Emerging Leaders 2020-21 Cohort 8 at the culmination ceremony. (Courtesy photo)
Leah-Genevieve Combs, left, human resources supervisor, Family Service Agency, shares a laugh with Mario Mendez, lead program staff, Wilderness Youth Project.

Leah-Genevieve Combs, left, human resources supervisor, Family Service Agency, shares a laugh with Mario Mendez, lead program staff, Wilderness Youth Project. (Courtesy photo)

The eighth cohort of Leading From Within’s Emerging Leaders program marked the culmination of their nearly year-long leadership development training with an outdoor celebration Aug. 27 at Foundation House in Santa Barbara.

Nineteen local nonprofit leaders completed the program that connects, supports and develops social-sector leaders in Santa Barbara County. The professionals work in organizations charged with solving some of the region’s greatest challenges, from homelessness and food insecurity to educational inequities and environmental issues.

Leading From Within invests in these leaders so they can better serve their organizations and amplify their ability to address critical issues that impact our community.

“Leading From Within has become such a powerhouse throughout the greater Santa Barbara community,” said Jackie Carrera, president/CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation. “This cohort is the heart and soul of the organization’s leadership development programs.”

In her opening remarks Carrera encouraged the graduates to always remember how they felt when they began the program: “As you go through your careers, look around and make sure you are keeping an eye out for those people who show talent and bring them along with you, giving them the same type of opportunity that you’ve been granted,” she said.

Emerging Leaders is a 10-month (one day each month) program that assembles a select cohort of the county’s emerging social-sector leaders and guides them through a rigorous, relevant and applied curriculum with support in forging connections with peers, mentors and community leaders.

The program is designed to help participants increase their leadership impact in their organization, the social sector, and the community at large.

Due to Covid restrictions, the program adopted a hybrid format, with most of the meetings taking place via Zoom. The culmination ceremony marked just the second time the class had met in person.

“We were all craving this connection during Covid,” said Leah Genevieve Combs, human resources supervisor at the Family Service Agency. Combs served as master of ceremonies with fellow graduate Bethany Sutherland, executive director of the Goleta Education Foundation.

“We are profoundly grateful to the team at Leading From Within for believing in our cohort and the potential of the program to work virtually,” Combs said. “We are here because supporters believed in this program, and we succeeded thanks to the strength of the partnership of our amazing facilitators.”

The group’s facilitators were Miles Ashlock, chief of staff for Student Affairs at UCSB; and Katya Armistead, assistant vice chancellor/dean of Student Life at UCSB, and a Leading From Within Board member.

“This was an incredible group of leaders who made the decision to be present, despite the virtual setting,” said Armistead. “I am humbled by their growth and vulnerability, and encouraged by their ability to quickly form authentic, deep connections.”

The class embraced the theme of infinity, symbolized by their cohort — No. 8 — and adopted the motto “infinite possibility, infinite impact.”

“Although we are marking the ending of our journey, this ending is really just the beginning; the possibilities and opportunities are endless,” Sutherland said.

Each of the graduates honored a fellow graduate with a personal reflection of their character and the awarding of a floral crown headpiece.

“The personal remarks are a testament to how much we’ve grown and learned and appreciate about each other,” said Sutherland.

“I’ve gained a lot of confidence,” said Eva-Maria Catalan, Youth Wellness Coalition manager, Future Leaders of America. Catalan was one of three in her cohort to have a baby during her participation in the program, and she said the instruction on setting boundaries was especially meaningful.

Sabrina Freidenfelds, founder of Then Comes Baby, said her experience was “validating, confirming and invigorating.” She described the Emerging Leaders training as “a guiding light shining the way forward in challenging situations.”

“There’s the formal leadership program with a set curriculum from which we learned so much, yet more than that it’s about community, connection and introspection,” said Combs. “I’ve learned more about myself in the past year than I thought possible.”

“I feel like we’ve gained a family,” said Sutherland. “There are seven cohorts that came before us working within the nonprofit sector, and the significance of having this alumni network to call upon is invaluable. Our relationships extend beyond just our group — we’ve gained unity in the community.”

Members of the 2020-21 Emerging Leaders Cohort 8 are: Annie Vu, Direct Relief; Bennett Rock, Explore Ecology; Bethany Sutherland, Goleta Education Foundation; DeeDee Conrad, Then Comes Baby; Erin Gardner, Allan Hancock College Foundation; Eva-Maria Catalan, Future Leaders of America; Franky Viveros, Jacquelyne Alexander, County of Santa Barbara; Jamie Creason, Sansum Diabetes Research Institute; Jesus Lopez, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County; Julia Daly, Santa Barbara County Office of Arts & Culture; Julissa Pena, Santa Barbara County Immigrant Legal Defense Center; Leah-Genevieve Combs, Family Service Agency; Mario Mendez, Wilderness Youth Project; Michelle Sevilla, Office of Assembly Member Steve Bennett; Nathalie Keller, Foodback of Santa Barbara County; Nicki Parr, Women’s Economic Venture; Sabrina Freidenfelds, Then Comes Baby; and Samantha Alvarez, The Reach Fellowship.

Program and event sponsors include Santa Barbara Foundation, Angell Foundation, Ann Jackson Family Foundation, Montecito Bank & Trust, Apiary Ciderworks & Meadery, Brewlab, Buena Onda, and Katya Armistead.

For more on how to support or apply to the Emerging Leaders program, visit www.leading-from-within.org.