Disclaimer: The contents of this interview do not reflect the values or represent the values of WDBM The Impact.
Connie Rahbany: Hello and welcome to Exposure. I’m your host, Connie Rahbany, and today I’m interviewing with Eric Everts from Lead for America. Thank you for joining me today.
Eric Everts: Thank you for having me, Connie.
Connie Rahbany: Eric. Can I have you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about you?
Eric Everts: Yeah, absolutely. Uh, my name is Eric Everts. I am a campus ambassador for Lead for America. I’m currently a graduate student at Davenport university, uh, pursuing my master’s in business. and, uh, yeah.
Connie Rahbany: And what can you tell me about Lead for America? What is it?
Eric Everts: Yeah, absolutely. Uh, thank you for asking, uh, Lead for America was an organization created to tackle some of the biggest issues our nation is facing. From the opiod crisis to extreme poverty and climate change, many of our communities are facing some very serious challenges. These issues all share a common cause. They were created by people and they share a common solution. People. To address these issues, Lead for America aims to recruit change-makers and assist them in tackling these challenges community by community nationwide.
Connie Rahbany: And do you know when Lead for America first started and like the founding story and the inspiration and all that?
Eric Everts: Sure, absolutely. Uh, the founding story was, is that Lead for America came about in 2018. The founder of the organization was from Oklahoma, a small town in Oklahoma that was faced with that terrible tornado that had gone through Oklahoma. I can’t remember the exact date, uh, but it was recently, uh, sometime before 2018, anyways, uh, in his small town, there, there was no emergency response or community shelters, not even within the schools. Uh, and when that disaster happened the tornado did unfortunately go through one of the schools and several people were left, lost their lives. The founder thought that this was a gross mismanagement of local governments and a failure of the community. And he took it upon himself to make it so that these shelters were made into place. And sure enough, that’s exactly what he did. He worked with local partners, worked with the schools, work with the local government to create these storm shelters. And, uh, that gave him the idea of like, wow, There’s probably a great many communities facing similar struggles that are lacking certain resources that they should have. And, uh, we should probably address this on a national scale.
Connie Rahbany: And what is being done to achieve the goals that Lead for America wants to achieve?
Eric Everts: Absolutely. Uh, Lead for America has created what is called a fellowship program. And it is through this program that Lead for America hopes to accomplish its mission and, uh, essentially Lead for America, wants to select, train and place promising young leaders into two year paid full-time fellowships in local public serving institutions. This could be local governments, nonprofits, community foundations, to again, tackle some of those huge challenges that I mentioned earlier, uh, strengthen the fellowship’s hometown civic infrastructure, and join a new generation of transformational community leaders. All our fellows are the catalyst for national community revitalation starting right where they live. And I think that’s the most important distinction here is that just like our founder who helped his hometown, we want our fellows to return back to wherever they consider their home community. And to address some of the issues that at that level, that they grew up with, uh, whatever they might be and, uh, through the fellowship program and through Lead for America, we want to provide our fellows who returned back to the local communities with the resources and the assistance to accomplish whatever that issue is that that’s community space and accomplish solving it. So there are two different fellowship tracks that Lead for America has they are the applicant led, which actually is something that has already passed. Uh, there was a November 15th deadline for the application for that, but we have another one, which is the pre confirmed location, which has a February 15th and an April 15th deadline, uh, and essentially with that there’s a little less flexibility pre confirms exactly what it sounds. It’s already communities or towns that have already expressed a partnership with Lead for America who are ready to open their doors to welcome change makers into their communities to start tackling their local issues. But, uh, yeah, I, I hope I answered the question.
Connie Rahbany: Who can get involved with Lead for America?
Eric Everts: Yeah, absolutely. Um, particularly the fellowship program, which I just mentioned before is something that we’re targeting for, uh, usually between the ages of 21 and 30. Typically graduating seniors would be somebody who we are looking for to get their foot in the door. Um, those who are driven to be public servants who feel that call just as I do and our founders, uh, to rebuild their communities that they’re from. Um, but really the fellowship program is targeted to the graduating seniors and then we also have another program which is called our Lead for America champions program. And that’s a newly introduced program that is open to all individuals, uh, who are in college or I should say 18 plus and, uh, that’s another way for individuals who are interested in getting their foot in the door. Um, and it’s a great way to get started if it’s something that you’re interested in joining the fellowship later on, um, it’s a great way to get involved and to start making change immediately. If you aren’t a graduating senior.
Connie Rahbany: And what is to be expected for someone that would join Lead for America. Is there like a certain level of commitment? Are there weekly meetings? What does that look like?
Eric Everts: Yeah, absolutely. So the fellowship program, um, I believe I mentioned before that that is a paid full time position, so that would be an expected 40 hours a week. Um, and that, that could vary for that role, depending on the community that you’re in, depending on the local institution that you’re working for, there’s quite a bit of variance in that. It just really depends on where you’re going to be serving in that two year timeframe. But for the champions program, typically something that we’re looking for, maybe about 10 hours of commitment to, um, and it is a newer program. So, um, there could be some corrections in this, but I believe it’s something that might have a once a week meeting, uh, along with it, maybe like a, an hour long meeting with that. Um, But I would have to get further details on that. Like I said, just kind of a newer program we got going on. Um, but, but I know for certain that’s about an hour or so time commitment we’re looking for for that program.
Connie Rahbany: And did COVID-19 impact you in any way? If so, how?
Eric Everts: Absolutely. Uh, it has not impacted me personally. Um, and it’s impacted Lead for America. Um, we’ve had to make a great deal of adjustments, just like many organizations. Thank goodness that there is all these fancy virtual tools that we can use, uh, with email and phone and, and zoom. Uh, that’s where a lot of what we were doing in person has kind of transitioned too, but with that has come with, you know, new opportunities, um, and, that we were expecting a little bit more of an impact on our fellowship program itself in like the number of applications we were expecting for that November 15th deadline. But we actually were right on target. We, we got the number of applicants we were looking for in November 15th. And, uh, that was great. We were all excited about that. And I just think that it really came down to just, we have a really great mission and cause, and a great deal of dedication comes of that from all of our staff members at Lead for America and without their dedication and their hard work there’s no way we would’ve been able to accomplish the goal that we had set for ourselves for that November 15th deadline.
Connie Rahbany: You’re listening to WDBM East Lansing. I’m Connie Rahbany, your host of Exposure. Today we’re talking to Eric Everts from Lead for America. Eric, how have you seen this benefiting people the most?
Eric Everts: I see Lead for America benefitting people the most, not only just the individuals who become a fellow or become involved in the organization, but the impact that the organization will have on the communities that we are looking to place our fellows in. And Lead for America has an ambitious goal of by the year 2040 of having over 1 million alumni within the lead for America fellowship program. Um, we had a target goal of a hundred fellows in 2019, uh, which we did achieve. Uh, and then this year, I think we were looking to get that up to 200. Um, so, uh, we, like I said, we, we hit our goal of applicants. So we’re, we’re looking, it’s looking pretty good for us to be able to hit that. Uh, and then just exponentially grow from there to hit our ultimate goal of having, um, a large, large group of dynamic leaders place into communities all across the country. And, uh, we just hope and thoroughly believe that community by community is how we can make our nation, make our world even a better place.
Connie Rahbany: And how about you? How long have you been involved with Lead for America and how has being involved impacted you?
Eric Everts: Yeah, absolutely. Uh, I’ve personally only been involved with Lead for America just these last couple of months. Uh, so, uh, right around the beginning of the fall semester, actually. Uh, so September and, uh, the reason that I got involved with Lead for America personally was, was my very own first experience that I had with local government. Um, and that was when I was in high school. I was part of the Delta township government youth council, uh, where I was involved with working with the board of trustees there at the township level. And we help build a sidewalk system, uh, that connected people through Delta township to varying parks and commercial areas within the township. And I experienced firsthand what a group of young people can do when they work together to meet the needs of the citizens of a community. I know this seems like a small accomplishment compared to what Lead for America is looking to accomplish as a whole. But that is exactly why I feel the need to be part of a Lead for America is because it’s looking to solve those bigger challenges, many communities face. And I believe that is how we can come together as a nation, as a community to make sure we leave the world a bit better than we found it.
Connie Rahbany: And is there anything that Lead for America is doing right now that you’d like to share?
