History of I-LEAD

With offices in Valley Forge, Philadelphia, and Reading, Pennsylvania, the Institute for Leadership Education, Advancement, and Development, Inc. (or I-LEAD) is a Pennsylvania nonprofit school with 501(c)3 status that has served as a force for community leadership development since 1995. David Castro is the President of I-LEAD and its Chief Executive Officer. In 1991, Mr. Castro joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, where he assisted District Attorney Lynne Abraham in creating the Public Nuisance Task Force, and served as its first Chief. The Task Force was the first inter-agency enforcement program of its kind targeting crack houses and nuisance liquor establishments. Alongside neighborhood leaders, David worked in some of the most distressed neighborhoods in Philadelphia to resolve community problems. This productive collaboration led to a recognition that the key to changing a community’s prospects lay in cultivating the leadership skills and leadership capacities from within that community.

In 1993, David was awarded a Fellowship in the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s National Leadership Program. The Fellowship is a three-year leadership training program awarded each year to a select group of young leaders working across the country to make a difference in their respective communities. David devoted his Fellowship to the study of community leadership development, and its relation to improving community quality of life. I-LEAD’s mission and programming grew out of a series of community meetings, workshops, and surveys. These early efforts to understand the problems facing Philadelphia neighborhoods identified community leadership capacity as the most critical need facing residents. Members of civic organizations, town watch groups, police district advisory councils, and grassroots community-based organizations recognized that leadership development was critical to every important initiative affecting local quality of life. Consequently, based upon his work in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and in the community, David, along with District Attorney Lynne Abraham, founded I-LEAD in 1995. District Attorney Abraham is currently the Chair of I-LEAD’s Board of Directors.

From 1995 through 2005, I-LEAD served as the lead training partner for Urban Genesis, Inc., focusing primarily on the development of community leaders in Philadelphia. In 1995, Mr. Castro joined the staff of the Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania as the Director of the State’s Weed and Seed Initiative. Weed and Seed is a program that helps struggling communities combat crime and poverty by combining law enforcement and community development strategies in target, high-crime communities. From 2001 through 2005, I-LEAD served as the lead training partner for the Pennsylvania Weed and Seed program. In this capacity, through a multi-year grant exceeding $2 million, I-LEAD delivered leadership and organizational development training, as well as related technical assistance services, to faith-based and community organizations in sixteen Pennsylvania cities. The program included not only thousands of hours of leadership and organizational development training delivered on-site to cohorts of grassroots faith-based and community leaders, but also ongoing technical assistance, including regional conferences and the provision of mini-grants to support the leadership development and organizational capacity-building objectives of the program.

In 2001, with support of the Comcast Foundation, I-LEAD developed a comprehensive technology curriculum, Understanding Technology, and formally incorporated its technology component into organizational programming. Since then, I-LEAD has provided computer literacy, technology proficiency, and related workforce development training in Central and Southeastern Pennsylvania, as well as technical assistance services to small nonprofits.

Similarly, through grants exceeding $1 million received from the Pennsylvania Department of Health through the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Minority Health and other county-level intermediaries, I-LEAD established its community health programming. Since 2003, I-LEAD has provided health advocacy leadership programs, community health worker training, bio-preparedness, CNA and VESL training and education through grassroots and community organizations which serve predominantly minority neighborhoods throughout Central and Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Finally, in 2005, I-LEAD’s unique leadership development curriculum was further validated with accreditation through Harcum College, which enables qualified students to receive an accredited Associate Degree in Leadership Studies. As of May 2014, over 500 students attended degree granting programs at several community campuses throughout Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia, Chester, Reading, Coatesville, and Upper Darby.

As a result of these intensive programs, I-LEAD has been able to build close contacts and relationships with numerous grassroots, faith-based and community organizations across Pennsylvania, spanning small cities, larger urban areas, and the rural communities that connect them. In the West, I-LEAD’s geographic focus has included Erie and Pittsburgh, as well as the smaller communities of Sharon and Farrell, McKeesport, New Kensington and Arnold, Aliquippa, and Wilkinsburg. It has included the Central Pennsylvania and “222 Corridor” communities in Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, Reading, Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton. It has also included the Southeastern Pennsylvania communities of Coatesville, Norristown, Chester and Philadelphia. While other organizations may be able to match this geographic scope, few can claim with credibility to have penetrated and built substantial relationships at the grassroots level. The several thousand strong alumni of I-LEAD—including political leaders and numerous leaders of small organizations and faith congregations across Pennsylvania—form a potent network for serving the public good.