CLASS Fall 2017: Where Passion Ignites our Purpose

I entered the CLASS Cohort conference room at 7:40am on September 16th not knowing what to expect of the day that lay ahead. Fellows began to trickle in and take out their computers, notebooks, and pens, to prepare for the long day of learning. The room was filled with lots of excitement, some anxiety, and of course, the sweet aroma of coffee. The event kicked off with introductions from leadership academy staff followed by CLASS fellows. As each one spoke about their mission statements for their projects it was inspiring to hear the array of program goals, yet recognize the underlying commonality of dedication to each goal.

Although the models of business, revenue, and innovation will be different for each program, they all had one critical foundation in common. Each of these fellows have something that cannot be taught. Passion. It was their passion and determination to create sustainable change that united them, despite the fact that their populations of interest spanned from youth interested in the arts, to formerly incarcerated women impacted by trauma, to adolescent girls, and faith based organizations. They have all seen social injustices through their own unique lenses. They each feel deeply compelled to bring about change to marginalized groups in the social sector through sustainable programming and development in their own communities.

The morning was packed with back to back trainings that included marketing, fundraising, collaboration and more. You could see the wheels turning in their heads as fellows were deeply immersed in their work, only coming up for air to ask specific questions about how strategies might apply to their specific communities, before returning back to their laptops to continue taking notes as the presentations progressed. It was inspiring to see the pieces of the puzzle come together as the fellows’ once lofty social change dreams were now on the path to becoming a reality with their programs planning to launch before September 2018.

After four hours of hard work, it was time to break for lunch. A yummy taco bar awaited us out by the pool area. As each fellow grabbed their food and gathered around the circular table, I was again inspired to hear each share innovative suggestions with the other fellows about the visions for the next year. The vibe was infectious and led to more brainstorming and storytelling as each fellow offered resources and networking opportunities with others in the group.

Once our bellies were full it was time to resume workshops and before we knew it the walls were covered in colorful poster paper, coated in new ideas, potential challenges, and mind maps, helping fellows to visually connect the dots of all the various aspects of their new programs. As the afternoon went on the fellows dove deeper and deeper into reflection over inequalities in our society and how their programs could help to offer solutions that would move beyond good ideas and create lasting sustainable change.

By the end of the day, the room was buzzing with excitement as fellows and leadership academy staff brainstormed, problem solved and rejoiced together over little victories. Fellows refined the visions for their organizations, forecasted future problems, assessed areas for potential partnership and more. As the day finished up, I looked around and realized, not only did they learn from the leadership academy staff, but they learned from each other and I learned from them as well.

I can’t wait to see where the next 12 months takes these amazing women as they work to change the communities in which they are passionate about all across the United States. I know they will succeed, not only because they are getting personalized coaching and specialized trainings, but because their spirits of encouragement will push them through until they see their goals accomplished.

Are you ready to create sustainable change in your community? Our next CLASS cohort launches in April on the East Coast! Visit to join our mailing list so you can be the first to hear when applications are open.

Melanie Cushman

Melanie Cushman is a Leadership Academy Intern at the SISGI group, and is also a Graduate Student at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, with a concentration in Community, Organization, and Business Innovations. Melanie also holds a Bachelor's degree in Sociology, with a minor in Biblical Studies, from Biola University. She has a special interest, and passion, for international social work after traveling abroad on missions trips as a high school and college student, and most recently working with a NGO in the Philippines for 5 months. She has a heart for sustainable and holistic social justice, specifically psychological aid efforts, effective programming and development, and staff care of NGO workers. Melanie hopes to return to the humanitarian relief field after she gains more experience with the SISGI Group!

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