Beth Meyer: Leading the charge for change in Arizona

Leading for Change has been shaping the progressive leadership in Arizona since 2013. Through their leadership training programs and collaborations with diverse community leaders and social justice organizations, they are creating a pipeline of civic leaders prepared to reshape Arizona for the betterment of its people – children, youth and adults alike.

At the helm of this organization is Beth Meyer. She transplanted to the Valley from the East Coast and brought her unique skillset – working in corporate America, owning her own company and being involved with nonprofits – to the work she does today. She is passing the baton to the next generation of leaders to ensure social and economic justice and fair and equitable treatment for all.

Beth grew up in Elmont, NY often referred to as the “Gateway to Long Island.” She was raised in a Reform Jewish household with her parents and an older brother and sister. Judaism was a cornerstone in their home, and as long as Beth could remember, her mother was a Sunday school and nursery school teacher at their temple.

“I’m just following in my parents’ footsteps,” says Beth. “They were very, very engaged in the community. We were a low-income family, but that never stopped their engagement –­ both my mom and dad were my heroes.”

CREATING HER PATH

Beth doing what she enjoys – training new leaders.

Beth moved to the Valley at the end of 1980. She worked with Gulf and Western Industries (now ViacomCBS) and was recruited by the Greyhound Corporation to work with its public relations department. Most people just thought of them as the “bus company,” but they had many subsidiaries, which was Beth’s specialty.

After a few years, Beth decided to branch out on her own and created Beth Meyer Public Relations and Marketing. It was a medium-sized agency that handled both small and large clients. At this time Beth was on the board of Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona. (The company is now known as Planned Parenthood Arizona, Inc.)

“I was on their board of directors, which I loved being on, and then I was invited to become a part of the staff,” says Beth. She took advantage of that opportunity, shutting down her business of 15 years, but only after she handed all PR clients to other PR experts and made sure that all her staff had new jobs.

“I went in there as director of communications and moved up about a year after that to vice president of external affairs. That included communication, education, policy and advocacy,” she says. She was also responsible for their 501(c)4.

Although Beth had held positions on other board of directors for various nonprofits, including Arizona Advocacy Network, the Community AIDS Council, Defenders of Children, NARAL Arizona, the Arizona American Jewish Committee and Arizona ACLU, this was her transition out of the “for-profit in the corporate world” into the nonprofit world for good.

A NICHE IN NONPROFITS

After more than five years with Planned Parenthood, Beth went to work for the Center for Progressive Leadership (CPL). A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, CPL provided leadership development training for a select group of organizational leaders, future candidates, community organizers and progressive activists to advance progressive political and policy change.

“I came on as the state director for Arizona, and once I opened up the state, I became their national director,” says Beth. In addition to Arizona, CPL operated in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In 2012, CPL merged with Social Justice Leadership.

Before their merger, Beth left CPL to do work with a grant she received. She was the recipient of a two-year Pepsi Refresh grant that allowed her to work with nonprofits in fund development, messaging, advocacy, visionary leadership and strategic planning to help them maintain sustainability.

Beth and long-time friend, Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

With CPL no longer operating in Arizona, there was a concern about losing that leadership training. “Various community leaders and elected officials asked me to continue the work in Arizona and the timing was perfect,” says Beth. “We created Leading for Change.”

Leading for Change (LFC) offers a similar program to CPL, and the two “star” programs are its Leaders Fellowship and Candidate Training. The Leaders Fellowship is an eight-month part-time program, and Candidate Training is a nonpartisan three-weekend workshop.

“This program is designed to help individuals move their vision of change forward as it relates to social and economic justice, so over eight months they develop what’s called their Personal Political Leadership Plan, and that is like a roll-out plan for how they’re going to begin work to create change in and outside of their communities, In the fellowship, the goal is stressing how important policy is because it changes thousands and thousands of lives at one time,” explains Beth. “Over eight months, the fellows participate in five very intense weekend sessions that cover topics such as working across divides, institutional racism, message development, and delivery and critical thinking.”

She also shares a saying they use at LFC: Facts raise eyebrows, stories can change minds.

“So if you just blurb about all the facts – first of all, nobody remembers them – but stories they remember,” says Beth.

Additionally, the fellows receive guidance from a faculty coach who works with them one-on-one to guide them by developing that Personal Political Leadership Plan. They also work in peer coaching groups.

LFC’s faculty are all people that are tremendously engaged in the community. Their backgrounds include past elected officials and experts in education, cultural competency and public policy development.

Applications for the Leaders Fellowship are reviewed on an ongoing basis, and the deadline for this year’s program is Aug. 15, 2021. There don’t put an age limit on the program, and they have accepted people as young as 20, with their oldest recipient being 70.

After some individuals complete the Leaders Fellowship, they recognize that one way that they want to implement their vision for change is to run for office or hold a more significant leadership role on campaigns. That is where the Candidate Training program comes in.

“We have 60 people that went through our program currently serving in office,” says Beth. “We are a 501(c)(3), so all of our training are nonpartisan, but they are all based on progressive values.” Two of those graduates include Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

The application deadline for the next Candidate Training is June 15. The training covers the “nuts and bolts” of campaigning from filing and getting the signatures you need (or else you won’t be on the ballot!) to building your network and working the field.

