The idea for a community leadership program came from Athens County Foundation Executive Director Susan Urano, local business leader Jack Bortle, and former Chamber of Commerce CEO Jennifer Simon in the fall of 2005. Together they gathered a diverse group of prominent community leaders to form an advisory committee which included Gary North, President, The Athens Foundation; Jack Bortle, Chair, Athens County Port Authority; Claire Ping, Founder of the Athens Foundation and Community Scope; Carol Kuhre, past director of Rural Action and Athens Foundation board member; and Mike Brooks, CEO of Rocky Boots.
Having set the goals and directions for the program, a Planning Committee was formed to put the program into action. Tanya Conrath was hired in the Spring of 2006 as Director and shortly thereafter the first class was selected.
In the fall of 2007, Mark Weinberg, Director of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, saw an opportunity for collaboration with Leadership Athens County. Recognizing the value of the program he has provided financial support including wonderful office space up at the Ridges.
Now in our 12th year, Leadership Athens County continues to grow and evolve under the leadership of Director Jesse Stock, providing education and networking to those looking to make positive community change.
Comfortable. Connected. Educated. Energized. Leadership Athens County is the only leadership program in the county that takes current and emerging leaders and gets them comfortable with themselves, connected with others, educated about the region, and energized to make positive change in their communities.
From the retreat in September through graduation in May, participants are challenged to develop their individual strengths. Utilizing tools including Enneagram and team challenges as well as self-assessment, reflection and feedback exercises, the participants are able to help each other recognize and embrace their best qualities.
If it is all about who you know participants in Leadership Athens County clearly have the advantage. The class is designed to increase participants’ networks in three distinct ways.
First, the class becomes intimately connected with each other. The overnight retreat sets the stage for creating a cohesive team atmosphere. The class continues to grow and bond over the nine months that they spend laughing, sharing and learning together. The connections are strengthened through the leadership partner pairings and the popular after-class socials.
Second, the class is introduced and exposed to over one hundred current community leaders throughout the county. Industry experts, business leaders, public officials, elected representatives, social watchdogs, academic thinkers and many more lead the class in discussions about the resources and challenges in Athens County.
Third, the connections continue to grow after graduation with the The Leadership Athens County Alumni Network. The alumni network creates opportunities for ongoing networking, collaboration and support. The alumni meet monthly for lunch, host social functions, participate in community projects, have their own newsletter, and find ways to combine their strengths to positively impact their communities.
One comment we hear again and again from participants is, “I’ve lived in Athens all of my life and I had no idea that this was going on!” The curriculum is designed to take participants out of their own daily lives and expose them to the innovative people and remarkable places in their own backyard. The county is our classroom as we travel to various locations throughout Athens County to discuss issues, tour facilities, and meet with Athens County leaders on their own turf.
At the end of each session day, the class is left with two competing feelings. One is the feeling of being exhausted and overwhelmed by the knowledge and emotions generated by the experiences of the day; The second feeling is that of being moved to action. A phrase we often hear is, so what are we going to do about this? It is not unusual to see participants exchanging cards with the speaker, setting up a meeting and discussing ways that they can collaborate on a future project. There is an amazing synergy created when leaders meet face to face to share their knowledge, resources and challenges with each other in the spirit of creating a better community.