Leadership Burbank Sharpens Focus to Fit the Times

Photo courtesy Leadership Burbank
Members of Leadership Burbank’s class of 2019 hold placards at graduation. The program’s alumni have included city officials, Burbank Unified School District administrators and local business executives.

Leadership Burbank’s class of 2020 had almost made it to the finish line when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Class members crossed it anyway.

Participants in the local program, which provides leadership training and a behind-the-scenes look at city, nonprofit, school and business organizations, select a project every year to complete before the nine-month course ends in May. The class of 2020 — the most recent group, since the pandemic put the program on hiatus for a year — wanted to perform renovations for BCR: A Place to Grow, a local nonprofit that serves children and adults who have developmental and intellectual disabilities.

And though the early months of the pandemic saw many organizations close their doors — and prompted the cancellation of the class’ fundraiser for its project — the Leadership Burbank participants stuck with their plans. The class unveiled a resurfaced playground, a mock studio apartment and a technology room at BCR: A Place to Grow later that year.

Because local leaders also have faced significant challenges presented by COVID-19, Leadership Burbank officials explained that they are introducing three major focuses for this year’s curriculum: post-pandemic leadership, social justice and civil discourse.

The program, which begins in September and is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is open to adults who live or work in Burbank. About 25 participants will attend one Friday class a month, learning how municipal, school, nonprofit and business sectors interact in Burbank and forming connections with officials and their classmates. The group will eventually plan and perform a project that helps the local community in some way.

Tuition is $2,000 for the nine months, though financial aid is available, according to board member Albert Hernandez. The application deadline is Wednesday, July 21. More information is available at leadershipburbank.org, and an informational mixer is also scheduled for Thursday, July 15, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Participants of the mixer must RSVP to chair@leadershipburbank.org.

“We’re trying to build the next generation of leaders that the city of Burbank can really bring on and serve in leadership roles,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez graduated from Leadership Burbank in 2006. He’s now the executive director of the Family Promise of the Verdugos, a local nonprofit that offers shelter and rehousing services for families experiencing homelessness. He’s also been on the Leadership Burbank board for about five years, serving as its chair last fiscal year.

It’s not uncommon, according to the program’s leaders, for Leadership Burbank participants to eventually help run the program, or join a city committee or board, or manage a local nonprofit. Alumni include City Councilman Konstantine Anthony, city attorney Amy Albano, Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill, local Boys and Girls Club CEO Shanna Warren and others.

The program, said board chair Don St. Clair, is a “classic win-win opportunity,” allowing participants to serve the community while having an enriching experience.

“It’s hard at times to find the opportunity … to do good and do well,” he added. “This is one of those opportunities.”

Photo courtesy Leadership Burbank
Leadership Burbank’s class of 2020, seen at orientation, had its course cut short by the pandemic but nevertheless managed to pull together its project — renovations for a local nonprofit.

FRESH TOPICS PLANNED

St. Clair also believes that the program’s focus on civil discourse comes at a time when “people can’t seem to disagree without being angry.”

Leadership Burbank has made respectful discussion a priority for much of its history, according to Sue Georgino, a former Burbank community development director who, along with former City Manager Mary Alvord, facilitates the program. The group that attends the course is diverse, she said, representing different political beliefs, ethnic and racial backgrounds, and professions.

Hernandez also believes members of the local region appear to be open to learning more about social justice, particularly after the death of George Floyd last year and the ensuing outcry. 

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity where Leadership Burbank is now stepping up their game and saying, ‘Let’s talk about prevalent topics right now that are hitting our community, and what can we do to continue to provide education and spread the knowledge about these kinds of topics?’” he said.

Leadership Burbank was founded through a collaboration involving the city, the local school district, Woodbury University and the Chamber of Commerce, Hernandez said. Michael Walbrecht, 1994 program alumnus and current board member, added that it was formed to help community members understand the relational stitches that knit Burbank together.

“[Burbank is] not tiny, right, but it’s relatively small,” Walbrecht said. “It’s an ecosystem of itself. … I think the impetus was [asking], ‘How do we find the next generation of leaders in our town?’ — and again, leadership can come in lots of ways.”

To illustrate that point, program participants tour municipal, nonprofit and business locations, Georgino said, learning from the leadership styles needed to run them. They’ll also hear how local leaders adjusted to the pandemic as well as to renewed interest in social justice.

Those conversations, as well as interactions between classmates, can provide participants with a number of connections they can later use as members of nonprofits, businesses or the city, Georgino said.

While there isn’t a single definition of who’s a good fit for the program, she added, she hopes it “continues to attract individuals … [whose] values align with building strong communities.”

“If you want to be able to expand your knowledge of leadership skills and leadership information, and if you want to expand your world of who you believe this community is … I think those are great people to be a part of it,” Georgino explained.