Infinite Impact in Celebrating Santa Barbara County Emerging Leaders 2020-21 Cohort

By Ann Pieramici   |   September 13, 2021

The eighth cohort of Leading From Within’s Emerging Leaders program celebrated the culmination of their nearly year-long leadership development training with an outdoor culmination ceremony at Foundation House on August 27.  Nineteen local nonprofit leaders completed the program that connects, supports, and develops social sector leaders in Santa Barbara County. 

The nineteen professionals work in organizations charged with solving some of our region’s greatest challenges, from homelessness and food insecurity to educational inequities and environmental issues. Leading From Within invests in these leaders so that they can better serve their organizations and amplify their ability to address critical issues that impact our community.

“Leading From Within has become such a powerhouse throughout the greater Santa Barbara community,” said Jackie Carrera, President & CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation. “This cohort is the heart and soul of the organization’s leadership development programs.”

In her opening remarks Carrera encouraged the graduates to always remember how they felt when they began the program. “As you go through your careers look around and make sure you are keeping an eye out for those people who show talent and bring them along with you, giving them the same type of opportunity that you’ve been granted.” 

Emerging Leaders is a 10-month (one full day each month) program that assembles a select cohort of emerging social sector leaders from Santa Barbara County and guides them through a rigorous, relevant and applied curriculum with support in forging connections with peers, mentors, and community leaders. The program is designed to help participants increase their leadership impact in their organization, the social sector, and the community at large. 

Due to Covid restrictions, this was the first year that the program adopted a hybrid format, with most of the meetings taking place via Zoom. In fact, the culmination ceremony marked just the second time that this class had met in person. 

“We were all craving this connection during Covid,” said Leah Genevieve Combs, Human Resources Supervisor at the Family Service Agency.  Combs served as master of ceremonies with fellow graduate Bethany Sutherland, Executive Director of the Goleta Education Foundation. “We are profoundly grateful to the team at Leading From Within for believing in our cohort and the potential of the program to work virtually. We are here because supporters believed in this program and we succeeded thanks to the strength of the partnership of our amazing facilitators.”

The group’s facilitators were Miles Ashlock, Chief of Staff for Student Affairs, UCSB and Katya Armistead, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Life at UCSB and a Leading From Within Board member.

“This was an incredible group of leaders who made the decision to be present, despite the virtual setting,” said Armistead. “I am humbled by their growth and vulnerability, and encouraged by their ability to quickly form authentic, deep connections.” 

The class embraced the theme of infinity, symbolized by their cohort – number 8 – and adopted the motto ‘infinite possibility, infinite impact.’

“Although we are marking the ending of our journey, this ending is really just the beginning – the possibilities and opportunities are endless,” said Sutherland.

Each of the graduates honored a fellow graduate with a personal reflection of their character and the awarding of a floral crown headpiece. “The personal remarks are a testament to how much we’ve grown and learned and appreciate about each other,” said Sutherland.

“I’ve gained a lot of confidence,” said Eva-Maria Catalan, Youth Wellness Coalition Manager, Future Leaders of America. Catalan was one of three females in her cohort to have a baby during her participation in the program and she said the instruction on setting boundaries was especially meaningful.

Sabrina Freidenfelds, Founder, Then Comes Baby, said her experience was “validating, confirming, and invigorating.”  She described the Emerging Leaders training as “a guiding light shining the way forward in challenging situations.” 

“There’s the formal leadership program with a set curriculum from which we learned so much, yet more than that it’s about community, connection, and introspection,” said Combs. “I’ve learned more about myself in the past year than I thought possible.” 

“I feel like we’ve gained a family,” added Sutherland.  “There are seven cohorts that came before us working within the nonprofit sector and the significance of having this alumni network to call upon is invaluable. Our relationships extend beyond just our group – we’ve gained unity in the community.”

The members of the 2020-2021 Emerging Leaders Cohort 8 are Annie Vu, Direct Relief, Bennett Rock, Explore Ecology, Bethany Sutherland, Goleta Education Foundation, DeeDee Conrad, Then Comes Baby, Erin Gardner, Allan Hancock College Foundation, Eva-Maria Catalan, Future Leaders of America, Franky Viveros, Jacquelyne Alexander, County of Santa Barbara, Jamie Creason, Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, Jesus Lopez, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Julia Daly, Santa Barbara County Office of Arts & Culture, Julissa Pena, Santa Barbara County Immigrant Legal Defense Center, Leah-Genevieve Combs, Family Service Agency, Mario Mendez, Wilderness Youth Project, Michelle Sevilla, Office of Assemblymember Steve Bennett, Nathalie Keller, Foodback of Santa Barbara County, Nicki Parr, Women’s Economic Venture, Sabrina Freidenfelds, Then Comes Baby, and Samantha Alvarez, The Reach Fellowship.

Program and event sponsors include: Santa Barbara Foundation, Angell Foundation, Ann Jackson Family Foundation, Montecito Bank & Trust, Apiary Ciderworks & Meadery, Brewlab, Buena Onda, and Katya Armistead.

For more information on how to support or apply to the Emerging Leaders program, please visit


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Investing in leaders that serve the public good. We live in a region filled with dedicated leaders who give their whole selves towards improving our communities, but, sadly, who too often work in an environment of scarcity, isolation and competition. We need social sector leaders who are prepared, renewed, connected and collaborating, and who represent the broad diversity of our region. At Leading From Within, we foster a dynamic network of public-minded leaders who know each other, trust each other, and are better able to work together to improve our communities. This investment better ensures that leaders can address some of society’s more persistent challenges.

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