About |  What to Expect | Registration | Scholarships | Schedule | Facilitators | Guest Speakers | Alumni Spotlights | NLA Class of 2013 | Alumni Newsletter

  • When: September 4–November 20, 2014 | 10 sessions | select Thursdays & Saturdays
  • Where: UMSL, J.C. Penney Conference Center and community sites
  • Fee: $400 | Registration Deadline: August 28, 2014

About: The Neighborhood Leadership Academy was created in 2002, and connects resources at the University – Creating Whole Communities and University of Missouri Extension – with residents and neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan area who are interested in improving their communities. 

The Neighborhood Leadership Academy (NLA) provides hands-on leadership training that emphasizes community building principles, organizational leadership and management practices, and personal leadership skills. Throughout the Academy, each participant identifies and designs a community-building project for their neighborhood or organization. 

Each year, the NLA brings together a diverse group of up to 20 current or potential neighborhood leaders for 10 sessions over a three-month period. Participants are actively involved in their neighborhoods and represent communities from throughout the St. Louis region. Academy participants may be municipal elected officials, neighborhood association members, community-based organization staff, or resident volunteers. 

More than 200 neighborhood and organization leaders from throughout the St. Louis region have participated in the NLA, learning the skills and building the networks necessary to create livable communities.

What to Expect

The Academy is designed to provide hands-on training to volunteers and community organization staff so they can develop their capacity to be effective neighborhood leaders. Through seminars, discussion, and personal projects that apply tools and principles to the neighborhood and community organization setting, participants will learn:

  • Personal leadership skills
  • Community building principles and strategies
  • Organizational leadership and management practices

During the NLA, participants share and work on a community improvement projects for their neighborhood. Following is a sample of their projects:

  • Forming a neighborhood association to encourage more community involvement
  • Proposing and implementing a community garden
  • Developing a church-based community assets assessment
  • Planning and obtaining funding for a neighborhood park
  • Raising funds to endow a school-based youth cultural enrichment program

Participants who successfully complete the program receive a Certificate in Neighborhood Leadership from the Chancellor of the University of Missouri–St. Louis.


Register Online | The Academy costs $400 per person, which includes all instruction, textbooks, supplies, snacks at evening sessions, continental breakfast at Saturday sessions, and parking. 

Scholarships | Apply for a Scholarship

Please know that it costs approximately $1,000 per participant to run the Neighborhood Leadership Academy. We are pleased to have financial support from the University of Missouri–St. Louis and University of Missouri Extension that allows us to lower the registration fee to $400 and provide partial scholarships when needed. A limited number of partial scholarships will be available. Scholarships are awarded based on the following priorities:

  • Neighborhood volunteers who demonstrate individual financial need
  • Staff at community-based organizations with relatively small organizational budgets and demonstrate financial need


The Neighborhood Leadership Academy is made up of 10 sessions held on select weekday evenings and Saturday mornings. Most sessions are held at the J.C. Penney Conference Center at UMSL. Some sessions are held at community sites to enhance participants' learning.

  • Thursday, September 4 | Opening Session
  • Saturday, September 13 | Retreat–Community Building Principles
  • Thursday, September 25 | Leadership Practices
  • Thursday, October 2 | Understanding St. Louis & Project Planning
  • Saturday, October 11 | Community Toolkit #1
  • Thursday, October 16 | Resource Development
  • Saturday, October 25 | Community Toolkit #2
  • Thursday, October 30 | Working in Diverse Communities
  • Thursday, November 13 | Getting the Word Out
  • Thursday, November 20 | Graduation

NLA Facilitators

Kara Lubischer, Director, Neighborhood Leadership Academy, Community Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, lubischerk@missouri.edu

Kara Lubischer is the community development specialist for St. Louis at University of Missouri Extension. In this role, she develops community partnership initiatives that link university resources with the needs and priorities of communities by working on a variety of topics including capacity building, leadership development, and healthy community initiatives. Kara joined University of Missouri Extension faculty in 2007 and has more than 10 years of experience working in urban communities. Prior to joining Extension, Kara worked for St. Louis County Government as a comprehensive planner in the Department of Planning and Slavic Village Development, a neighborhood-based community development corporation in inner-city Cleveland, Ohio, as a community organizer and program director for an active-living program. 

Kristen Wagner, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University of Missouri–St. Louis, wagnerkr@umsl.edu

Dr. Kristen Wagner is assistant professor of social work at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She has a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis (2011), an MSW from Washington University in St. Louis (2005) and a BA in Psychology from the University of North Dakota (1997). Her research, publishing and teaching interests center on social inclusion and poverty alleviation with a particular focus on the role of asset building in social and economic development. Her research takes a multi-faceted approach to studying program and policy interventions in both domestic and international contexts around three key areas: asset development interventions, culturally relevant community development strategies, and community-based participatory research methods.

Guest Speakers

Kay Gasen, former Director, Community Partnership Project, University of Missouri–St. Louis, gasen@umsl.edu

Kay Gasen is the former director of the Community Partnership Project at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, a joint initiative with University of Missouri Extension. In this role, she provided leadership to a variety of efforts that link the university and the St. Louis metropolitan community. Her strengths include planning, program development and implementation, grant writing and administration, and the development of collaborations and partnerships. Kay joined the University of Missouri faculty in 1986 and has more than 25 years of experience as an educator, program manager, and administrator, including serving as Extension community development specialist, regional director and UMSL Public Policy Research Center director of Community and Neighborhood Development.

Terry Jones, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, UMSL

Terry Jones, PhD, is professor of political science and public policy administration at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. He has held many leadership positions at UMSL, including 14 years as dean of arts and sciences. His books include Fragmented by Design: Why St. Louis Has So Many Governments and The Metropolitan Chase: Politics and Policies in Urban America and he has authored dozens of scholarly articles, chapters and technical reports. His research interests are primarily in the area of metropolitan governance, urban public policy, state government and public opinion. Dr. Jones has been a consultant to more than 60 governments and nonprofit organizations in the St. Louis region. For 20 years, he was the principal consultant to the Leadership St. Louis Program.

Sean Thomas, Executive Director, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, sean@onsl.org, onsl.org

Sean Thomas is the executive director of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, a not-for-profit community development corporation pursuing a comprehensive redevelopment of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood, just north of Downtown St. Louis. In this position, Sean is responsible for managing a diverse range of initiatives, from a farmer's market to a broad array of housing acquisition, stabilization, rehabilitation and development projects. Prior to joining ONSLRG in November of 2003, Sean worked for the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations (SLACO) for 11 years – five as a community organizer and the last six as deputy director. Sean also has worked as a community organizer in Detroit, and community initiatives coordinator for what is now East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

Alumni Spotlights

What Does Community Building Mean to You?
NLA alum Carol McClain has been able to engage her passion for social issues through her work as an AmeriCorps Vista with Grace Hill Settlement House. Carol chose her work with a College Hill safety committee as her NLA project, and was successful in engaging neighbors and securing a donation of 8,000 fluorescent light bulbs that would increase safety in the neighborhood. “My Vista term is coming to an end soon, but I can honestly say I’ve been a part of something great,” she said. “The NLA changed my whole outlook on what community building and outreach really means.” Read more about joining your fellow neighbors in serving your community!

What Kind of Leader are You?
NLA alum Jennifer Nefzger, operations coordinator with Mission: St. Louis, found that understanding her leadership styles and the styles of others is making a big difference in her work. “Learning my leadership style and strengths has really allowed me to become a stronger leader in my organization and community,” she says. “By gaining that understanding and learning how other people may lead, I have been able to work with individuals from our community as they grow into leadership positions. Seeing long-term community members adapting, growing and seeking to make change is exactly how the leadership skills I have developed can be used to effect change in the city.” Read more about joining your fellow neighbors in serving your community!

Building Your Neighborhood Networks
If you’ve worked on neighborhood projects in St. Louis, chances are that you’ve met NLA alum George Jones. George is a master at building relationships and learning from other neighborhoods with similar goals. The NLA provided George with an expanded network and new ideas that he could use in his own neighborhood. “I identified my strengths and weaknesses, which allowed me to facilitate a brand new neighborhood organization – “Friends of Clifton Park,” he says. Read more about joining your fellow neighbors in serving your community!

Sometimes You Have to Try a New Approach
NLA Alum Shonette Morgan, of the Wabash Neighborhood Association in Ferguson, has learned that doing the same old thing doesn’t necessarily bring results – and sometimes you have to mix things up a little. “From NLA … I learned that strong neighborhoods are the result of good neighbor relations," Morgan says. “For my community, only having neighborhood meetings was not effective at growing and strengthening the neighborhood association and neighbor relations. So, for 2014, I changed my strategy. I am increasing the social events, decreasing the number of meetings, and we created a community garden. My vision is that this will create strong relationships amongst the neighbors.” Read more about joining your fellow neighbors in serving your community!

Building the Confidence to Lead
The Neighborhood Leadership Academy provided NLA alum Judy Ricks, of the O’Fallon Community Organization, Inc., with the experience and the skills to get involved in issues that impact her community. “When I received the call to attend a community forum for the proposed bond issue for the City of St. Louis, I was there, contributed significant ideas for our break-out group discussion, and served as the facilitator of our group,” Hicks says. “Prior to the NLA, I would have participated along with everyone else in the group without really engaging others. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve as one of the voices from my community. I am confident, thanks to my training from the NLA, that I will make a difference.” Read more about joining your fellow neighbors in serving your community!

NLA Class of 2013

Congratulations to the 2013 Neighborhood Leadership Academy Class! 

2013 Graduation Class

  • Anthony "Tony" Miller, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
  • Bwayne Smotherson, Partridge Heights Neighborhood Association
  • Carol McClain, Grace Hill Settlement House
  • Deborah Horsfall-Morley, CSIRKL Teen Arts Collective
  • George J. Jones Jr., Clifton Heights Neighborhood
  • Jeffrey Weaver, St. Louis Community College Horticulture Club
  • Jennifer Nefzger, Mission: St. Louis
  • Judy Ricks, O'Fallon Community Organization, Inc.
  • Lisa Cagle, The Giving Community
  • Lisa Gordon, Normandy
  • Liz Pund, Skinker Debaliviere Community Council
  • Rachel Levi, EarthDance Farms
  • Richard Reilly, Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Rodney Curry, Grace Hill Settlement House
  • Shonnette Morgan, Wabash Neighborhood Association
  • Stacy Gatewood, 4400 Holly Block Unit
  • Vincent Haynes, St. Louis Development Corporation