Strengthen your leadership skills and learn with other change-makers to make a greater impact. The Community Advocates Leadership Academy, put on by Committee for Green Foothills, trains people who are working locally to make a difference on the environmental and social challenges of our time.
Participants explore systems thinking, power in politics, campaign planning, and their personal mission. Graduates have enhanced advocacy skills and a powerful network.
Early bird Deadline
June 15th @ 5:00PM PST
Apply for the 2019-2020 Class!
Maximize Your Impact.
Read about the impact that CALA has had on our graduates and their communities.
“Community Advocates Leadership Academy reaffirmed my passion”
“Community Advocates Leadership Academy taught me to speak up for my community”
“We won our campaign thanks to Community Advocates Leadership Academy”
Morgan Aitken Young
“Community Advocates Leadership Academy gave me courage and strength”
We encourage all interested people to apply, regardless of financial means. Cost per participant is $3,000. Full and partial scholarships available thanks to the financial support of San Mateo County Health System, Google, Knight Foundation, and Committee for Green Foothills’ members.
September 7, 2019
All sessions on Saturday, generally 8:30am-1:00pm
October 5, 2019
November 2, 2019
December 7, 2019
January 11, 2020
February 1, 2020
March 7, 2020
April 4, 2020
May 6, 2020
June 7, 2020
Learn. Collaborate. Maximize Your Impact.
Apply to be a part of the 2019-2020 cohort.
COPYRIGHT © 2019 GREEN FOOTHILLS
Violet Saena can’t recall a moment when she realized environmental protection was important because this awareness was a part of her daily life growing up in Samoa. “The ocean was my backyard,” she explains, “and I saw so many environmental problems from my back door.” Her father would report illegal dumping in the river that ran through her family’s home, her brother was a geographer who studied the land, and she received an environmental scholarship from New Zealand to bring back her knowledge to Samoa and work in the Samoan government as the first resident climate change expert. Straight out of undergrad she was in charge of ensuring the country delivered on commitments to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But she soon found her real passion was working with communities impacted by climate change; this was not an easy task.
“[It] was very top down at first and there were no resources when I started,” Violet said. “My job evolved because we saw the impact. We wrote a project to make sure the money [from the Canadian government and the World Bank] went into communities. I helped identify community priorities to help minimize the effects of climate change.” Violet brought this experience with her when she moved to the US and completed a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on community resilience. She kept seeing the same problems in different places. Of the US, Violet said “most of the high risk communities are not involved. Government focuses on infrastructure but not the impact to the community.” Violet wanted to put her experience and education to work, but was unsure how to proceed given the troubling frameworks she had identified. Around this time she found out about the Community Advocates Leadership Academy from a friend in 2015.
“I was looking for networking opportunities with like-minded environmentalists in CALA but found much more,” she shared. “I will never forget gaining the confidence to fundraise and to navigate the political system effectively. I now have the advocacy tools and stronger connections with other people who care about the same things I do. Now we can support one another.”
After CALA, Violet joined Acterra and the Green at Home project. She is now creating similar community based programs for people who are particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change. “The communities I’m working in, they don’t know about climate change,” she says. “The only information they get is now there is flooding and drought – but if you ask them to explain climate change that is something they need help with.” Within CALA Violet found the program, support, and network to get to work helping those who most need it. Violet says, “CALA reaffirmed my passion. I love working on climate change, I want to build resilience as a community person with the hope and goal to influence policy makers. I don’t know where I would be without CALA.”
Violet is one of the 100+ community leaders who have graduated from the Community Advocates Leadership Academy making San Mateo and Santa Clara counties better for all of us who live and work here. Thank you Violet!
Uriel Hernandez always felt a bit cynical about influencing local government in his hometown of East Palo Alto. As he explained it, “The political and development processes always seemed so murky to me. Then I found the Community Advocates Leadership Academy in 2016.”
Growing up, Uriel noticed how different the cities surrounding East Palo Alto were. “In Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton, it felt like you were in a magical forest when compared to East Palo Alto. The lack of tree cover was creating a disconnect between people and nature.”
When Uriel returned from college he started volunteering for Canopy, a local nonprofit, and its “Branching Out” program. The program’s goal is to plant 500 trees by 2020 in the neighborhood where he grew up. In 2015, after volunteering for a year, he was offered a full-time job to manage the program. He said it was his “opportunity to bring nature back to East Palo Alto.”
When Uriel was asked to apply to the Community Advocates Leadership Academy in 2016, he jumped at the opportunity. It was his chance to learn more about how “to unite and mobilize people to create larger actions.”
