01/27/2011 03:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Investing in Colorado's Leaders of Tomorrow

"If not me, who? If not now, when?" ~ Rabbi Hillel

For politicos like us, there are many times we find ourselves sitting in a room full of intelligent, thoughtful, passionate people arguing about politics. We rant, we rave, we get exasperated, and we bemoan. We complain, we beseech, we persuade, and we commiserate.

But rarely do we talk about the obvious.

There is a difference between the Jared Polises, the Michael Bennets, the Ed Perlmutters, the Diana DeGettes, the Joe Garcias, the Rhonda Fields... and the rest of us. It's not money -- they're not all wealthy. It's not intelligence. Bloggers and activists are a pretty smart bunch, at least in CO. It's not free time. If you ask any one of them, they were pretty busy when they decided to run for public office. Like us, they have families and relationships that require tending. It's not just ambition -- some of us here are very ambitious people in other ways.

It's courage.

Courage to look in the mirror and to say, "I may not be perfect, but I am willing to learn. I'm willing to put my name on a ballot somewhere, and be open to any criticism, comments, or suggestions that come my way." Courage to turn one's life over to public service, at even the most basic level, and being willing to face both the headaches -- and the glory-- that can come with it.

Two of my personal heroes are US Congresswoman Diana DeGette and Angie Paccione. In 1996, when Diana DeGette first ran for Congress, she was criticized by her opponents for being a "PTO Mom". Of course, she was also an attorney, but in those days, dismissing someone as a "mother" could potentially ruin her political career. Young mothers all over Colorado embraced Diana, and we hung on the success of her election as the symbol of promise and redemption for all of us. When Diana won, she won for young women everywhere. Today, Diana DeGette can boast serving in the CO State legislature for two terms, and as a member of the US Congress for eight terms. She is also the Chief Deputy Whip, and a published international expert on women's issues and reproductive rights, among other things.

Another Colorado hero, Dr. Angie Paccione, grew up in the Bronx in a biracial family with a single mother. Her self-discipline and persistence made her a basketball star, which enabled her to go to Stanford University, where she studied political science and psychology. When she moved to Denver, she went back to school at DU to become a teacher. After teaching for a number of years, Angie went on to get a MA and a PhD in Education. When Angie was in the voting booth in the 2000 election, she was shocked to see there was not a member of her party running in the 4th Congressional District. So, listening to an internal voice which prodded her on to do courageous things, she became a member of the CO House of Representatives for two terms. Angie's run for the US Congress was a memorable one - despite personal attacks made by her opponent in negative television ads, Angie held her head up high. Today, she travels the world, teaching for an international leadership program.

These women are exceptional for their courage. There are others -- men and women who lived quiet lives and then had an epiphany -- "If I don't do it, who will?"

Fortunately for Coloradans, there are places where activists and community leaders can turn for information, encouragement and support to take that next step. On the left, there is the Colorado Institue for Leadership Training (CILT), and the Center for Progressive Leadership (CPL). Because I am familiar with CPL, I would like to share my own experience.

The Center for Progressive Leadership is an independent, non-partisan non-profit, community program designed to nurture, inspire, educate, and prepare women -- and men -- of all ages, who are courageous enough to stand up for an issue --any issue -- and say, "I am willing to learn. I am willing to share my passions, to accept coaching and support, to define my goals, and to face both praise and criticism for my decisions. I am willing to put my name where my mouth is, risking my ego in exchange for the possibility of making a huge difference in the lives of others."

The Center for Progressive Leadership is still accepting applications for its 2011 fellowship class, which begins February 26th. (CILT has already started its 2011 year class.) The CPL program lasts nine months, requiring one weekend every other month, and approximately 3-5 hours per week until graduation. There are moments when the programs seems grueling, satisfying, exhilarating, touching, informative, controversial, and profound. The challenges given as assignments push fellows to expand what they always thought they could accomplish, finding strengths they never knew they had, and forging relationships that will serve them a lifetime.

How do I know? I am a proud and enthusiastic graduate of the 2010 Center for Progressive Leadership class.

The program does not end with graduation. The more I put into my experience as a member of the CPL family, the more I will continue to get out of it.

Whether a fellow is thinking about running for secretary of their homeowners association, a member of their local liquor or fire department board, or president of the United States, the Center for Progressive Leadership (or something like it) may be just the kick in the pants they need. Perhaps they intend to start a non-profit, or a foundation, or build a private school. Whether their issue is giving immigrant children a chance at higher education, ensuring that school children have adequate nutrition, guaranteeing a person's right to love who they wish, protecting the social safety net for the elderly, or protecting our fragile Colorado eco-systems, CPL (or CILT) can give them the tools to accomplish their dreams.

Being a fellow in a program like CPL is not right for everyone, and not everyone who applies is accepted into the program. Anyone can contribute, however. Programs like CPL invest many thousands of dollars in each fellow, only asking for a fraction of the cost to be paid in tuition. They'll gladly take donations, I'm sure. If people can't contribute, they can volunteer by hosting a fundraiser, or by calling the Interim Director and asking what needs to be done.

CPL stands for the Center for Progressive Leadership. It could also stand for "Courage to Proceed as a Leader". Whether you support the Center for Progressive Leadership, the Colorado Institute for Leadership Training, or another program, please invest in tomorrow's leaders.

Be courageous. As they say in the Nike ad, "Just do it".


Nancy Cronk is a 2010 graduate of the Center for Progressive Leadership Program in CO.