Take a look at most nonprofit boards of directors and you’re likely to see more than a few gray hairs. But this week, the Institute for Civic Leadership took a step toward infusing some youthful energy into the makeup of local boards.

Since 1993, the Portland organization has trained more than 500 people in community leadership. Last fall it launched the Young Emerging Leaders program, which equips people between the ages of 22 and 35 with skills in nonprofit governance, pairs them with a mentor and then matches them to a local board seeking younger members.

On Tuesday, in the upstairs function room of Pat’s Pizza in the Old Port, a party and graduation ceremony was held for the first 25 young professionals to receive this training.

Former Institute for Civic Leadership director Steve Schuit told me that the program grew from an experience his then 27-year-old son had as an AmeriCorps volunteer traveling throughout Maine and talking to nonprofit boards. His son noticed that after a year of making presentations he never once saw a 20-year-old on any of the boards.

“This program was created to allow young Mainers to begin to populate these boards,” said Schuit, who now runs The Greenshoe Group business consulting firm with his wife and program mentor, Marsha Greenberg.

“There was very much a sense that we needed to engage young people,” current executive director Jan Kearce told me. “Only six percent of people on boards are under 35.”

So far, the concept has proven popular, with applications for spots in the program and requests from nonprofits to be matched with program grads flooding in to the Institute for Civic Leadership.

“I’m going to be on the Day One board,” said Sam DePoy-Warren, who works for the Institute for Civic Leadership and was a member of the inaugural class of young leaders. “The average age on the board I’m joining is 54. I’m 27 and there are two of us joining (from the Emerging Leaders class). That’s going to change the face of their board.”

Scott Schnapp, who is the executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits and served as a mentor, sees definite value in the program.

“Age is an issue in a state like Maine that’s an older state,” Schnapp told me. “If you can have a diversity of opinions around the table it enhances and enriches the conversation and hopefully leads to better decisions.”

For their part, the graduates I spoke with all praised the program and what they got out of it.

“It was great to connect with other young people in the community who are interested in making Portland a great place,” said Alicia Innes Sampson of the University of Southern Maine, who is one of the graduates and now serves on the Portland Symphony Orchestra board. “I think they did do a good job of preparing us for community service.”

Graduate Andy Colvin, who works for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and now serves on the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust board, agreed.

“It really helps to get different perspectives on problems nonprofits face,” Colvin told me. “They gave us some really good skills. I now feel like I can be an ambassador of serving on a board to my friends.”

Ken Spirer is with the Sam Cohen Foundation and served as a mentor for the program. His daughter Kathryn Spirer of the Friends School of Portland was another of the program’s graduates and is now serving on the Portland Trails board.

“For an organization like the Y, it’s so wonderful to have access to emerging young leaders,” said Pat Palmer, who is the chair of the Casco Bay YMCA. “We’ve been out looking for young members.”

Palmer said the organization was thrilled to hear about the new training program, and now program graduate Julia Greenleaf Pitney of Drummond & Drummond has joined its board.

“I’ve been interested in joining a board, but I didn’t know where to start,” graduate Heather Sullivan of CIEE told me.

When she learned about the Young Emerging Leaders program, she applied and was accepted into the first class. Now she’s serving on the Easter Seals board.

The program’s other graduates are Alexander Abbott of MaineHealth, Jason Alvarez of Martin’s Point Health Care, Amanda Boston of Wright Express, Jane Camp of United Way of Greater Portland, state Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx of Truman National Security Project, Jesse Cyr of Wright Express, Brian Dries of Fairchild Semiconductor, Will Ethridge of Eternal Otter Records, performance artist Cheryl Hamilton, Abigail Isaacson of MaineHealth, Jason Long of MSAD 17, Clara McConnell of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Sara Moppin of Perkins Thompson, Sarah Paul of Bowdoin College, Kiersten Scarpati of VONT, Gary Trempe of Gorham Savings Bank, Kimberly Wallace of Unum and Jeremy Whitehouse of Consigli Construction Company.

“There are many young people out there who don’t know how to get connected,” said Anne Jackson of the Maine Community Foundation, who served as a mentor. “This ought to be a win-win for everybody.” 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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