Reflections on my GDMLI Experience

Guest post by Crissanka Prasad, Coordinator, American Parkinson Disease Association

This past year I had the honor of being a part of the 2013-2014 class of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. For those of you unfamiliar, GDMLI is a premiere leadership program that accepts about 50 people a year through an application process. The class runs August through May and the curriculum focuses on different aspects of Des Moines — from local government, to Des Moines’ history and foundation — and becoming a community leader. Experiences like learning about our criminal justice system at the Mitchellville Women’s prison were among many impactful lessons. (Yes, we toured a prison and even ate prison dinner. Anyone who has gone through the class and who’s toured the prison will tell you it was probably one of the most insightful and humbling experiences and nothing like Orange is the New Black, though I still love that show).


The biggest legacy each class leaves behind is the class project that benefits a local nonprofit. Our class chose to support Courage League Sports, an adaptive sports facility for children and adults. We raised over $140,000 that went towards adding to the design and construction of their facilities, providing a state-of-the-art Exergaming system and scholarships. For me, the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute provided an exceptional opportunity to be developed and challenged as nonprofit leader in the community.

Getting Out of Your Head

There are several highlights to being a GDMLI class member – first, you meet some amazing people that are NOT in the nonprofit world. In my position at the Iowa Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association, I am the only full-time employee. GDMLI allowed me to connect with other folks who ranged from business owners, attorneys, designers, architects, people who work in public sector, and other fabulous non-profit and for-profit peeps. One of our class members, Max Farrell, business development and relationship manager at Dwolla, is also a musician/rapper – listen to “Goody, Good”. Careful, it’s really catchy!


Nonprofit professionals are do-gooders and do-it-yourselfers. Fundraising? Sure. Marketing. Yep! Everything else – a smile, a can-do attitude and okie dokie! You are used to working by yourself or in smaller groups or with volunteer groups. Everyone in the GDMLI class has their individual expertise and contributes to the project. I mean, sure, I could figure out how to rebuild a lobby area if you give me a couple months, some youtube videos, and a hammer, but I would much rather leave that to the person who went to school for that.

The class was set up into committees to tackle the project – marketing, design and construction, fundraising, and volunteers. This class project showed me how imperative collaboration is to make big changes happen in your organization and create change for the population you serve. 50 dedicated professionals, 1 cause, a few months. We made it work.

Des Moines Gives a Hoot

As I mentioned, as a class we raised more than $140,000. I and my classmates were blown away by how friends, family, acquaintances, local companies and businesses jumped at the opportunity to help us help Courage League Sports. Des Moines is a big little city that really cares. If you have a worthy cause, you are bound to have supporters. All you have to do is ask.

Courage and Courage League Sports

Contributing to another cause that isn’t part of your 40+ hour work week is a great feeling (remember what I said about getting out of your head?) Our class really connected with Courage League Sports’ story. CEO Melissa Clark Wharfe started Courage League in Fall of 2013 because she wanted her son, Jack, and other children with special healthcare needs to be involved in sports and activities year round. Melissa and Jack’s courage are infectious. It was hard not to resist Jack’s charisma and wonderful spirit in choosing which project we wanted to do. The GDMLI class of 2014 is proud to have supported such a wonderful endeavor and I think I can speak for my class when I say we are all better having been impacted by a wonderful cause.

We are all in the nonprofit world to do good – be a voice for others, to effect change and to impact lives daily. It’s not easy, but gosh darn it, we care! It takes plenty of courage to do that in a world that sometimes doesn’t seem to care. The Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute taught me that you can make a huge difference in the world by starting with your community – we are lucky that in Central Iowa you have a lot of people who care and want to do good and not just in the nonprofit world. So, keep being courageous. Keep changing the world one good deed at a time. It’s pretty easy in Des Moines.

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