Antonio Martinez Jr., left, the Community Foundation’s president and CEO. | Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation/Facebook

The Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation’s Leadership Lab is now accepting applications for its 2021-22 program, but this most recent cohort will be a lot different from the past, the Lab’s organizers said.

“We’ve really wanted to expand the experience,” said Jenny Yang, Leadership Lab coordinator.

This year, Yang explained, the program is looking to recruit fellows from beyond Oak Park and River Forest, including Austin.

During the program, participants meet once a month over 10 months for personal and professional coaching and skills development. This year, the sessions will be offered both virtually and in-person.

The deadline to apply is June 30 or until spots are filled. Tuition is $2,000, but scholarships are available based on need.

“One of our key objectives is to expand our reach,” Yang said. “We want to talk to fellows, give them leadership experience and provide them with a personal journal and help them curate that journey.

“You don’t have to be a mayor or in some high position in a company to be a leader. We know anyone can be a leader and we want to make sure we meet them where they are because the skills we’ll offer are applicable wherever they want to serve.”

Yang said the program has evolved since its inception, adding that the Lab is “much more approachable, more actionable and more flexible” than in the past, when participants were largely drawn from Oak Park and River Forest.

“When this was started, it was really designed between the Community Foundation and Dominican University to be a leadership program that helped people become defined as community leaders and it was focused on the Oak Park and River Forest area,” said Cathy Yen, a longtime nonprofit executive and a Leadership Lab facilitator who has also completed the program herself.

“The program has come a long way since then,” Yen said, adding that the program is focused on “a bunch of C’s,” including competencies, coaching, context and COVID.

Yen said, for those looking to apply, “your demonstrated commitment to the greater good is more important than your resume.” She said the program typically attracts mid-career professionals looking to strengthen their core competencies and sharpen their core values.

DeRondal Bevly, a Leadership Lab mentor, said the program is particularly necessary in today’s fraught political climate.

“If you look at the energy that was kicked up as a result of the 2020 election, people were looking for an outlet to do something but just didn’t have the skills, the toolkit and the networks to be agents of change,” Bevly said. “This program really fits the times to help those people who know they’re leaders and have the potential, but don’t quite know how to pull it out themselves.”

Yang said Leadership Lab fellows who complete the program get access to a resource library that’s available to all Lab participants and alumni. They also get to tap into a network of more than 200 Lab alumni.

Yen said Leadership Lab’s desire to expand its reach beyond two suburbs is consistent with an expanding definition of community, one rooted less in one particular municipal boundary than in a much larger geographic region.

That regionalism is also consistent with the Community Foundation’s evolving mission, said Antonio Martinez Jr., the Foundation’s president and CEO.

“The big thing is that we realize the interconnectedness that we share with our surrounding neighbors and communities,” he said. “We know that what affects us affects others and vice versa, so it’s important for us, when we take a look at this leadership program, to look at west Cook County, the city of Chicago, and, in particular, Austin, and do our part to help people in those communities increase their leadership capacity.”

For more information on Leadership Lab and/or to apply, visit: