Department of Neighborhoods

Press Release

28 residents complete leadership training with focus on civic engagement strategies

May 4, 2023 -- The Department of Neighborhoods (DON) is proud to announce the Complete Communities University (CCU) Class of Spring 2023 graduation. Twenty-eight aspiring community leaders from neighborhoods throughout the city received certificates of course completion at a graduation ceremony held on May 3, 2023, at City Hall. The program featured a keynote address by the Mayor and remarks by Shannon Buggs, Director of the Mayor's Office of Complete Communities, and TaKasha Francis, DON Director.

CCU is an 8-week course for residents committed to making a positive impact in their communities. The curriculum focuses on leadership strategies for vitalizing and empowering communities by engaging residents in civic activities, volunteer public service, and active participation in government affairs as constituents and voters.

Spring 2023 Class of CCU

Complete Communities University Spring 2023 graduates are all smiles, joined by the Mayor, Shannon Buggs, Director of the Mayor's Office of Complete Communities, TaKasha Francis, Director of the Department of Neighborhoods, and CCU staff.

“Complete Communities University graduates, I salute you,” said The Mayor. “As graduates of Complete Communities University, you have demonstrated the ideals of leadership, dedication, and collaboration that it takes to get things done. Your commitment to those ideals speaks to why Houston will be led with integrity and determination into the next generation. We are counting on you to be our leaders of today and tomorrow, and we are committed to providing guidance and support along the way.”

The CCU class presentations explore how city and county governments function and impact neighborhoods, how to effectively navigate City services and local resources, and strategies for building partnerships to address community interests and needs. The classes are conducted online and in person by DON staff with expertise in civic engagement and knowledge of Houston neighborhoods and feature presentations by City departments and community subject experts.

“We look forward to working with our newest CCU graduates as they put what they have learned to use to mobilize civic action and address the issues, interests, and needs of their respective communities,” said Director Buggs. “Ultimately, the goal is to attain sustainable equity and a good quality of life for residents in all neighborhoods across the city.”

“Congratulations to our 28 graduates,” said Director Francis. “Since 2021, CCU has provided a forum for us to share knowledge and explore strategies for vitalizing communities with emerging leaders.

“Our goal is to establish a clear pipeline of civic leadership for this city. It starts with people power at the grassroots level, which is an enormous resource that often goes untapped, especially in underserved communities that lack strong civic networks.  It calls for building partnerships and acquiring support and contributions.

“The Department of Neighborhoods is committed to supporting our CCU graduates for the long run by providing community connections, guidance, and annual leadership conferences. We are happy to help people ‘Be’ the change ‘They’ want to see!”

The CCU program was introduced in 2018 by the Planning and Development Department as part of The Mayor’s Complete Communities initiative. DON relaunched the program in the fall of 2021, introducing a new curriculum for emerging community leaders and opening participation to residents citywide. Since the program’s relaunch, 114 leaders from neighborhoods across the city have completed the training.

CCU Spring 2023 Graduates
Yusulf Benson – District A
Rachel Preston – District A
Tamara Boston Cooks – District B – Kashmere Gardens*
Ernestine Tizeno – District B – Kashmere Gardens*
Dischunara Brown – District B – Acres Home*
Barbara Aksamit – District C
Jaharrah Jackson – District C
Mary Sias – District D – Sunnyside*
Charleen Jones – District D – Third Ward*
Shawn Owens Lemons – District D – Sunnyside*
Aiesha Odutayo – District D
Desmond J. Watley-Calloway – District D, Third Ward*
Paula F. Johnson – District D, Sunnyside*
Ericka Calvillo – District E
Timothy Luckey – District F, Alief-Westwood*
Corrie Morales-Kennelly – District G
Daja Gay – District G
Diana Davila Elizondo – District H, Near Northside*
Eric Jason Ross – District H, Kashmere Gardens*
Kendra Atkins – District I, Magnolia Park-Manchester*
Carolyn Henry – District I, Second Ward*
Jeanne Beckerman – District J, Gulfton*
Kimberly Burks – District K, Sunnyside*
Elisabeth Johnson – District K, Fort Bend Houston*
Patrick Osby – At-Large 1
Jamie Nicole Martin – At-Large 2
Karla Martinez – At-Large 3
Keisha M. Pete – At-Large 4

*Historically under-resourced and under-served neighborhood receiving revitalization services under the Mayor’s Complete Communities initiative.

For more information, email DON’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement at or call 832-393-1061.