It was Thursday, of the second week of March, 2020. I was in California facilitating the fifth session for the new Tepeyac Leadership Initiative (TLI) Los Angeles track. Things were going well!
We had been hearing about the Coronavirus since late 2019. But this wasn’t the first time the public was made aware of the imminent danger of a virus from Asia. A state lockdown, an almost complete shutdown of commerce, the forbidding of all large and small gatherings was not on the radar for the average American, certainly not for us!
By now the advice coming from China and Italy was clear. It was only a matter of hours before state, federal and local governments would make it official. We had been so excited about the launching of our new TLI cohort in Los Angeles, simultaneous with the third cohort in Phoenix, we had prepared for everything except COVID-19. That weekend I had trouble sleeping. I could see it happening. Soon we wouldn’t be allowed to hold our weekly sessions and we would have had to interrupt—perhaps even cancel!—our TLI program. There had to be another way.
By Monday, March 16, I was well familiarized with a couple of platforms for virtual meetings. The night before, I had opened an account with one of them and spoken with Andres Martin, the volunteer facilitator for our Phoenix program. “Could it be possible?” he asked. “I don’t know, Andres, and I don’t like it, but if it comes down to it, we’ll take TLI online,” I replied.
Neither Andres nor I liked the idea. As a graduate from the first cohort and a close supporter of the program, Andres understood very well that one of the strengths of TLI was the interpersonal dynamics that took place during the eighteen-week duration of the program. Online meeting platforms were not new. They had been around for a while. Like most other professionals we had used them, when we had to. In fact, over the years, people had asked me many times “Do you have plans for offering a version of the program online?” “Never,” I thought to myself. “TLI is a personal experience! With God’s help, we’ll take TLI to other dioceses, but we won’t take it online.”
I was wrong! Within a week, TLI went virtual. Two months into it, we had learned a lot. The first surprise came by way of the experience from the program participants’ perspectives. It turns out most of them did not mind taking the TLI sessions to the virtual platform. Some even preferred it!
These aren’t just experiential observations based on our interactions with them. TLI participants have to complete an evaluation after each session. They also complete an evaluation after their one-time Virtuous Leadership retreat. And they complete a final evaluation of the program in its entirety after graduation. We take these evaluations very seriously. It is the fuel we feed our programming with, in order to keep our commitment to continuous improvement.
What was our experience for the first two months of online weekly sessions in both dioceses? Nothing had changed! Participants in Phoenix and Los Angeles were thrilled with the TLI experience and the transformative effect it was having in their professional and spiritual lives. We have learned TLI could be very successful online!
In hindsight this makes a lot of sense. Many of our program participants are millennials, perfectly at home with online platforms. Particularly for the Los Angeles cohort, the prospect of avoiding a long commute was actually a break. And the experience in Phoenix, was not far off from LA’s. In addition, we had once again confirmed what we’ve always known, that the backbone of our program—its greatest strength—are our amazing speakers. Whether online or in-person, through God’s grace, it is them who have delivered a superb TLI experience since the beginning of the program.
But there was more. In 2020, there was another challenging development for TLI as a result of COVID-19. As you know, our young Catholic organization was born at the Diocese of Phoenix as an incubator. Up until this day, it continues to be a reliable partner. But on that Spring of 2020, faced with the uncertainty all other institutions encountered, I was informed our principal supporter was no longer able to sustain its past level of support. The news truly shook our plans for growth.
The challenges brought by COVID-19 came about primarily in the way of funding, which was headed our way and then did not materialize. This is no small matter for a young Catholic non-profit organization. However, COVID-19 also brought about the excitement of a tremendous opportunity for 2021: to offer our civic leadership development program to the entire nation through a fully online cohort!
That, my friends, was the opportunity we seized in the midst of the crisis. Since 2021, we made our leadership development program available, first, to all lay Catholic professionals in the U.S. And soon after that, we made it available to the world. Why? Because we knew TLI was made for such a time as this!
But we cannot do it on our own. Whether you are a current supporter of the program because you have seen the impact it can have in the secular world. Whether you are a TLI graduate who has already gone through our catalyst development experience and know firsthand of its potential to change lives and transform communities. Whether you are one of over 150 experts or mentors who are affiliated to TLI because you believe in its vision and potential for building up society and the Church. Whether you are a silent observer, who until now has followed along our story and joined this adventure in Christ only through your prayers—We need you!
We are on a mission: to become the premier civic leadership-development program for Catholic professionals in the world. It will be the same transformative experience that started in Phoenix in 2018, but now with an international team of speakers and mentors and a global outlook. Would you join us? Together, we can continue transforming lives, building up the community and the Church by investing in tomorrow’s lay Catholic leaders.
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