Last month most of us learned the results of the voting in our local elections. Like it or not, the people have spoken, and now some of us have new leadership teams, while others kept the same officials. I’m sure you and I have heard the same chatter around the towns where we live. Some residents are passionate about a candidate and what they bring to the table, while others are so detached they didn’t even cast a vote. If you’re one of the passionate ones, and have considered becoming more involved in your community, this column is for you. Even if you’re new to your community and just want to learn how things work on a local level, read on for the crash course in getting informed!
Over the past twelve months, I have been a student in the Leadership Lumpkin County Class of 2008—described as the “best class ever” by our esteemed Chairperson, Brenda Cronan. The “Leadership” program was originally conceived and founded by J.W. Fanning, and operated through the Fanning Institute at University of Georgia; however, most of the participating counties have evolved their programs over time to provide optimum education and community awareness specific to their local landscape. Don’t let the word education throw you, though. The Leadership process is rarely a humdrum lecture in a classroom environment. It is truly a hands-on personal growth experience.
In the Lumpkin County flavor, our class participated in a Ropes Course; visited agritourism facilities; sat in on a day of the State Legislative assembly; created plans for commercial and residential growth; and broke bread with participants in the 4-H Youth Leadership program—and that was just three days! We were provided a detailed briefing of the inner workings of city and county budgeting and planning processes. We became aware of the numerous organizations that provide community service in our county. We toured various schools in the area and learned about the long-term plans of education at all levels throughout our community. We were shown the methods law enforcement uses to protect us. Sounds like a full-time job, doesn’t it?
Along with the external information we received, we learned a lot about ourselves and our fellow classmates. Once we became informed, we were encouraged to discuss the challenges that we face in our respective areas, and were able to brainstorm potential solutions. One of the reasons these programs are successful is that they are available to the public, which results in diverse teams of generally passionate people who are willing to participate in discussion. Hearing the viewpoints of educators, business owners, local government employees, and community service volunteers within the class certainly helped me understand points of issue that I had never before considered.
These programs require commitment. Our local program required one full day a month, which sounds easy, but wasn’t always so. The days inevitably coincided with one of my children being sick, a special program at school, or a grueling deadline in one of my businesses; but since the dates are scheduled far in advance, it just required some additional planning on my part. At first, I didn’t want to miss a day because that would mean I wouldn’t graduate (program guidelines state that only one absence is allowed). However, after just a few sessions, I didn’t want to miss because of what we were learning.
In Lumpkin County, there is also a financial commitment of $250, which covers the cost of catered lunches and facility rental for some of the classes. This investment is supplemented by numerous sponsors within the community in our particular case, such as the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce, which is the local organization that ultimately makes Leadership Lumpkin available.
Throughout our year of learning, growing, and working together, we also finalized a team project: augmentation of the Chamber web site to include information promoting and documenting Leadership Lumpkin. The results of our class project can be seen at www.LeadershipLumpkin.com. Other classes before us have participated in beautification projects, assisted in managing community events, and donated long-term time to local charities.
If you’re located in Lumpkin County and would like to learn more, the web site includes summaries and images of the individual days we spent together, as well as brochures and an application for the Class of 2009. If you are not a Lumpkin County resident or business owner, you should contact your local Chamber of Commerce to see how you can learn more about the Leadership program in your county.
Another result of graduating from this program is that local organizations that require strong volunteers for boards of directors, support, and advice have a growing list of prospects. Each of my classmates expressed an interest in becoming more involved in supporting at least one of the organizations presenting information during the course of the year.
Even in my line of business, where I speak to many different people every day, I look back on my participation in Leadership Lumpkin as the most important thing I’ve done thus far to understand and support my community. I learned a lot, gained understanding, and made many new friends. I don’t have my sights set on an elected position in my county, but I am definitely more aware of what the future holds and how I can be a part of it.
I hope you’ll take the time to investigate how this experience might help you become a more integral part of your community.