Donald and Virginia Sherwood spent most of their lives contributing to make the Walla Walla Valley a better place to live. Their ultimate legacy is the Sherwood Trust, a private, nonprofit foundation whose vision is “for the Walla Walla Valley to reflect the highest, sustainable quality of life for everyone.”
To achieve its vision, the Sherwood Trust believes that an economically viable community requires investing in a broad base of resources to form a strong foundation. Investing occurs simultaneously on multiple levels. Each of the levels reflects a layer of the Tupelo Model for community development, one of the foundational models used by RDI and The Ford Family Foundation in the Ford Institute Leadership Program. Sherwood Trust's Jock Edwards believes, “to enjoy economic prosperity, developing community itself is the first step. Further, the community development process begins with the development of people.”
Since 2004, RDI has been working with the Sherwood Trust to gather and lead a diverse cohort of people from across the Walla Walla Valley to learn together to build individual and community leadership skills. The Ford Family Foundation has generously allowed Sherwood Trust to use the leadership curriculum developed with RDI. Twelve cohorts of established and emerging leaders have come together to practice skills and work together to improve life in the valley. Including the 2014 cohort, 300 community members from Dayton, Washington to Milton-Freewater, Oregon have participated in the Sherwood Trust Community Leadership Program.
“I have seen this program bring generations, cultures, and different socioeconomic groups together to better our community,” Brie Bridgeland, a graduate of the program says. “This program has given members of our community the tools and confidence to continue (even after the project completion) to be champions of change and improvements.” Bridgeland is continuing to support the program as a community-based trainer in the current cohort.
Long-time Walla Walla resident Sandi Blackaby has also helped lead the program the past three years as a trainer. “During this time I have found it rewarding to see participants come together and begin to work as an effective group while learning how to apply skills learned in the class to their project, work, and other organizations. It is especially wonderful to see participants take on leadership positions in the community or to advance in the positions they already hold.”
A key element of the leadership curriculum is understanding the importance of social capital and how to build it. J. Andrew Rodriguez, the local advisory board chair of the Walla Walla Salvation Army and a leadership program facilitator says, “One of the most rewarding experiences is seeing social capital happen right before my eyes. We cover social capital in the program, but the participants model it almost without trying. It is a real joy to watch people bond over a series of a couple of sessions, and commit to a common purpose, a tangible goal.”
In line with the vision of the Sherwood Trust, Rodriguez says, participants “learn from each other, something critical to the vitality of a community. They leave the program feeling proud of themselves, and for good reason. The community recognizes their efforts as leaders, and prizes the class projects. I only wish that this RDI led leadership program could be available to other rural counties and cities in Washington State. The need is enormous; the potential payoff is unlimited.