Neighborhood Leadership Certificate Program

August 19, 2021

Photography submitted by Missouri Western State University


DEFINITION: The action of leading a group of people or an organization.

Real change in almost any environment happens from the inside out. And no one knows just how to create the kind of contagious change a community needs like the community members themselves. In St. Joseph, and many communities like it, a revolution is happening around this kind of grassroots-based leadership – and it’s only just begun.

The Neighborhood Leadership Certificate Program is opening the door for residents to learn more about their unique skills and interests, and how to apply them to real challenges right here in St. Joseph. Partners for the program include the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Greater St. Joseph as part of the Imagine 2040 strategic plan.

The goals of the Neighborhood Leadership Certificate Program are straightforward: Encourage and inspire residents to help transform neighborhoods and embrace the natural changes that occur over time in a historic riverfront city. As part of the overall Imagine 2040 plan, residents receive leadership training that they can then apply in their own way to groups or projects that interest them. It’s part of creating a sustainable future and engaging citizens, right where they are.

Collaborators include Missouri Western State University, the United Way of Greater St. Joseph and the Community Alliance. At the training sessions, topics range from community development resources, managing projects, creating action plans, leading teams and conflict resolution. Each student of the Neighborhood Leadership Certificate Program can choose a project to lead that is in alignment with the St. Joseph Imagine 2040 plan.

Graduates are part of an overall grassroots leadership movement in St. Joseph. Their leadership hours are part of the thousands of hours already in motion through longstanding programs like Leadership St. Joseph, an initiative of the United Way, and leadership tasks accomplished through the St. Joseph Community Alliance. Missouri Western State University is also carrying an overall leadership trend forward toward specific outcomes. Aside from partnering for the Barbara Sprong Leadership Challenge, the RSO Leadership Summit and minor or certificate programs in Leadership Studies.

“The Neighborhood Leadership Certificate Program, and other initiatives like it in St. Joseph, is ultimately about equipping citizens to solve challenges, using the set of skills only each individual can bring to the table,” says Jennifer Martin, resident and entrepreneur. “As a local business owner and employer, I see programs like this as a path to help continue to shape St. Joseph into the authentic, interesting and completely unique city that it always has been and always will be.”

And for this, and so many other reasons, the forecast ahead for positive neighborhood-based action looks quite bright.


St. Joseph is a city of stories. Like historic towns across the country, there are blocks of amazing homes, business buildings and neighborhoods. Founded in 1843, St. Joseph’s location along the Missouri River and national mid-point created an economic and residential boom fueled by Westward expansion, transportation and communication industries.


What does it take to turn a business idea into a thriving reality? In St. Joseph, the formula for success is well-defined: The spark or “drive” to make it happen; the willingness to make a plan; and the expert-level guidance from the Center for Entrepreneurship, a unique initiative of Missouri Western State University (MWSU).


What does the road to a dream look like? If it’s a sports dream, there are early, dark mornings – lacing up shoes before any lights flicker on the block. There are late nights, pushing past physical and emotional limits, even when it seems out of reach. There are countless sacrifices at every turn. And there are often amazing mentors and coaches, right there to say, “We don’t quit. Not today.”


Across the city, every day, adults are helping clear a path for youth to reach more opportunities. They are sharing their mentoring skills, life lessons and ultimately, their friendship, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. And it looks like hanging out at the local burger joint. Taking a walk. Joining other “matches” at the park for crafting with a lot of laughs.


Not only does the SBTDC help hundreds of small business owners capitalize on their dreams, it is a great example of how government agencies, higher education, and nonprofit organizations can work together for the greater good.