As a part of Harris Public Policy's and the Center for Effective Government’s celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Civic Leadership Academy (CLA), we asked previous fellows how CLA has impacted their work as civic leaders. These are their opinions and perspectives, informed by their own life experiences and worldviews (and do not necessarily reflect the views of Harris).

Kathleen St. Louis Caliento
Kathleen St. Louis Caliento, CLA'17

I am truly honored and thrilled to be part of the Civic Leadership Academy's 10-year celebration, representing the 2017 cohort. Reflecting on my time in CLA, I can't help but acknowledge the profound impact it has had on my journey as a civic leader, influencing my approach to leadership and community engagement in ways I couldn't have imagined.

Being a member of the 2017 cohort allowed me to connect with a diverse group of leaders, fostering a rich exchange of ideas and experiences. A number of these connections have persisted and serve as my speed-dial lifelines. I learned how to take specific challenges I was working on within my organization and approach them with situational leadership strategies to solve them. The interdisciplinary nature of the program broadened my perspective, encouraging collaboration across different sectors and pushing me to think innovatively. I still think on the provocative conversations and discussions around negotiation, policing, and racial equity. We challenged each other during those sessions and hugged each other afterwords over happy hour drinks and appetizers.

We also had the incredible experience of exploring how many of the challenges we face here in Chicago are addressed globally, with our enlightening and inspiring trip to India. In some ways, the challenges faced by communities in India reinforced that we have a number of resources – particularly in our incredible civic leaders, as well as many of the redeems we enjoy – that we can use to solve many of our salient issues.

My CLA experience has allowed me to think about richer and more innovative ways to solve our city's complex issues. For example, one of our social enterprises Cleanslate, is focused on providing transitional employment opportunities to jobseekers while beautifying our community. Jessica Caffrey, the new head of the Cook County Land Bank – and one of my classmates from 2017 – and I have talked about how we might continue to increase the already strong relationship that Cleanslate/Cara Collective has built with the Land Bank. Our city stays more beautiful and deserving jobseekers have an opportunity to work towards Gainful employment. It's a win-win.

Looking beyond the personal and professional impact, CLA's influence on the Chicago community is significant. The program's emphasis on cultivating talent and fostering collaboration contributes to a more interconnected and resilient civic ecosystem. The leaders nurtured by CLA are not only equipped with the skills to navigate challenges - which have become an integral part of my leadership toolkit - but also share a commitment to making a positive difference in our communities.

The Civic Leadership Academy has been a cornerstone of my professional journey, shaping my perspective, nurturing valuable connections, and empowering me to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of Chicago. As we celebrate a decade of CLA's impact, I am grateful for the lasting imprint it has left on me as a civic leader and on the broader landscape of community development in our great city.