Civic Leadership


Touchstones Civic Engagement programs have helped thousands of rising and established civic leaders strengthen their abilities to work collaboratively in achieving common goals for healthier and more productive society. Through custom programming that engages leaders in discussions about their individual and collective responsibilities, participants learn to appreciate the need for diverse view points and combined expertise in solving the complex problems faced by our communities. Democratic engagement is part of the American fabric, but civility and cooperation have been increasingly side-lined by partisanship and self-interest. Our leaders must work together to hear and genuinely incorporate multiple perspectives in their leadership roles. Here are some of the ways in which Touchstones is helping to support a more engaged and inclusive citizenry.

Touchstones Community Engagement Program for Teens 2012


Students from Annapolis High School’s International Baccalaureate program use small group work in Touchstones to explore their ideas about civic engagement

This program was a continuation of Touchstones’ work that began in February 2011 (see below), with a group of adult and student leaders from across Anne Arundel County. At the end of that program, several of the student participants approached Touchstones and asked for a second segment. In this second phase program, which was offered only to high school students, the students themselves assumed responsibility for recruiting fellow participants. Touchstones staff designed and ran the custom program, secured meeting space and handled organizational logistics, and provided all program materials to the participants. For most participants, involvement in this program also served to meet some of the service requirements for the International Baccalaureate program.

Throughout the program, participants built portfolios that included their program readings and worksheets, as well as extended written responses to specific issues related to civic leadership. When asked to reflect on the importance of critical evaluation of expertise in relation to leadership, one participant offered this insightful response:


Face-painting and relay races were among some of the kid-friendly activities at the National Night Out.

“Expertise usually enables one to attain the place of greatest power and authority in one’s field. Experts are typically assumed to be leaders; however, this is dangerous because then many of the things they say can be irrefutable and assumed to be correct. Often time, even experts can be incorrect and it is important to recognize this.”

As was the case with the 2011 Civic Leadership Program, all participants committed to a full day of community service. This group decided to participate and support National Night Out in Anne Arundel County, where they staffed the face-painting table and monitored children’s activities in one of Annapolis’s communities with public housing.

Touchstones Community Engagement Program 2011

commenThanks to support from the Civic Leadership Foundation and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of the City of Annapolis and the Anne Arundel County Branch of the NAACP, this free 10-session program brought together local leaders to effect greater civility and understanding through respectful community discussion from February 2011 through June 2011 in Anne Arundel County. This innovative program provided a format and content that leaders need to approach challenges with a new paradigm—one where collaborative leadership offers solutions to complex issues of paramount importance to the community: development, education, employment, the environment, housing, poverty, and transportation.

Throughout the first five program sessions, two groups met concurrently. One group included approximately 18 “senior” leaders from non-profit, civic, and religious organizations; local businesses; and City and County governments within Anne Arundel County. A similarly sized group of diverse “junior” leaders ages 15-18 from the County followed the same syllabus and meeting schedule. Half-way through the program, the groups were joined.


Participants in the Civic Engagement program lend their time to establish a vegetable garden at the Lighthouse Shelter in Annapolis.

As part of their commitment to this program, all participants from both groups selected a community service project to which they dedicated seven hours of volunteer service. The group chose the Lighthouse Shelter in Annapolis as the recipient of their community service.

Anne Arundel Chapter of the NAACP Founder’s Day 2011

Civic5In 2011, Touchstones partnered with the Anne Arundel County Branch of the NAACP to bring extended Founder’s Day programming to the citizens in the county. About 35 people attended a half-day of reflection and discussion that looked forward to the NAACP’s next 100 years. Following an invocation from Reverend Henry Green and a welcome from the County branch’s President, Jacqueline Boone Allsup, the group shared recollections of inspirational personal journeys that chronicle the tremendous change in our country’s attitudes, beliefs, and laws relating to race relations. That laid the groundwork for an extended Touchstones discussion on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” during which the participants looked closely at what has been gained and considered what is still needed to ensure a civil society in which all citizens have equal access and equal protection. Among the questions asked and considered were how to engage younger generations in continued progress in civil rights, what specific actions and activities will advance the on-going conversation about race relations, and whether technology and changes in our community structures demand entirely new approaches for successful communication on these issues.

Leadership Metro Richmond

Building Bridges was designed by the Touchstones Discussion Project in collaboration with the Aspen Institute and Leadership Metro Richmond. The program was a four-session investigation of obstacles and opportunities to engage in service to the larger community. Each participant was encouraged to offer his or her unique perspective and all points of view were equally necessary. The readings were short classic texts that enabled participants to focus on the foundations of each specific issue.

All attempts at collaborative exploration and examination can and do face difficulties. Building Bridges succeeded because each individual worked to overcome the barriers that impede collaborative exploration. As the group overcame these barriers they in fact modeled community engagement. The nature of community and the role of citizens and leaders in the formation and cultivation of a genuine civic society are serious issues facing our nation. By undertaking this program, Richmond presented a way for other localities to take similar first steps.

The Annapolis Mayor’s Book Club

Civic4In November 2005, an unusual evening forum began meeting in Annapolis. Its goal was to find ways to make cities more vibrant. The Mayor’s Book Club, as it was called, used as its main text Jane Jacobs’ 1961 classic on city planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The discussions, led by Touchstones moderator Dan Sullivan, had a profound influence on participants many of whose ideas about cities were completely turned around. The club is different from other book clubs in that it is not all academic – the club plans to apply its lessons and give practical advice to City Hall on zoning, parks, sidewalks and building use. In the book – a fierce critique of urban renewal, public housing project designs and highway-building fashions in the 1950’s and 1960’s – Jacobs says, “There is a widespread belief that Americans hate cities.” The Mayor’s Book Club of Annapolis is proof that many Americans want to be involved in creating vibrant and thriving communities within their home cities, which they love deeply.