Wanted: aspiring leaders for social change

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Emilyne Slagle juggles marriage, motherhood, community work and serving on the Blue Grass City Council. Her passion for making the world a better place led her to enroll in the first Mottet Leadership Institute last fall, which she says provided her with the tools to focus on her ultimate dream. “My end goal in life is really to change legislation in regard to children and the welfare system in Iowa. Children fall through the cracks in foster care,” says Slagle, 33, “especially children of color and children with disabilities.” She was a foster child until age 10, when she was adopted.

Organizers of the Mottet Leadership Institute are preparing for the second institute, which begins Sept. 14. Slagle hopes other emerging young leaders like her will enroll in the seven-week program to gain the leadership skills necessary to foster positive change in their communities and organizations.

Msgr. Marvin Mottet, a priest of the Diocese of Davenport and the institute’s namesake, dedicated his life to addressing the root causes of injustice and empowering those impacted by it to bring about change. Just before his death in September 2016, he secured a promise from colleagues to carry on his work and to equip the next generation to lead.

“Life is about who you know and not necessarily what you can do. I learned strategic networking at the Mottet Leadership Institute,” said Slagle. She applied that skill to such efforts as organizing “Families Belong Together,” a rally held June 30 in Davenport’s Vander Veer Botanical Park. The rally was part of a national day of action to protest the policy of forcibly separating children from their parents, the detention of families and the government’s belated response to reuniting thousands of children with their parents.

Now, as walk manager for “NAMIWalks” Greater Mississippi Valley, Slagle is preparing for an event that builds awareness about mental illness and raises funds to help individuals and families. This year’s walk is scheduled Sept. 22 at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport. Slagle enthusiastically supports NAMI because her adoptive parents were mental health care professionals who raised their children to appreciate the value of good mental health. “Without mental health being a component, I don’t think I would have been as successful in my life.”

Slagle can see the big picture in her ultimate dream to bring about change in the welfare system. But the Mottet Leadership Institute “helped guide me through the details. It was incredibly life-changing.”

Contributed Participants at the Mottet Institute listen during a presentation last year. A new session begins with a retreat next month.

Participation in the Mottet Leadership Institute isn’t limited to young adults. Gary Susich, 65, wanted to build on his already impressive network advocating for people who are homeless or otherwise living in poverty. He’s walked in their shoes. “I lived on the streets for three years,” the Davenport man said. Now he lives in a comfortable downtown apartment close to the library and the bus station.

Even before enrolling in the Mottet Leadership Institute, Susich developed a large network dedicated to people who are homeless or otherwise living in poverty and advocates seeking to eliminate the causes of poverty and homelessness. The institute “helped me to expand my network that much more.” Susich, newly appointed to the Davenport Housing Commission, believes he is following God’s call to advocate for the poor and homeless. “I figure I’ve got some insights and perceptions since I used to be on the streets … I can tell people how it is to be out there searching, wanting.” The Mottet Leadership Institute, he said, “helps you grow as an individual and helps you to expand your organization and reach out to new people. … It’s a win-win situation.”

“I love that the Mottet Leadership Institute stretches people,” said Leslie Kilgannon, the institute’s coordinator. “It gets them out of their comfort zone, because that’s where growth is. It’s challenging because it gets people to think in a different way.”

For example, some people may think of acquisition of power as a negative, but in leading others to bring about change, power is essential. “If you don’t step up, who is going to?” she asked. Participants learn to bring their values into the public arena, to crystallize their goals. The institute helps people to find their own path toward creating a just community.

Before beginning her new position as director of the Scott County Housing Council, Kilgannon served as executive director of Quad Cities Interfaith, a social justice organization that Msgr. Mottet organized. “He was a mentor to me,” she said, and that’s why she agreed to coordinate the institute. “Social justice is in my blood.”

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