Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Extraordinary Man

"When I first started the program, I was afraid to take big risks, but that's no longer the case."  
- Rahul Bafna

If you need more proof that the Rahul BafnaMulticultural Leadership Program is paving the way for community leaders, look no further. MCLP alum Rahul Bafna was one of the five recipients of the Extraordinary/Ordinary Man of the Year Award. The award recognizes a handful of men for their efforts to improve the community. It's no question that Bafna is deserving of such an award. However his experiences in MCLP has giving him the boost that he needed.

In his own eyes, the Multicultural Leadership Program has helped Bafna develop not only as an individual and a professional, but more importantly, as a community leader. Aside from his work at State Farm, Bafna volunteers with Home Sweet Home Ministries and Westminster Village. Since graduating from MCLP in 2011, Bafna has taken on other community initiatives. He is a proud member of the Salvation Army Board and is an Advisory Board Member of the Bloomington Normal Aviation Scholar Chess Club. Bafna acknowledges the hard work and commitment it takes to be so active in the community.

He attributes much of his recent success to MCLP. "I learned how to use my courage and take risks. I had courage before but I learned how to use it the right way in order to influence people," said Bafna.

And influencing people is exactly what Bafna is doing. In the year prior to graduating from MCLP, he and  his wife collect 20 backpacks to help deserving children. After graduating from MCLP, he had the courage to dream bigger and to act on his dreams. He collaborated with community organization this year and has collected more than 200 back packs.

Bafna says he will always feel part of MCLP. He continues to play an active role in MCLP and hopes others will follow in his footsteps.

"This is definitely very good program, it will give you all the right leadership skills but you have to be committed to it also. It's not just going to happen by itself. What you put in is what you get out." 

Striving for Success

"The people who know about it... know that it's a very good thing in this community and they know that it's a vision whose time has come"
- Deanna Frautschi

Deanna Frautschi, first Chairperson Deanna Frautschiof Multicultural Leadership Program (MCLP) Advisory Council, "still can't wrap her head around the success stories" that have emerged from MCLP. Needless to say, she is beyond thankful for the combined efforts of volunteers who have contributed to make MCLP what it is today.
Setting an example for MCLP members and graduates, Frautschi serves on numerous community boards, including the Baby Fold. "The Baby Fold wanted an MCLP graduate to join the board and one of our participants joined last year," said Frautschi.

That new board member is Peter Stroyan from the MCLP class of 2011. It started with the understanding that Pete has a passion for helping in this area. Stroyan then took the skills he acquired from MCLP and applied them to this community-driven organization. It's an example of our dream for all the graduates.

Frautschi says MCLP graduates are really starting to "dive in," filling in vacancies for boards and organizations in the community. "Many organizations are glad we're seeking out people to be in the program who have capabilities for leadership, but are either not finding an outlet for their abilities or not being asked to participate," she added.

Deanna said the success of MCLP graduates demonstrates a need for additional funding to build upon an already strong program. "When we first started, we had all-day guest speakers who donated their personal time...but they can't continue to do this if they come back every year." Frautschi believes the program will gain support so long as people continue to learn about MCLP and what it provides for the community.

When Frautschi first started with the program, MCLP was blessed with strong corporate support. In the last two classes, we learned that a class combining corporate leaders and community leaders creates stronger, smarter graduates. Mixing "business smarts" with "street smarts" expands the set of leadership skills that graduates can use to address the complex issues in our community. Now, Deanna would like more representation from all areas of the community.

"I'd like to see people from all avenues, not just the major companies, but small organizations or self employed individuals and the community at large," stated Frautschi. She added, "The greater diversity we get in terms of what people do for their work, the better off our community will be."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Three Things I Learned

By Jay Verner, COUNTRY Financial

A couple of Saturdays ago I was surrounded by some really important leaders from our community – City Managers from both Twin Cities, the Economic Development Council CEO, Communications Director from Mitsubishi and the director of Community Development at State Farm.

It all came about when the people who run the Multicultural Leadership Development Program invited me to moderate a very cool discussion about the benefits of partnerships between private business and public entities.

Here are the top three things I learned:

1. If you drive down Veterans Parkway, just about everything you see is a result of a public-private partnership.
2. We sometimes get lost in dollars and cents and forget to measure public projects by how they impact our quality of life. Communities with better qualities of life attract more businesses.
3. The best way to lead change is to start networking in the community. After all, MCLP was created because one guy started networking with enough people until his idea gained traction.

MCLP participants were pretty lucky to have such an impressive collection of leadership all-stars in one room. Check out their impressions below.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Behind Every Smile Is A Story

By Anand Bhende, MCLP Class 2012

We all have a story deep within our hearts, but do we share it with everyone else? Probably not.

I am a participant of MCLP class of 2012, and throughout the curriculum we have a very interesting series of session called 'Inspirational Stories', where each participant share their inspirational and intense story hiding behind their smiles. Believe me, it hard not to get involved and be emotional about it. But why would I get involved or even tell my personal story to a group of people? It the environment that the program develops to foster a real camaraderie to create an everlasting friendship.

We all have a journey which is called life and as we progress, we come across people that have touched our lives, created a big impact and helped us reach where we are today. It’s almost four months since we all started on this program but I can surely say that the participants are just not a group of people but someone I will remember for rest of life for helping me reach where I want to be.

We make various choices over the course of our lives without thinking about the consequences and ramifications that can make in our and those dear in our lives. When I look at a calm pond, and the ripples flowing out from even the tiniest spec dropped on the surface is amazing and reflects the effects we touch and intersect other people we don't even know of.

I am very impressed with how we get to know a person better each day. We started with MCLP as 25 individuals from diverse backgrounds and interests and over the course of time got to know each other through our sessions, projects or Facebook; to name a few. But I so am inspired about each participants inspirational speeches, which helps me know them better and know who they really are. I had heard that every individual can make a difference, but I am experiencing this in real life, how each of these individuals are making a difference in my life, their lives and the entire community they are serving in.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Networking in Overdrive

The 2012 Multicultural Leadership Program (MCLP) class went full speed ahead during a Speed Networking event. It was a chance for the 25 leaders in the MCLP class to meet key players in the community, ranging from leaders from small businesses to higher education and corporate executives. Participants walked away with more confidence and knowledge. They also picked up at least 30 new contacts in McLean County! COUNTRY Financial manager Melinda Zehr sums up her experience:

If you’ve heard of speed dating, then you probably understand the idea behind speed networking. In speed dating, you meet a lot of people in a very short time, and decide based on first impression if you want to meet up later. Speed networking uses the same concept. But instead of looking for romantic companionship, you’re looking to make some good business and career contacts.

A few weeks back, I participated in the Multicultural Leadership Program’s speed networking event. My head is still spinning from meeting so many wonderful people in such a short amount of time.

I found in the beginning, I wasn’t very good with managing the tiny amount of time I had with each person. We’d get started talking about one topic, digging deeper and deeper into it, and the next thing I knew our time was up and we were scrambling to exchange business cards before our next speedy encounter.

But by the time I got to the last few, it seemed we all got down the knack of speed networking -- ask for business card first, find out where each other works and outside interests, and then discover a topic we both have in common to explore during the last minutes.
In the end, I walked away with nine business cards and contacts that I didn’t have before. And just as with speed dating, I discovered a few people I want to have a longer conversation with in the future. Thanks MCLP for putting me in contact with so many people I may have never met otherwise.


Cocktails with Panache

This session was led by two ladies who put the 'C' in classy: Sandy Bentley and Pat Lingenfelter. They have a wealth of knowledge of what to do and what not to do during cocktail hour.

First, they explained the purpose of cocktail receptions. It's not a contest to see how many cocktails you can down or how many hors d'oeuvres you can stuff in your belly. As Sandy and Pat said it best, these events can make or break you. Leaving a good impression is key. I now know that you should always carry your drink in your left hand, to leave your right hand free to shake hands. And for goodness sake, leave a napkin behind that drink, nothing's worse than shaking a wet hand in this type of setting. If you want to dip into the hors d'oeuvres, they advise you to put down your drink. Bottom line: when it comes to food and drinks, you should only have one or the other in hand. I highly suggest this event, especially for those who are into the schmoozing scene. Participant Nancy Komlanc explains the personal impact the session had on her:

The Speed Networking/Etiquette Night was an opportunity for the MCLP participants to showcase their range of skills in a social setting. During this event, the MCLP participants were more than eager to share anecdotes about their companies' social events. The timing of this event was on-target as this venue gave them the opportunity to share the excitement they have for their projects, which was refreshing. Congratulations on another well-organized MCLP event!

Both of these exercises were insightful. It will be interesting to see how the 2012 MCLP class will use what they learned from the program while they're out in the community. I know many of the class members have already put their skills to the test!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Evolving or Devolving

By Juan Garcia, MCLP Class 2012

I have always thought one of the most important goals of humankind is harmony. Sounds natural, right? Everybody living together in perfect harmony, accepting, helping, and caring about each other and being truly happy about each other’s accomplishments. Those sentiments were reflected on a Strengths Finder assessment I took in 2006. Harmony was on my top five, it actually ranked first or second. I was constantly pursuing it, achieving it, living it.

My approach was simple. There was no room for pointless conflict. For some reason I was always able to find my coveted common ground, keeping futile confrontations away and focusing on the bigger picture. I was the mediator, the negotiator, the glue that held everything together. My life aligned exactly with how the strengths finder book describes it: “we are all in the same boat, and we need this boat to get where we are going. It is a good boat. There is no need to rock it just to show that you can.”

Before I continue, I think it is important to clarify that I don’t shy away from conflict. I think there is value in conflict as long as it is intended to challenge each other, help grow, and improve. I am not talking about that kind of positive conflict. I refer to people rocking the boat just to show they can.

After I took the first Strengths finder, a series of personal and professional situations made me realize some people need chaos and conflict in their lives as much as I need and value harmony. I still don’t understand why would anybody prefer conflict over harmony but trust me, some people do. I think they just need it so they can feel alive. According to my observations, some people may just be addicted to pointless conflict just like some people are addicted to adrenaline. I started thinking about how much energy I was spending (wasting?) fostering harmony among those around me.

I started suspecting this when regardless of the situation people addicted to conflict always found a way to disrupt my harmony. It didn’t matter what the situation was, there was always a reason to start a new conflict. It was clear to me that these conflicts were not to challenge each other, to improve, to advance. Conflict was being created simply because it was too calm or quiet for their liking. At some point, which I don’t know exactly when, I involuntarily stopped working so much on the pursuit of harmony. I didn’t want to waste all my energy in something with so many variables out of my control and with such a short-lasting result, especially when I needed it to last because my other dominant strengths is “achiever”.

I did not make this change purposely; I think I just learned to live with worthless conflict in my life by effectively blocking it along with the people creating it. I was able to move forward by focusing on the positive of the situation. I didn’t realize I had made this adjustment until I took the Strengths Finder assessment again in 2011 as part of the MCLP. This was my greatest finding this time around. At that point everything clicked; I realized the involuntary change I had made. I was so surprised when Harmony was not listed on my top five that I immediately started thinking about it: Was it a defense mechanism? Was I evolving? Was I taking the easy way out? Unfortunately the more I think about it, the more unanswered questions I have. I feel like maybe I gave up on one of my true beliefs because I didn’t want to fight that battle. I am still thinking about it, I am still a work in progress and I hope this is just part of my evolution as a human being and not just that I am “devolving”.

I wanted to share this because I would like to know what has been your greatest finding about yourself so far from the self assessment tests we have taken or the discussions we have had.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Poverty simulation brings insight to MCLP class

It's 7:45 on a hot Monday morning. I wake up to a crying baby, starving for not only food but also loveand affection. It's time to get ready for school, but I first have tomake sure someone can watch my child.

Mom's on her way out the door for work,as dad plans to head back to the unemployment office to try to find ajob. The baby's screams are getting louder and louder. As I packtogether my uncompleted school work, I think to myself, “Will Iever catch a break?”

This is just one of several scenarios that are dealt with on a regular basis. It's a struggle that hits home for more than 33 million people who fall within the poverty guidelines in the United States. Sixteen year old Connie Chen, played by yours truly, is not the only one who felt the pressure during the poverty simulation hosed by the University of Illinois Extension and the Multicultural Leadership Program.

Some local political leaders understand the importance this group and the simulation experience. State Representative Dan Brady, Normal Councilwoman Sonja Reece, and Bloomington Alderman Bernie Anderson made sure they'd catch a glimpse or participate in the exercise. It included 75 participants who were broken up into groups representing families. Each family faced aunique scenario and had to live with limited resources, using only the tools provided in the room for their assistance.

