ELP helps young adults strengten faith, leadership skills

By Michele Chan Santos
Senior Correspondent

After a successful first year of the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) –– an inspiring and educational series for young Catholic professionals in the Diocese of Austin –– its leaders are ready to welcome a new group of professionals in 2016.
Launched by Erin Smith and James Kuhr in January 2015, the leadership series had about 35 people in its inaugural class. These Catholic professionals, all under 40, came from a wide variety of professions. Over the course of seven months (March through September of last year), they gathered for monthly lunches featuring many notable speakers, and also spent time together at other events, including an opening and closing retreat, small group discussions and happy hours.
“It was wonderful to meet and network with 35 other young Catholic professionals who want to grow in their faith and succeed in their careers,” Smith said. For 2016, the co-chairs of ELP will be Erin Smith and Elizabeth (Liz) Johnson. 
“The ELP launched in 2015 as a pilot leadership program,” said Alison Tate, the director of Youth, Young Adult and campus ministry for the Diocese of Austin. “We experienced a lot of success with it and received positive feedback. We are excited to have Erin and Liz coordinating in 2016 as we continue to develop and provide opportunities for leadership training for young adults in our diocese.”
The list of speakers last year included Bishop Joe Vásquez, Justice Gina Benavides, Dina Dwyer-Owens of The Dwyer Group, Jesus Garza (CEO of Seton Healthcare), Representative Tony Dale and many more. Smith plans to have equally impressive speakers for the 2016 series.
Catholic professionals under 40, interested in deepening their faith, developing leadership skills and meeting other young Catholics, are invited to apply for the Emerging Leaders Program. The 2016 series will offer the same amount of programming as last year, Smith said, but in a compressed format between March and May. The 35 people chosen will meet twice a month instead of once a month. In addition to the speaker lunches, there will be other events, as well as opportunities to learn about the diocese and how to become more deeply involved in their local parishes.
ELP is first and foremost a leadership development program, which trains and strengthens leaders for the future of our diocese, Tate said. ELP begins and ends with daylong leadership development retreats.
Applications are available www.austindiocese.org/elp, and are due by Feb. 15. Tuition for the program is $200.
Last year’s class included engineers, professors, attorneys, medical professionals and people in many other career fields, Smith said.
The program is very Austin-centric and would be a great fit for 20- and 30-somethings who have recently moved to the city and “are looking to plug in with a group of professionals,” Smith said. It’s also helpful for people who have lived here for a while and want to broaden their network or get more involved at their parish.
In the 2015 program, “People bonded well, and these are people who wouldn’t have met, otherwise,” Smith said. “We had new graduates, single people, married people. We formed a strong Catholic bond and it was so inspiring, especially since we come from such diverse backgrounds.”
There will be a recruitment event this month so prospective participants can ask questions and meet ELP leaders. Details are on the diocesan website at www.austindiocese.org/elp.
Young Catholic Professionals, a national organization, recently started a chapter in Austin. This is a separate organization from ELP but the two complement each other. Tate explained that ELP is a leadership training program that people participate in for a short time; whereas, YCP is a group focusing on networking and faith formation which people can belong to on an ongoing basis.
For more information about ELP, contact Erin Smith at erinelena34@gmail.com or Alison Tate at 
alison-tate@austindiocese.org. To learn more about YCP, go to www.ycpaustin.org.