Citizen-run boards and commissions steer the operations of every public body, from the state level down to the local school district. The recommendations made by these bodies influence policies that impact our day-to-day lives. However, not everyone receives a place at the decision-making table, especially community members who have been historically excluded from these areas of civic management, such as women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQIA+, and others.
So what can we do to bring these underrepresented groups onto the playing field for their community?
The Boards & Commissions Fellowship Program, developed and operated by our Boards and Commissions Coordinator, Toni Belknap-Brinegar, is designed to provide the tools, education and resources Idahoans need to better apply and serve on Idaho’s boards and commissions. The Fellowship program is an opportunity for these fellows to grow into community leaders and to amplify their voices so they are able to incite long-term, meaningful change.
“Far too often I’ve felt invisible and unimportant in Idaho schools, jobs, and other spaces. But this fellowship did for me what I’ve never seen in any other space, and that was to listen with the intention of creating change through the leadership of folks in marginalized communities.”-Tatiana Morales, a participant in the 2021 Fellowship.
The program uses one-on-one coaching, monthly training courses, hands-on experience and relationship building over the course of six months. The fellows are equipped with the tools they need for participating in civic leadership, including parliamentary procedure, public meeting law, public budgeting, effective communication, decision-making skills, and more knowledge for success. The program also provides education for conservation-specific efforts, including training on the history of public land legislation, land use, and other environmental topics.
“The Fellowship ‘threw back the curtains’ for me and gave me an in-depth look at how policy is made, and the work that goes into influencing those outcomes,” says Jane White, another Fellow of the program. “The program has definitely prepared me for work in the public arena, to represent the entire community, and to speak on behalf of conservation issues.”
In its inaugural year, the BCFP saw many great moments. Elected and appointed officials from across the valley came together to show their support for the Fellowship, sharing their experiences and knowledge as mentors and presenters. Nine officials, including City Councilwoman Lisa Sanchez, Representative Sue Chew, and Caldwell School Board Chair Marisela Pesina attended the program’s luncheon event earlier this summer, where they were paired with fellows to share meaningful conversations.
In a split from the normal remote or in-person training, the City of Boise allowed the program to run mock hearings within the City Council chambers. The Fellows simulated decision-making by using their newly developed parliamentary skills, as mock protestors picketed the hearing.
In early August, the program concluded with a graduation ceremony celebrating the 16 fellows alongside their loved ones. Several participants have already made progress in their communities, with roughly one-third of the graduates already appointed to their chosen boards, committees, and commissions.
Fellow Nick Wyatt has been Governor-appointed to the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities. Fellow Laura Diaz has been Governor-appointed to the Idaho Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance. Fellows Tia Nowacki and Patty Bowen were appointed to the Open Spaces and Clean Water Advisory Committee for the City of Boise. Additionally, Fellow Shari Baber was appointed to the Boise Parks and Recreation Board, and Fellow Landon Labosky was invited to join Boise’s Planning and Zoning Committee.
Several other fellows have submitted applications for open seats on boards throughout the Treasure Valley, including the Boise School Board, Boise Parks and Recreation, Boise Planning and Zoning, and Boise’s Clean Water and Open Spaces Board.
“This opportunity allowed me to gain a better understanding of boards and commissions, what it means to serve, as well as opening doors for Women of Color to represent and engage in conversations impacting my community,”
-Patricia J. Walker, one of the graduates of the Fellowship.
SAVE THE DATE:
On September 14th, representatives from Conservation Voters for Idaho and the League of Conservation Voters will host a webinar to discuss the first year of the Fellowship program, as well as discuss the benefits of having environmental leaders participating in local boards and commissions.
Register here: https://lcv.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_DsdjNiQSSFOJ1WSCSq-QeQ
Applications for the 2022 Fellowship open October 1. For more information please visit https://cvidaho.org/boards-commissions/ or contact our Boards and Commissions Coordinator, Toni Belknap-Brinegar at firstname.lastname@example.org.