diverse, and having a mindset that believes in basic human rights.”

Applications and interviews are scheduled for October and November, with notifications to follow. The New Leaders Institute begins in January 2018 and continues one weekend a month through May at various locations throughout the city. The cost is a $250 deposit that can be refunded when the course is completed, although Veliz said some participants choose to donate the funds to NLC.

The Institute features local and national leaders speaking on a variety of themes, including working with media outlets, digital strategy, fundraising, philanthropy and campaigning for office. In addition to a “capstone project,” fellows also work together to organize a fundraiser that offsets the cost of the program.

The group of 15 newest fellows is hosting a fundraiser reception, “Up From San Antone,” June 13 at the Witte Museum.

Other leadership programs in San Antonio include:

  • Alexander Briseño Leadership Development Program (ABLDP) of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is a seven-month program that builds and enhances personal and professional leadership skills. The curriculum provides participants with the tools to meet the intellectual and often emotional demands of leadership. The 2017 session begins this month.
  • Masters Leadership Program provides proven leaders with opportunities to learn about needs in the community and serve as effective board members for local nonprofits and civic commissions. The average age of participants is over 50. The next session begins in October and continues through April 2018.
  • Transformational Leadership Development Series of the San Antonio Women’s Chamber of Commerce program aims to help leaders and future leaders identify and develop executive-level leadership skills. The program consists of six morning sessions. Applications for the 2017 series are no longer being accepted.
  • Leadership Lab is the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s approach to leadership development and workforce preparedness targeted to San Antonio’s up-and-coming business leaders from the corporate, nonprofit, and small-business environments. The nine-month training program is focused on professional performance, leadership, management, community service and self-awareness, and starts in January.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...