ST. LOUIS, Mo. – University of Missouri Extension has been awarded a $475,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to enhance leadership development in Missouri. Part of the grant will support the statewide expansion of MU Extension’s Neighborhood Leadership Academy (NLA), a 10-week training program designed to equip participants with the knowledge and resources to be effective leaders in their communities.

More than 300 people have participated in NLA since the program began in 2002 in the St. Louis area. In 2020, NLA launched an all-virtual, statewide version of the program with 60 participants from throughout Missouri.

“The Missouri Foundation for Health grant will allow NLA to expand and solidify its statewide presence in 2021 and 2022,” said Pam Duitsman, MU Extension county engagement specialist in community economic development in Christian County.

Participants may be neighborhood association members, community leaders, resident volunteers, community-based organization staff, business owners, and municipal government elected officials and staff.

“NLA builds bridges by pulling together a cohort of individuals who all care deeply about making their communities better,” said Claire Rippel, county engagement specialist in community economic development in St. Louis.

The 10-week program includes 30 hours of learning and interaction. Participants hone their leadership skills while gaining practical knowledge for putting their goals into action with sessions on topics like community building, project planning, and funding and resource development. Each participant also develops a community improvement project, such as forming a neighborhood association or planning and implementing a community garden, neighborhood park or youth program.

“It really was an inspiring experience,” said Tysha Shay, manager of the Springfield-Greene County Library’s Republic branch and participant in the 2020 NLA. “I’m walking away with new ideas, loads of information—some of which I’m still processing—and new connections and friends.”

Another NLA alum, Lisa Potts, appreciated knowing that the work she is doing is informed by the academy’s research-based curriculum, which presents established practices designed to achieve measurable results.

For her NLA project, Potts developed “Drive Like Your Children Live Here,” a plan for safer streets on Hamilton Avenue in St. Louis’ West End. She is also involved in a grant-funded, resident-driven community development plan for the area.

Despite the virtual format, participants were able to share their common concerns and different perspectives through interactions on the Canvas e-learning platform and small-group breakout sessions via Zoom.

“It really helps to meet and talk with people all over and know they are having some of the same issues and problems we are having in our neighborhood,” Potts said. “We get to share ideas and learn from each other as we build capacity and leadership.”

Also supported by the grant are Neighborhood Leadership Fellows, an advanced, nine-month civic leadership program, and the Youth Empowerment Program, for future leaders ages 13-17. Both programs are based in a portion of the St. Louis area designated by the federal government in 2015 as a “Promise Zone” and targeted for assistance to boost job growth, economic opportunity and quality of life.

Rippel said MU Extension leadership programs “create a pipeline of new leadership and a deeper bench of effective leaders—often from communities that are difficult to reach, unheard and underserved.”

For more information about these MU Extension leadership programs, visit or email Claire Rippel at

The Missouri Foundation for Health ( is an independent philanthropic foundation that works with communities and nonprofits to address the social and economic factors that shape health outcomes.

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