Interview with Project LEAD alum, Court Judge Nicole Phelps

“Amazing”. It’s the one word King County District Court Judge Nicole Phelps uses to describe her experience as a participant in United Way’s Project LEAD program.

I recently sat down with Phelps, the first African American woman elected to an open seat in any superior court in Washington State, to reflect on the leadership-training program that prepares people of color to serve on nonprofit boards. Project LEAD celebrates 25 years this month. “That’s a thousand people of color that have been given skills to go out there and change the world. It’s so needed now.”

That’s a thousand people of color that have been given skills to go out there and change the world. It’s so needed now.

Skills like board operations, fiscal management, strategic fundraising, collaboration and conflict resolution, legal risk management, and more.

While Phelps, a native of Indiana and the youngest of four had deep knowledge of finance—she majored in it in college—and had 3 years of law school under her belt, she says other skills needed in the non-profit board world felt foreign. “I didn’t have a dad who was taking me to meetings or a mom who introducing me to these types of concepts and how to serve in that role. I think that experience is the same experience for many people of color.”

Project LEAD engages participants in an immersive month of evening and weekend workshops.By ensuring that people of color get support and training to help lead nonprofits, civic leadership can reflect the diversity of the community and healthy, vibrant communities can flourish.

King County District Court Judge Nicole Phelps

King County District Court Judge Nicole Phelps and United Way of King County Volunteer Initiatives Manager Nadia Gandara at the 25th Anniversary Project LEAD Graduation

When Nicole Phelps recently joined the board of the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank, she found herself dusting off her Project LEAD training materials, especially those on strategic planning, an area in which she now feels confident and will take the lead.

Thanks to generous sponsorship from Microsoft, Perkins Coie, and the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, there are, after 25 years, 1,000 minds of influence stepping forward to give back, including Judge Nicole Phelps. We look to the next 25 years!

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