MCLP focuses on cultivating professional development and leadership skills among a diverse groupof community leaders. Members of this group are selected by board members who represent diverse backdrops of the Bloomington Normal community.

The room was outlined with mock community sites including a grocery store, pawn shop, unemployment office, and church. Though the scenarios were set up as a simulation,the struggles the participants encountered gave them a taste of reality in the world of the underserved. It was an experience that opened up my eyes to this part of the world that I have selfishly overlooked in the past.

I played the part of Connie Chen and actually broke a sweat trying to calm down my mock baby, who wouldnot stop crying. The poverty simulation participants heard the cries as a representation of their respective struggles and frustrations.

Participant Mike Hennings playedthe role of my unemployed father, Charles. He spent the simulation jumping from one place to another, trying to negotiate payments forour gas, electricity, and mortgage, while trying to find gainfulemployment. While mom Cindy was at work, dad often had to watch the baby so I could go to school. Hennings said he felt like he hit adead end.

"As a father in real life I want to do the best for my kids. As a father in the simulation, I felt like acomplete failure... I felt like I was not living up to my expectations,” stated Hennings.

Unfortunately, dad couldn't live up to his expectations and our family was evicted. This was hard on my mock siblings, who were only eight and 10 years old. Brian Cunningham played the role of 10-year old Carl Chen and said he felt like he didn't exist.

“It was frustrating because when we talked to our parents after school, they didn't hear us. They were too busy talking about their own struggles that they tuned us out.Even though it was a simulation, it hurt when I came home and saw that the chairs were turned over and we had been evicted, ” added Cunningham.

“Sometimes you don't understand people and the struggles they go through and why they get so frustrated in certain situations... now I understand,” said Pretty Regi, who played mother Cindy Chen.

It's a lesson that University ofIllinois Extension Educator Sandy McGhee continues to push. She has helped moderate the poverty simulation for more than a decade.

“Nothing explains being which then becomes knowing,” said McGhee.

McGhee said current and future leaders have already begun seeing life through an entirely different perspective.

But just going through the simulation was not enough for some group members. Mike Hennings would like the discussion surrounding the scenarios to continue.

“I'd like our group to go together and talk about these problems and what we can do to move forward,” said Hennings.

Hennings has already started communicating with the group via email. Meanwhile, Sandra Coy said the experience has prompted her to help others right away.

“I would like to get a couple of extra cans whenever I go grocery shopping and donate them.”

McGhee said she hopes more participants will take proactive steps. Especially since these situations are reflected in real life for some families at the UNITY CommunityCenter in Normal, which is also linked to the University of Illinois Extension.

“We see these struggles all the time with the children that go to that after school program and how their families are looking to make it, so I think this is very representative of the families struggling in McLean County.”

Following the simulation, members of the 2012 MCLP class discussed their personal experience as a group during a debriefing session. It was a life altering experience formany of the growing community leaders.

But the experience also hit home for past participants such as Michael Donnelly. The 2010 MCLP graduate says he embraces the lessons he takes away from the simulations. This year Donnelly played the role of a child, he had played a struggling senior citizen in the past. Donnelly is an Outreach Counselor at Normal Community West High School.

“There are so many other things that impacts a child's life and I got a first hand look at the struggles they go through.”

MCLP Board Member Sonya Mau continues to learn from the simulations as well.

Sandra Coy, who played eight year old Chad, said she also felt neglected.

She said, “If my parents would have talked to me, I could have done more to help the family.”

In the end, it was a learning experience for all those involved.

“The simulations have been held at both of our Unit 5 high schools and we've had ones set up for our government leaders to attend, which I think is very important to take the time to understand the challenges faced by the people they represent.”

“This session had the greatest impact on me,” she stated. “ This is a very important session that changes people's perspectives and therefore their lives.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Welcome to the new class!

MCLP is proud to welcome the class of 2012!
Please take some time to learn more about this dynamic group by reviewing their pictures and bios. These 25 leaders have begun their nine-month journey in our program where they will learn, change and grow. This growth happens through unique real-world leadership opportunities and bi-weekly learning events featuring professional speakers and focusing on experiential learning.
Let this new journey begin!