Program connects leaders who may not have crossed paths
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — It’s about connecting people who might not otherwise connect.
A local phlebotomist with a district court judge. A college student with an executive at a growing local company.
These people might have crossed paths without the program that intentionally connected them. But they probably wouldn’t have formed mentoring relationships — not to mention close personal friendships where they invite each other into their homes to share a meal.
That’s what one of Jugaad Leadership Program’s newest initiatives is all about.
The St. Cloud-based leadership program, which focuses on students in high school and college as well as other young professionals, is in its fourth year.
The program trains and connects the next generation of leaders — specifically minority leaders — with members of local boards and commissions, as well as internships and employment.
Since its inception in 2015, the program has expanded to create a mentoring program that pairs established local leaders with graduates of the program.
“You can graduate from the program but you can’t graduate from life,” said Keshia Anderson King during a June 14 interview.
Anderson King, a phlebotomist at CentraCare Health, is a program participant and is matched with a mentor.
While the seven-month Jugaad program itself was helpful to learn new skills and connect with community resources, the mentoring program helps participants continue to navigate their careers and personal lives, Anderson King told the St. Cloud Times.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to have a mentor, someone outside my family or peer group,” she said. “I’m truly grateful.”
Jugaad is a Hindi word that means “innovation,” explained Eunice Adjei, the program founder and board member. It was created to help local organizations that were looking to create more diverse boards to reflect the communities they serve.
Adjei is president of Adom, a consulting firm that helps bridge the gap between the mainstream and minority populations. She also is involved with Create CommUNITY, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, African Women’s Alliance, Tri-Cap, Regional Human Rights Commission and St. Cloud’s Charter Commission.
When the program’s advisory board set out, it had two main goals: provide economic opportunities for people of color and improve race relations in the St. Cloud community, said Emmanuel Oppong, community engagement coordinator for the city.
About 40 people have gone through the program, which is funded mostly by partners such as Central Minnesota Community Foundation, Morgan Family Foundation and Initiative Foundation, as well as area businesses.
“The success of (the) program is due to the community in support of it,” Oppong said. “They rally in support of it.”
And rightfully so: The program has helped retain talent in central Minnesota and helps foster a deeper understanding of the different cultures, races and religions that make up the St. Cloud community.
“The program was aimed to bridge that gap,” Oppong said. “If you look at some of the testimonies that past graduates have said, in terms of improving race relations, there are partners or mentors that would have never interacted.”
The program changes each year, but generally includes monthly sessions to help participants sharpen their skills or learn new abilities, as well as make connections in the community.
Some of the sessions are on financial literacy, resume-writing and interview skills, civic engagement and cultural proficiency.
Sangeeta Jha, professor and diversity coordinator at St. Cloud Technical & Community College, leads the session on cultural proficiency. She is also on the program’s advisory board.
“People often think people who look like us ... already are proficient,” she said during a June 14 interview with Jugaad participants and members of the advisory board. “But frankly speaking, I know about the culture I grew up in but I don’t know about every other culture.”
Participants also complete a project where they gather feedback from community members about the city or police department or Metro Bus — and then provide that feedback and suggestions to organization leaders.
“We try to empower them to be advocates,” Oppong said.
“The main goal was to have a cohort program where participants interact with leaders in the community,” Oppong said. “But once they graduated, we realized they need ... that one-on-one interaction and engagement with leaders in the community.”
So members of the advisory committee reached out to established community leaders such as mayors, business chief executive officers, organization directors and others.
“We looked at research that stated students with mentors were more able to succeed, more able to go on a career path and also mentor others,” Oppong said.
Seventeen Jugaad graduates have been paired with mentors — which has shown to help the participants and also the mentors.
“And the best part is that we have heard from mentors that there is a learning process that occurs, not just for the mentees but also for the mentors — the cultural exchange of ideas and values,” Jha said. “The mentors have told us they learned more than the mentees,” she continued. “This helps with race relations.”
Jonathan Wong, regional communications specialist for Minnesota Department of Human Rights, is a past Jugaad participant and now member of the advisory board. His mentor was Patti Gartland, president of Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., who he said helped him feel comfortable in new situations such as networking or community events.
Former Jugaad participant Charity Modi, legal secretary with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, echoed Wong’s sentiment. Her mentor is Caryl Turnow, executive director of Central Minnesota Community Foundation.
When Modi started the Jugaad program, she was graduating from St. Cloud State University and trying to figure out what comes next.
“I had no idea what to do. They tell you to graduate and then you graduate and they don’t tell you what else to do,” Modi said. “It’s amazing to have someone by your side to help you through that transition.”
The mentors are able to use their life experiences to help guide the participants. Because of Turnow’s guidance, Modi is considering going to law school and is now taking a prep course on the subject.
Armondo Thull is also in the mentoring program. He is studying neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. He said the Jugaad program gave him the confidence to join the city’s youth commission, which he probably wouldn’t have done otherwise, and create a new club at the university this year.
Thull’s mentor is Brad Goskowicz, chief executive officer at Microbiologics, who Thull said has allowed him to shadow the business and helped him consider future internships.
“Just in the first few months, he has opened doors for me for years to come,” Thull said.
Anderson King said the program and her relationship with her mentor, Judge Mary Mahler of Stearns County District Court, has refined her and empowered her.
“It will help you find your voice,” she said.
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com