Eric Everts: Yeah, absolutely. Uh, I’d say right now, again, uh, trying to recruit the fellows that we’re looking to place into communities across the nation. Um, that is really what we are truly focused on as a whole of an organization. And right now we are looking for young change makers who are civil servant minded, who are looking to have a direct impact at the community level. Um, and we just thoroughly believe that it’s no better way to get started then to assist the very place that you’re from your own hometown or wherever that might be, where you call home, getting involved locally with your community and, uh, that’s the main driving focus of the organization.
Connie Rahbany: And then how about looking ahead? Is there anything you have to look forward to at this time?
Eric Everts: Uh, yeah, absolutely. Uh, I’d say getting to, uh, actually placing these fellows, uh, getting them started and, uh, seeing how they grow and they develop, um, as they take on the fellowship program and see what kind of great changes they make, they bring to their communities. Over that two years span. And, uh, I’m just excited to be part of that experience with them and be part of an organization that is looking to take on these daunting challenges that our nation and that our world faces.
Connie Rahbany: And this next question might get you thinking a little bit. I’m going to have you think back on the experiences you’ve had with Lead for America and if you could describe it all in one word, what would it be and why?
Eric Everts: Wow. One word fulfilling. I think the word fulfilling is what comes to mind. So the reason why that I chose the word fulfilling is because I just resonate so well with the mission that Lead for America has and what they’re looking to do by placing change makers and young talent into the very communities that need them so much right now. And I just think that that’s just something that’s easy to get behind. Uh, and it’s a powerful experience to be able to be part of this and to actually be working to better the world. Uh, I just, I just think for myself personally, all I can think of over and over again, is the importance of leaving the world a bit better than I found it.
Connie Rahbany: And if there’s anybody listening to this right now that is interested or could benefit from Lead for America, what would you say to them?
Eric Everts: I would say to them to go to LeadforAmerica.org and take a look over the website. And if you are an individual who’s interested in the fellowship program, uh, right there at the top of the website, it says apply for our fellowship 2021 program. Please go ahead and click that. Uh, look it over. And if it’s something that you’re interested in, Please go ahead and put in your application. we are accepting applications through February 15th and there’s an additional extended deadline of April 15th of 2021. Uh, and that would be the best way to also learn more about the organization.
Connie Rahbany: And Eric, is there anything else that you’d like to add that I might not have asked you about?
Eric Everts: I suppose that I would actually like to just bring up a couple of examples of some of the work that some of our fellows have done over the last couple of years, um, there was a, an individual, her name is Shadeen. Uh, she graduated from Duke university. And she was a member of the Navajo nation before attending Duke university. So she returned back to the Navajo nation, uh, where she is currently working diligently to improve the public infrastructure there, uh, create an affordable housing initiative and youth scholarships for low income community members. Another individual that I’d like to bring up his name is Evan. He was a Harvard graduate. Uh, he returned back to his hometown of Marquette, uh, where he actually, believe it or not, recently won a election, uh, to be Marquette County commissioner. Uh, and he’s also there working to address affordable housing, uh, and the redevelopment of the Sawyer international airport within the County. Um, so just a couple of quick examples, uh, you know, like I mentioned, there are dozens more of fellows. Um, but, uh, we just, those were just a couple of the things that our fellows are achieving and currently working on. Um, I guess another thing I’d like to add is, is that, uh, even through the fellowship program being only two years, uh, Lead for America sees that as a tremendous dedication, uh, and the individuals who are best suited for the fellowship program are those who are looking to be civil service minded individuals for their whole lives. Uh, so Lead for America even helps our fellows. After they’re done with the program, start, non-profits, get involved with local government, um, help with creating community foundations in the like, um, so really we are just here to support and to place all of these individuals, um, from the first day that they walk in through our doors and then hopefully, well beyond it.
Connie Rahbany: Well, Eric, is there anything else that you’d like to add that I might not have touched on or that you might not have touched on?
Eric Everts: Uh, no, I’m just glad I remembered that because I think that was an important piece to add.
Connie Rahbany: I do to. I think that, I think that wrapped some ends up.
Eric Everts: Yeah, I think so. I think so, too. Um, uh, so, so thank you, Connie. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Connie Rahbany: And I want to thank you as well for speaking with me about Lead for America.
Eric Everts: Thank you.