“We had to change some of our training because one of the things that we always push for running for office is that you have to knock on doors – you couldn’t do that during COVID,” says Beth. “Several of our alumni who ran in 2020 wound up calling and saying, ‘Can you help? Can you talk this through with me because we can’t knock on doors now?’ And we helped them.”

Now Candidate Training has been revised to address non-COVID and COVID campaigning because we all have learned now that you never know when a pandemic may hit. LFC wants to be prepared and make sure that those going through the program get the complete picture.

LFC NEVER LEAVES YOU

Since LFC started in 2013, they have had more than 400 people go through their training, and if you add the ones who went through CPL, you can add 300 more. Since the programs were so similar, the CPL alumni have been combined with those from LFC.

Once you’re alumni, whatever program you went through, you can go through again – at no charge. The lesson plans are updated annually, so it provides a refresher course, and a chance to learn something new.

“Sometimes, alumni will call and just want to work with me or a faculty coach one-on-one,” says Beth. “Or there is something they’re working on they need help with – we never go away, and we never charge again.”

LFC also holds quarterly salons on various social justice issues. The last one they held was Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. They have also covered topics on veteran’s affairs, privatized prisons and Black Lives Matter. Almost 90% of these guest speakers are alumni that are now leading the charge in that type of work.

One year they had a special guest speaker, Ester Kurz, a policy director for legislative strategy in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “She didn’t come to talk about Israel; she just happens to be an expert in foreign aid,” says Beth. “She did an excellent job.”

Beth is constantly excited to see what her alumni are accomplishing. She’s like a proud Jewish mom when she shares their stories.

“Cynthia Aragon went through a fellowship years ago, and she wound up becoming chief of staff for the Democratic caucus in the House,” says Beth. “After the election, she was recruited by the Biden campaign.” Cynthia is the current commerce liaison for the Biden administration.

“Look at somebody like Nate Rhoton, who now runs one•n•ten,” she continues. “When Nate joined LFC, he was working as an executive for a solar company. He wanted to get more involved in nonprofit and LGBTQ youth. When an opening came up at one•n•ten for fundraising, I said, ‘Go for it,’ he said, ‘I only do volunteer fundraising,’ and  I said, ‘The worst they can say is no.’”

They hired Nate, and he was brilliant at fundraising, and now he’s one•n•ten’s executive director. “He’s done amazing things to continue the growth of that organization even during COVID,” adds Beth.

“Watching people move up and do good things – like hearing Reggie Bolding (member of the Arizona House of Representatives) talking against the bill on voter suppression,” says Beth.  “I’m like, whoa! He got the messaging down. He made the point, he’s a good leader and now he’s the minority leader in the House.

“When you ask, ‘What makes me happy,’ that’s the stuff that makes me happy,” says Beth. “When a current fellow calls and says, ‘Beth, can I go over my plan with you? You know, I don’t feel I have it right. I don’t think my core strategies are correct. I have eight of them, and you tell me that we shouldn’t have more than three.’ That’s the stuff we work on so that we know when they graduate, they have a plan.”

KEEPING UP THE GOOD WORK

On Friday, April 16, LFC held a Zoom event, Celebrating the Next Generation of Progressive Leaders Class of 2021 Fellow’s Fundraiser for this latest group of fellows to graduate.

There were several speakers, but there was one that Beth shares a long-lasting friendship with – Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

Beth met Kyrsten while working at Planned Parenthood, and Kyrsten was working as a social worker. They also partnered with other community members to create the Arizona Advocacy Network. When Beth got involved with CPL and then LFC, she asked Kyrsten to be one of the trainers, and she agreed.

On March 6, the fellows were having their fourth weekend training and Kyrsten was scheduled to do some training, but she was a little busy at her day job trying to pass the latest COVID-19 relief package through the Senate.

“I said on text, ‘Don’t worry if you’re busy, I’ve trained this stuff a million times, I can train,’ to which Kyrsten replied, ‘No, I love the fellows, I love to train,’ and after the vote, she texted me that she would be on in 10 minutes,” says Beth.

When Kyrsten joined the Zoom training, she was eager to answer any of the questions the fellows had on what had happened. Then she asked them to hold that she was receiving a text from Vice President Kamala Harris. Kyrsten responded what she was doing and did the vice president need to talk to her immediately or could it wait 10 minutes until the scheduled break?

“I guess the vice president texted her back to say 10 minutes is fine, and whatever went on back and forth in the text, all we knew was that ten minutes later when we thought we were going to break, instead the White House patched through Vice President Harris to talk to the class,” remembers Beth.

“It was amazing. We were like children we were so excited the vice president joined us on a call – which you know says a lot,” says Beth. She also notes that Vice President Harris and Senator Sinema were ecstatic because the package had passed.

Beth shares that Vice President Harris was very encouraging and told the fellows. “The work is out there. It never stops. Changes need to be made in all communities and the United States as a whole.” Beth says she “took an understanding of what the fellowship was about and told them to stay focused and stay targeted and keep doing the work.”

Beth knows that the work is unending and jokes that if she wasn’t the CEO of LFC, she would be their number one volunteer – that’s how committed she is to make sure that the progressive pipeline of leaders is very diverse, skilled, knows how to think strategically, while remaining compassionate in tough times.

“The most important thing that anybody gets out of the fellowship are the tools and the networks that they need to move the needle forward,” she says. “They may not all implement the plan that they put together because things change, but the tools don’t, and so they now have a greater understanding of how things change, how you can create change.”

For more information on the programs offered, visit azleadingforchange.org.

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