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Building leaders for the future

Calling all community leaders! Do you want to make a difference in your community and neighborhood? Would you like to meet the movers and shakers in Gwinnett that can help you make it happen? Then you need to sign up for the next class of the Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute.

The Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute (GNLI) is a program of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services, a nonprofit organization. GNLI has been operating for more than 10 years, making a huge difference in Gwinnett. GNLI was started as a way to get grass roots residents involved in improving their neighborhoods and communities.

The GNLI is an eight-month program that meets on one Saturday a month and begins with a two-day weekend retreat at Simpsonwood. It is followed by seven sessions on issues like government, planning and zoning, media relations, communications, health and human services, community economics, education and crime prevention. Also, each session contains a skill building segment from the Fanning Leadership Institute at UGA.

Another unique aspect of the program is that students get to practice their leadership skills by completing a community or neighborhood improvement project for graduation. The projects have ranged from partnering with local nonprofits to neighborhood clean-ups. One project team helped build a playground a Norris Lake. Another project developed a volunteer interpreter's program to ride-along with Gwinnett police. For a longer list of projects, visit our Web site. There have been many valuable outcomes to the community from these projects.

Over 250 alumni along with community leaders continue to create an exciting program for Gwinnett residents. The GNLI is made up of members who represent all the many aspects of diversity in Gwinnett. Alumni represent all cultures, races, incomes, gender and age. The makeup of the alumni prides itself in being more diverse than Gwinnett County. However, with the growing diversity in our community, keeping up with this growth has been a challenge to many area organizations. Having a body of skilled, diverse leaders ready to assist in helping keep Gwinnett great is integral to our future success.

This year, GNLI is supported by the Gwinnett County Police Department, the Gwinnett United Way, student fees, the Georgia General Assembly and other corporate donations. The program is very low-cost due to the tremendous involvement of volunteers. A volunteer advisory board made up of alumni and community members oversee the program. Each program day is facilitated by alumni and all the speakers are volunteers.

I have been involved with many leadership programs in my career. I think they are all valuable and special. The GNLI is very special to our organization and community. I see alumni participating in community and government boards, public forums, revitalization efforts and many other worthwhile efforts. I feel honored to have the opportunity to work with so many wonderful community leaders. When I hear people in our community complaining about some societal or community issue, I wish they would come in contact with the alumni and members of the Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute. Or better yet, they should sign up to participate and take action on these issues! That is what makes Gwinnett a stronger community!

For more information about the 2005-2006 class of the Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute visit our Web site at www.gnli.org. Or call us at 678-377-4137. We are currently accepting nominations and applications. Space is limited. The sooner you get your application in, the more likely you are to be accepted in the next class.

I promise this will be one of the most meaningful experiences of your life. Make a difference. Together, we can continue to build a better Gwinnett. I look forward to seeing you this fall in the 2005-2006 class of GNLI.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Ellen Gerstein of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services. GNLI is a program of the coalition.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.