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Civic Leaders Praise Local Nonprofit for Providing Support, Strategies to Improve Leadership

Leading from Within has been supporting and inspiring nonprofit leaders throughout Santa Barbara County for the last eight years, making an impact on many sectors that benefit our community, including local government and civic organizations.

Three civic leaders who are alumni of Leading from Within programs reflect on their experience and how it affects their work serving the Santa Barbara community.

Jason Dominguez

Leadership is critical to Jason Dominguez’s position as a Santa Barbara city councilman, where he balances the city’s fiscal responsibilities with his desire to maintain services that help all Santa Barbara residents.

Dominguez participated in the Courage to Lead program in 2015, while working as an attorney for The Justice Center, the nonprofit he founded, and running his campaign to represent Santa Barbara’s Eastside District 1.

“The leadership component of the Courage to Lead program was important as it allowed me to hear from other leaders and learn from their process on achieving resolutions,” Dominguez said.

“The program also reinforced the importance of communication with various constituencies, colleagues and friends, and that’s something that I practice every day in many facets of my life.”

The program supports renewal, leadership and community connections, and Dominguez says he met many nonprofit leaders both inside and outside of Santa Barbara County who provided him with information and insight that enables him to better serve the community and meet the needs of its residents.

Gina Fischer

Another politically minded alum is Gina Fischer, who participated in the Emerging Leaders program at Leading from Within. Fischer serves on the Santa Barbara County Commission for Women and is vice chairwoman of the county Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission, in addition to holding down a day job, which she’s just accepted working on the political campaign for Joan Hartmann, a candidate for county Third District supervisor.

Fischer was previously director of public policy and community engagement for Planned Parenthood California Central Coast. She said her training at Emerging Leadrs was invaluable in helping her withstand last year’s political attacks on Planned Parenthood.

“There was a vicious smear campaign filled with fabricated videos and false information and the fog of that period was the most challenging of my professional career,” Fischer recalled.

During this period she attended an Emerging Leaders session and the guest speaker was Kathryn Downing, who shared the personal story of her downfall as former president and CEO of the Los Angeles Times.

“To have someone of that caliber share their story of pain and perseverance helped me through the difficult times at my own organization,” she said. “I felt like it was a gift to be part of the Emerging Leaders program, to receive wisdom and guidance right when I most needed it, enabling me to stand by my convictions and continue supporting women in the community.”

The strength that Fischer received from her Emerging Leaders training has a direct benefit on many women and children in the Santa Barbara area. In her role as vice chairwoman of the Women’s Commission, she advocates for policies that advance opportunities for women and girls, including equitable health care, affordable and quality child care, gender pay equity, and better support for survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking.

“I am a stronger communicator and better equipped to move policies forward, thanks to the training and increased confidence I received at Leading From Within,” she said. “One of the hallmarks of the program for me personally was learning to ask for and accept critical feedback, which has made me a more effective leader.”

Megan Birney

Megan Birney is now entering her fifth year as an appointed volunteer on the Santa Barbara Water Commission, and she credits her experience as a graduate of the first Emerging Leaders cohort class in helping her be more present when advising staff and city council members on policies related to water and waste water.

“One of the most important lessons I learned from the Emerging Leaders program was the value and necessity of stepping back from the everyday grind and asking, ‘Why are we doing what we are doing and how can we do that better?’” she said.

“It’s enabled me to be more thoughtful in my dual roles, formerly running the energy and efficiency program at the Community Environmental Council as well as navigating the high-stress topic of water rates for the Water Commission.”

Self-reflection is integral to the Emerging Leaders program, granting participants the time and space to consider and question their motivations and leadership style. Often, this analysis can lead to transition, as it has for Birney, who recently accepted a job as president and CEO of Unite to Light.

In her new role, Birney says she will employ many of the tactics she learned through the Emerging Leaders program in the development, funding and on-boarding of new staff members.

“I learned fantastic tools when it comes to hiring, developing and setting employees up for success,” she said.

                                                                 •        •        •

There are many graduates of Leading from Within who are working in the public sector, advancing policies that benefit Santa Barbara residents. Some of these additional leaders include Ben Romo, executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County; Ashley Costa, Lompoc City Council; Eric Friedman, district representative for Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal; Victoria Juarez, Women’s Commission; Monique Limón, Santa Barbara Unified School District board member and Assembly candidate; Wendy Sims-Moten, SBUSD school board candidate; Susan Salcido, deputy superintendent at the Santa Barbara County Education Office; Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider; Jaime Valdez, City of Goleta economic development coordinator; Erin Weber, district representative for Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr; and Sigrid Wright, Women’s Commission.

Leading From Within invests in social sector leaders to make meaningful change within themselves, their organizations and their communities. Click here for more information, or to apply to Leading From Within.

— Ann Pieramici is an established public relations consultant and freelance writer. She currently handles public relations efforts for a number of Santa Barbara-area nonprofit organizations.

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