Connect with us


Leadership class creates ‘conscious collaboration’ incubator

Mark Parker



Leadership St. Pete is transforming former preschool classrooms into nonprofit coworking office space. Photo: Allendale Equity & Justice Center.

The Allendale Equity & Justice Center will soon become St. Petersburg’s first nonprofit to provide free collaborative workspaces for change-makers, thanks to the Leadership St. Pete (LSP) Class of 2023.

While LSP cohorts annually choose a nonprofit facility they would most like to improve, Class Chair Maggie Knaust noted that this year’s project is unique. Instead of helping one organization, the project will benefit over 30 operating out of classrooms at the Allendale Equity & Justice Center.

The 40 members of this year’s class are now embarking on fundraising efforts for the project titled “Conscious Collaboration.” Knaust, an LSP Class of 2016 graduate and partner at Trenam Law, said its potential impact persuaded students.

“It’s a resource for so many organizations within the community,” Knaust said of the Center. “I think what really resonated with them is the web of how far it can go.”

Now in its 54th year, LSP is one of the nation’s oldest leadership programs and operates as a division of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and its nonprofit foundation. Members participate in a six-month experience that promotes and enhances community stewardship.

The program fosters connections and stimulates creative thinking among participants. Local leaders provide guidance and task members to view challenges as opportunities.

This year’s challenge turned opportunity is transforming outdated former preschool classrooms into collaborative, technology-supported coworking spaces.

“We are only as strong as our partnerships,” said Jesse Miller, executive director of Girls Rock St. Pete. “Access to safe spaces for classes, workshops and other events frees up our donated funds to provide more services to the community.”

A child strums a guitar outside of Girls Rock St. Pete’s Localtopia tent. Photo: Facebook.

Girls Rock St. Pete is a grassroots organization serving girls, non-binary and gender expansive, or fluid, youth. It provides a supportive place to build self-confidence, and Miller called it “the camp most of us grown-up women needed when we were kids.”

It is also one of over 30 nonprofits that utilize Allendale Equity & Justice Center’s free facilities. Miller explained that her organization is volunteer-led and lacks the budget and need for significant office space.

However, she said building a safe community for girls and working towards gender equity “doesn’t work when you operate in a silo.” Miller said working alongside other social justice-focused organizations enhances resource sharing, mitigates service duplication and provides “a deeper understanding of how to solve our city’s most complicated issues.”

“The Center will allow us to turn the corner from a one-week summer camp with a 45 camper capacity to yearlong programming serving more youth and adults,” she added.

The Center is part of the Allendale Methodist Church’s campus, at 3803 Haines Rd. N. in St. Petersburg. The coworking space for equity and justice efforts became available after its preschool closed in 2022.

In addition to Girls Rock St. Pete, nonprofits like the Refugee and Migrant Women’s Initiative, PTSD Awareness, Found Family Collective and Community Tampa Bay utilize the outdated classrooms. Knaust noted that sharing resources would increase operational efficiency and reduce overhead.

“Everybody’s fighting for the same resource dollars,” Knaust said. “So, it (the Center) does create an environment where folks are working together. That’s why the class coined their project Conscious Collaboration, which I really love.

“It’s all about creating space for thoughtful work and conversation and working together as a community.”

St. Petersburg is home to several for-profit coworking spaces, which she believes are successful due to the value provided by tenants sharing ideas. Knaust relayed that the ability to ask colleagues questions across the hall is also one of the reasons she decided to practice law in a large firm.

While nonprofit leaders may eventually pay for space on a sliding scale according to what they can afford, Knaust said the underlying principle is that cost will not be a barrier to participation.

The Center’s website states, “we want all of our community partners, regardless of whether they have office space here, to have access to a state-of-the-art high-tech conference space usually only available to corporations.”

Former classroom space at the Center for Justice & Equity. Photo courtesy of Allendale United Methodist Church.

Knaust and the LSP Planning Committee identified three nonprofits for the legacy project following a request for proposals and site visits. Finalists then presented their missions to the 2023 class at an orientation dinner in December.

After a month of deliberations, participants voted on their choice at a retreat. They must now raise at least $50,000 and provide sweat equity to complete the project.

Knaust said transforming old preschool classrooms into professional office spaces would instill a sense of dignity, something Miller later echoed. As an LSP Class of 2022 graduate, she also realizes choosing a nonprofit to improve is a tough decision.

She added that LSP and the Center’s support fills her with hope. It also signifies to her that St. Petersburg’s leaders sincerely care about increasing equity – when even the word “has fallen victim to scrutiny in these divisive times.”

“St. Pete is a special place, and I feel our commitment to the quality of life of all our citizens is something to be proud of,” Miller said. “This endorsement is not only a testament to the cause of equity, it’s also an acknowledgment that we know we can do better.”

To donate to the LSP Class of 2023 project, visit the website here.


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us:

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.