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IDEAL program training leaders, taking applications
Institute for the Development of Emerging Area Leaders fellows get a better understanding of building long lasting relationships in their communities with a hands-on activity. - photo by Photo Contributed
The Institute for the Development of Emerging Area Leaders Fellowship isn’t just another local leadership program.
As developed by Modesto’s Great Valley Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 on the belief that “the Valley’s social, economic and environmental future depends on a balanced approach to public policy and the development of strong, diverse leaders,” the IDEAL Fellowship looks to provide much-needed leadership development for those who want to make a difference in their communities.
“The program is designed for those who see a need in their community that is going unfilled,” said Manuel Alvarado, programs manager with the Great Valley Center. “People who are truly passionate about what they want to do.”
Many of the existing leadership programs in the Valley are based on business networking and while there’s “nothing wrong with that,” according to Alvarado, the IDEAL program was designed to attract those who would run for office.
Since the program’s inception in 1999, 240 IDEAL Fellows have passed through the program. Hailing from across the Valley, from Shasta Lake to Tehachapi, this “network of fuzzy haired do-gooders,” as Alvarado likes to call them, has already made a tremendous difference in just 10 years.
Nearly one-fifth of the 240 alumni have run for and won an elected office. More than 100 have been appointed to governmental positions, and a whopping 146 serve on boards of non-profits.
“They’re just a little army of people who are trying to improve the area,” Alvarado said.
The diverse network of IDEAL alumni range from Josh Franco, who joined the program as a sophomore in college and went on to become the first student body president of the University of California, Merced, to judges, professors, and a past Stanislaus County Woman of the Year.
Alvarado, himself an IDEAL Fellow from 2002, first learned about the program upon moving back to the Valley after 20 years spent in the hospitality and advertising industries. Born in Sanger, Alvarado was a victim of the brain drain he now maligns before taking a post as executive director of the Reedley Downtown Association.
When he came back, Alvarado said he felt somewhat detached. He saw a need to fine-tune his leadership skills, to take a refresher course and brush up on the issues that make the Valley unique.
Alvarado missed the registration deadline in his first year back, but jumped at the chance to become an IDEAL Fellow in the following year.
Though the intense, three-day seminars held once a month for six-months, Alvarado says he learned to become a more effective leader and how to resolve conflicts more efficiently. He also learned the truth behind the politics of a place with the best soil in the country that plays host to the poorest people and the worst air in the state.
“We were just somewhere that people from other places drove through,” Alvarado said.
The three-day seminars cover topics such as People and the Economy, Agriculture, Land Use, and Water, Health Care and Education, Resources and the Environment, and Transportation.
Industry experts with a wide range of perspectives speak on each topic. To keep Fellows involved and interested, sessions are planned to be interactive, calling for visits to the World Ag Expo in Tulare, a tour of Gallo Winery, and even a visit of a senior living facility.
Seminars are spread across the whole of the Valley to help Fellows realize the size and character of the entire region.
“This program allowed me to appreciate my Valley,” said Destiny Alvarez, a 2009 IDEAL scholar from Tracy. “I am proud to be from here, reside here, and I plan to stay here. It is my responsibility to take care of her and nurture her for future generations.”
To encourage students to become involved in their communities while still in the IDEAL program, all students are asked to complete a Community Action Project during their six-month tenure. Fellows are asked to assess their community needs, to broaden their horizons, and to find a need that is going unmet in their communities.
One IDEAL Fellow, a 74-year-old retiree from Tehachapi, found inspiration for her Community Action Project from time spent volunteering to drive dialysis patients to Bakersfield. Tehachapi patients were greatly inconvenienced by the 45-minute drive each way to the nearest center.
When the Fellow found that a new hospital was to be built in Tehachapi without a dialysis wing, she contacted all the hospitals in Bakersfield and requested a count of patients who lived in the Tehachapi zip code. A surprising 65 patents were found to be making the drive from Tehachapi to Bakersfield for dialysis.
“Obviously, there was a need here they were not addressing,” said Alvarado.
The hospital changed its mind and included a dialysis wing because of the IDEAL Fellow’s research.
Another IDEAL scholar worked to secure $47 million in state grants to build sidewalks in Fresno to help children get to school safely.
Alvarado was inspired by the Fresno County Blossom Trail, one of the top 100 motor coach tours in the country, for his Community Action Project. The trail draws countless visitors to Fresno, but only for the six to 10 weeks the peach, plum, and apricot blossoms are in bloom.
“I thought, ‘What could I do to extend it?’” Alvarado said.
Six years ago Alvarado sat down and drew up a map of 45 businesses that had anything to do with fruit, ranging from fruit stands to farmers markets. Today, the Fresno County Fruit Trail he created was named one of the top 10 foodie trips in California by Gourmet Magazine.
Turlocker Rob Santos, a 2006 IDEAL Fellow who serves as Turlock Irrigation District Division 4 Director and Chatom School Board Trustee, decided to create a local history program for third grade classrooms as his Community Action Project. While he says the program isn’t quite finished yet, as Fellows are not expected to entirely complete their Community Action Projects in just six months while attending seminars, he plans to wrap up the book, movie, and curriculum this year, just in time for his child to enter third grade.
Even though he’s still not quite finished with his Community Action Project, Santos says he’s learned a lot from the IDEAL program.
“What appealed to me was that it brought me up to date on the current issues facing California and the Central Valley,” Santos said. “It was good, it was definitely a learning experience. We got to know people that were also interested in shaping and changing their communities.”
The six-month IDEAL program costs approximately $6,500, but scholarships are available. Selection does not depend on scholarship needs.
More information about the IDEAL program and the online application are available at
Completed applications for the IDEAL program must be received by midnight Oct. 2. Any questions about IDEAL should be directed to Manuel Alvarado at 522-5103.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.