It was Thursday, of the second week of March. I was in California facilitating the fifth session for the new Tepeyac Leadership Initiative (TLI) Los Angeles cohort. 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 laid in the interpersonal dynamics that take 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.”
Fast-forward to today. We have now had both our TLI cohorts in Phoenix and Los Angeles hold their weekly sessions online for over two months. We’ve 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 TLI online. Some even preferred it!
These aren’t just experiential observations based on our interactions with them. You see, 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 has been our experience for about two months of online weekly sessions in both dioceses? Nothing has changed! Participants in Phoenix and Los Angeles are thrilled with the TLI experience and the transformative effect it has in their professional and spiritual growth. We have learned TLI can 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 is actually a break. And the experience in Phoenix is not far off from this. In addition, we have 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 this program.
But there is more. I want to make you aware of 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 was our major financial supporter. I was informed this week that our principal supporter is no longer able to sustain its past level of support. This news has truly shaken our plans for growth!
The challenges brought by COVID-19 have come about primarily in the way of funding, which was headed our way and now will not materialize. This is no small matter for a new and young Catholic non-profit organization. However, COVID-19 has 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, is the reason for my long letter. It is our intention to continue the in-person programs in Phoenix, Los Angeles and wherever else God sends us. But starting in 2021, we would also like to make our program available to all lay Catholic professionals in the U.S. Why? Because we know TLI was made for such a time as this!
But we cannot do that 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 the world. Whether you are one of the experts or mentors who has affiliated him- or herself to TLI because you believe in its vision and potential for building up the community 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 run the first national TLI Online cohort in 2021. It will be the same premier civic leadership development experience, but now with a new national team of speakers. Would you join us? Become a TLI financial supporter today! And together, let us continue transforming lives, building up the community and the Church by investing in tomorrow’s lay Catholic leaders. Thank you!
LEARN ABOUT TLI: https://tliprogram.org
Sincerely in Christ,
“O Mother, strengthen the faith of our brothers and sisters in the laity, so that in every field of social, professional, cultural and political life they may act in accordance with the truth and the law brought by your Son to mankind.”
(Prayer of St. John Paul II at the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico, 1979)
Want to Help TLI? Did You Know?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act offers religious nonprofits increased tax incentives for donors making charitable contributions. CARES § 2204 temporarily modifies the federal tax code to create an above-the-line deduction in 2020 of up to $300 for individuals and $600 for married couples for charitable contributions. Because the deduction is above-the-line, it also may reduce state income taxes for some taxpayers. Ask your accountant, this deduction could be utilized by the approximately 86% of taxpayers who use the standard deduction; previously, there was no tax incentive for charitable giving for the majority of taxpayers who do not itemize deductions.