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.


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).


More than a decade of service later, the program continues to grow. Most of the kids who live in this St. Joseph neighborhood receive free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch during the school year, but have limited food resources in the summer. 


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.


When it’s time for a coffee fix, St. Joseph’s options range from the eclectic to the trendy to the fast and familiar. The coffee culture in St. Joseph continues to expand and thrive, fueled by historic roasters, young entrepreneurs and locals who want to open the doors to a comfortable piece of the city’s relaxed vibe.


Any good food town has its tucked-away, locals-only, quirky places to slide in for a snack or a plate. St. Joseph is no exception. We are known as the Tenderloin Capital of the United States. We offer the “Ho chips” (homemade at the Hi-Ho), and the traditional, long-known Mexican items like tamales or fideo at Barbosa’s. Do you want to experience some of our lesser-known culturally-themed food items?