During the 10-month program from September 2016 through June 2017, Uriel discovered how to work with city councilmembers and how to better engage the community. He found the lessons directly impacted his work with the City of East Palo Alto planting trees.
Beyond his day job with Canopy, “the program opened my eyes to being a community advocate. My view of citizen engagement changed. I wish I had learned about the development process sooner. Perhaps there was something I could have done to influence the developments going up in my city.”
Thanks to the Leadership Academy, Uriel is more committed than ever to staying engaged and speaking up for the changes he wants to see. He says he knows, “that now it’s up to me as a community member to show up and keep the pressure on government so they know people care.”
Uriel is already starting to be recognized for his leadership on environmental issues. In March 2017 he received Bay Nature’s Local Hero award for Youth Engagement. He is one of the 100+ community leaders who have graduated from the Community Advocates Leadership Academy and is working to make San Mateo and Santa Clara counties better for all of us who live and work here.
Thank you Uriel!
This post was written by Morgan Aitken-Young, Community Advocates Leadership Academy Class of 2016. Morgan recently sat down with graduates of the program to capture how it has impacted their advocacy.
My family has a long history of civic leadership. My grandfather, Don Aitken, was one of the founding members of Committee for Green Foothills. In 2015, I was 25 years old, wanting to make a difference on the issue of money in politics but not knowing exactly how. When I found out about the Community Advocates Leadership Academy, I knew that I had to apply.
The program gave me the courage to lead a San Francisco ballot initiative campaign in 2016. I championed Proposition T to ban lobbyist campaign contributions, gifts of travel, and bundling. But ballot initiative campaigns are a lot of hard work. The Community Advocates Leadership Academy equipped me with the toolset to draft the policy language, organize the campaign, and mobilize people to join the cause.
That being said, the most meaningful part of the program wasn’t what I learned but the friendships I made with 30 other local leaders in the program. The members of this cohort are from every walk of life and they care about so many issues, from climate, to public health, to education. Seeing these people every month invigorated me. We supported one another, improved one another, and reminded one other that we can each make an impact.
We did win our local ballot measure. But beyond that, it was the community of engaged citizens and our potential to create change that makes me grateful for this program and drives me forward with hope. My campaign team, RepresentUs, cannot wait for others to do the work we need in our communities, our country, and our world. To see change we must act together. I will always value the Community Advocates Leadership Academy and Committee for Green Foothills for teaching me how to do my part.
This post was written by Morgan Aitken-Young, Community Advocates Leadership Academy Class of 2016.
Sylvia Ornelas realized at a young age that communities differed in their resources. “I realized something was wrong when I was in high school and there were not enough textbooks for everyone,” she says. “Even as a teenager, I knew that was not right and something needed to be done to ensure despite income, language, or cultural barriers, our educational needs were met.” This awareness of unevenly shared resources became more stark for Sylvia, “some neighborhoods had more than others – better roads, cleaner parks, less homelessness, higher police presence, and even better public transportation.”
Most would see a systemic problem like income inequality and do nothing. But that’s not who Sylvia is. “I grew up in a working class family and my parents taught me to
speak up for what I believe in.” She shares, “My Dad is a union man and I recall he often came home and talked about job inequality and going to march in Sacramento on behalf of workers’ rights. My mother was also quick to organize school parents and go before the school board.”
Sylvia decide to take her passion for social justice to help shape land use in her own community. She pursued a Master’s degree at San Jose State in City, Urban, Community and Regional planning. While working toward her degree, she worked with small businesses on the East Side of San Jose and organized a Paint-A-Thon with Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley and her colleagues at school. After graduating she went to work as an Urban Planner for the County of Santa Clara where she had a direct impact on the issues closest to her heart, from open space protection to housing.
She worked in this field for 9 years and then had a baby girl and took leave. Nearing the end of her maternity leave she came across the Community Advocates Leadership Academy and saw the program as an opportunity to gain new skills as she returned to her work. “I applied to Community Advocates Leadership Academy hoping to learn how to be more able to effect community change locally. This program exceeded my expectations, not only providing me tools and resources for effective advocacy, but more importantly bringing people like me together who are standing up to make a difference.”
But beyond the skills, tools, and network, Sylvia realized during the program what she wanted to do next in her career. “The program was inspirational and empowered me so much that I quit and started my own land use consulting company,” Sylvia shares. “We assist local property owners and developers maximize land use potential while preserving and protecting the environment.”
Now she has begun a new journey, and she attributes the leap to this program because, she reflects, “the Community Advocates Leadership Academy gave me the courage and strength to expand beyond my own limits. Without a doubt, this program makes the world a better place one person at a time.”
Thank you Sylvia!