New program prepares young adults for leadership

By Michele Chan Santos
Senior Correspondent

An innovative new leadership series –– the Emerging Leaders Program –– for young Catholic professionals is making its debut this year.
Based on the leadership program offered by the Austin Young Lawyers Association, and similar to the format followed in Leadership Austin, this six-month program will bring together 30 Catholic professionals for an opening orientation, six monthly lunches, a class project, social events and a full-day closing retreat.
ELP is the brainchild of James Kuhr and Erin Smith, two Catholic attorneys in Austin who attended the Austin Young Lawyers Association leadership program. They saw the need for a similar plan at the Diocese of Austin.
“We wanted to do high-level networking for Catholics,” Kuhr explained. “We want to bring together people who have a direct interest in public service, who are working to incorporate Catholicism into their professional lives. We wanted to have a place where we can come together and talk about the issues and work toward a better Austin.”
Smith added, “People don’t always see Catholic professionals getting involved on a higher level. This is a way to get people involved, to identify leaders.”
Kuhr and Smith approached the diocesan Stewardship and Development Office, where they were then introduced to Alison Tate, the diocesan director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry. Tate was impressed with their enthusiasm and plan.
“I saw a group of motivated young leaders who had already been meeting and showed a serious interest,” Tate said. “They communicated their need to us. We had seen that need. We are not creating ELP just for the sake of a program. It’s an opportunity to reach out to young professionals, a chance to engage young professionals in the life of the church.”
Danielle Madrid, the associate director of Stewardship and Annual Appeal for the diocese, has also been instrumental in launching ELP.
“The program will be a really exciting opportunity to meet Catholic leaders in our community and to network with each other,” Madrid said. “It’s intended to complement the Assembly of Catholic Professionals (ACP).”
Applicants to the program must be under 40 years of age, pursuing professional careers, able to meet the time commitments and attend all mandatory events of the program.
The six monthly lunches will take place at the diocesan Chancery in downtown Austin. Kuhr and Smith have invited speakers including state representatives, a judge, a member of the Board of Regents at the University of Texas, a major business owner, a venture capitalist and a journalist. 
Participants will also be invited to a happy hour with young (40 and under) priests in the diocese and a happy hour with the wider membership of the ACP.
“It’s an opportunity for a young professional Catholic to learn about the Diocese and their parishes and ways they can give back and serve the church and the wider community of Austin,” Tate said.
Smith and Kuhr hope Catholics from a wide range of professions –– possibly including business, law, medicine, finance, political, tech and the nonprofit sector –– will apply.
Kuhr emphasized that one does not have to currently be involved in a parish or the diocese to apply. 
“We encourage applications for people who are not necessarily heavily involved in the diocese but are interested in community service,” he said. 
Applicants do not have to be Catholic, although the program is Catholic in focus, Smith said.
ELP is expected to run on an annual basis, with a different class each year, but Smith and Kuhr are hoping the leadership program will be a springboard to the creation of a wider young professional organization in Austin. To that end, they have talked with leaders at the Young Catholic Professionals chapters in Dallas and Fort Worth and hope that they find the dedicated leadership for either an YCP chapter in Austin or a similar organization that will organically develop from ELP.
“The Diocese of Austin has extended an invitation, and their support, to young professionals of Austin to form a group that makes an impact,” Kuhr said. “By applying you are letting the diocese know that their outreach will not be met with silence.”
Smith said that the relationships participants will make in the program are one of its biggest benefits.
“The people you’ll meet, the friends that you’ll make and the relationships that will form … it’s a way to meet other like-minded people,” Smith said.
The cost of the program is $200. Financial aid is available.
Applications will be available at beginning Jan. 5 and are due Jan. 31.
For more information, contact James Kuhr at, or Erin Smith at 

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