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Progressives keep making progress in Missoula.

The New Leaders Council, a national organization giving Millennials the skills to become progressive leaders in their fields, has opened a chapter in Missoula. It already trained its first set of fellows, too.

"We are looking for the cream of the crop so we can give them the skills they're going to need to be the best community leaders they can be," said Jeanette Russell, co-director of the local chapter.

The council also operates in San Francisco, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., among other places. Missoula is the first smaller city with a chapter, and 2010 fellow Cari Kimball said the town's progressive roots attracted the national organization.

"Missoula has enough of a reputation as a hub of progressivism, they decided this is a good place to start a chapter as well," Kimball said.

The nonprofit is run by volunteers, and it identifies itself as nonpartisan. It focuses on socially progressive views, though, "consistent with Millennials' values."

In Missoula, many of the people affiliated with the group also are active in the local Democratic Party.

Mayor John Engen gave the keynote address at the first chapter fundraiser, and Missoula County Democratic Party chairman Jason Wiener, also a Missoula City Council member, is on the advisory board. Ellie Hill, battling fellow Democrat Lou Ann Crowley for the Democratic Party nomination in House District 94, is co-director of the chapter.

Party memberships, however, aren't that important to Millennials - people generally between the ages of 18 and 29. Kimball, 24, said the flag of a political party isn't one the new generation tends to wave.

"I think that's pretty common in the upcoming wave of progressives - party affiliation becomes less of an identity," Kimball said.

In its "most ambitious examination ... of America's newest generation," the Pew Research Center identified Millennials as "significantly more liberal than members of other generations." The 2010 report, "A Portrait of Generation Next," noted the group distinguishes itself in its social values, generally accepting "homosexuality, interracial dating, (and) expanded roles for women and immigrants."

Based in Washington, D.C., the Pew Research Center describes itself as a nonpartisan "fact tank" looking at trends shaping the country.

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This year in Missoula, Kimball was one of 14 selected fellows, a position her boss at the Montana Conservation Voters encouraged her to seek.

"One of the things they wanted were people who are rooted in the community or at least have an attachment to it and hope to be around for the foreseeable future," Kimball said.

As a graduate student in the University of Montana's environmental studies program, Kimball said it's easy to "get your blinders on" and have contact only with progressives involved in conservation and the environmental movement. She said the fellowship allowed her to branch out and create a network with many other progressives.

"It's been really valuable to me to expand my social circle in that sense," Kimball said.

As an alumnus, Kimball maintains contact with a mentor in her preferred field of land use, conservation and sustainable agriculture. She'll meet with Crissie McMullan, with Grow Montana, for at least the next three months.

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An incubator for Missoula progressives might seem like overkill here. Young leaders are active in the local Democratic Party, after all, and Forward Montana, another local political group, is rallying youth around politics (Forward Montana chief executive officer Matt Singer also sits on the New Leaders chapter advisory board).

"That's what we asked ourselves when we approached some of the national leaders as well," said co-director Russell. "We were thinking, ‘We don't need this.' "

But she said the focus of the New Leaders Council is different. It's not trying to teach people to campaign or get more women elected, for instance. Rather, it offers training to progressives already out the workplace, whether they be in the nonprofit world or the business sector.

"These are folks that are going to be leaders in their field who are dedicated to helping out the community of Missoula," Russell said.

In the program, a series of workshops over the course of three months,

the fellows learn about fundraising, technology, board development and even life entrepreneurialship. The last area helps people identify life goals and create a path to reach them.

One fellow, for instance, decided she wants to work in the field of nonprofit technology, so Russell said she quit her day job as a result. (Russell is the director of outreach for DemocracyInAction, which helps grassroots groups organize with technology. The fellow, then, was aiming for the same field, an outcome Russell said, "I'm thrilled about.")

In the workshops, local experts in technology taught the fellows about online advertising, search engine optimization and creating a message. Russell and Kimball both said one of the most powerful outcomes is the relationships established among people in different fields.

Professionals who have day jobs volunteer their time to run the chapter. Russell said the first fundraiser brought in $2,500, more than half the annual budget, and most of the money came in donations of less than $50. Some 80 people attended.

Next year will bring another round of fellows. Potential fellows get invitations to apply,

but Russell encouraged those interested in the council to visit newleaderscouncil.org.

The first annual fundraiser was sponsored by the following groups: Blue Mountain Clinic, DemocracyInAction, Good Works Ventures, Montana Community Development Corp. and Ellie Hill for HD 94.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

 

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