Leadership Networking & Community Service
The Program That Has It All
Photography provided by West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance
Every community has its challenges – and these challenges are fluid, changing from year to year, making it difficult for leaders to determine what to address and what to leave alone. Fortunately, with the help of Chamber of Commerce leadership groups and other community-minded organizations, there’s a little extra attention for those problems that might need it.
The West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance’s Leadership 21 program is one of these organizations. It is an all-inclusive development program aimed to create an open dialogue among business professionals of all ages. The program teaches leadership skills and introduces each class of 25 to 30 participants to the social structures of the communities in the area so that they are more equipped to use their skills to better the surrounding areas and solve pervasive problems.
“Leadership impacts us all, whether it’s in your organizations, your workplace or even when you plan a dinner party,” says Kenni Blache, director of membership services and Leadership 21 facilitator for West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance. “Leadership 21 is designed to give participants a peek behind the curtain of the community, and to teach them how to better make an impact on the things they see.”
During the yearlong program, participants attend regular meetings that unveil different aspects of the community, including criminal justice, social services and economic development. Through team-building exercises, the group becomes more acquainted with one another and learns to use their unique skill sets to work together and create a project intended to address a major issue in the community.
“Through the lectures and class events, they’re shown the needs of the community and then work, through leadership, to serve the region and aid with the issues identified,” says Blache.
Classes vary every year in age, diversity and profession – from lawyers to accountants to artists; classes are unique each year and bring together both young professionals and seasoned veterans. These interactions help to strengthen individuals’ leadership and networking skills while enabling and empowering them to take a stand in their community.
“We’re looking for people who embrace this program as one of service leadership,” says Blache. “It’s beautiful the way the program has evolved since it began in 2000. When the program was established, the classes were predominantly older, more seasoned professionals. Now, more YPs are joining, and it brings a new perspective to the program.”
Each year’s class has its own makeup, both from professionally different perspectives and from life experiences. With a variety of professions mixed into one group, each person is able to bring their own expertise to the classes. The group must work together to create a project that will impact their community in some way, whether it’s a long-standing solution or a quick resolution to the problem.
“The group has to decide if the project will have sustainability to work over time, or if it will simply have a larger impact but not be a reoccurring thing,” says Blache. “The problems and the projects have all been varied, but they’re addressing an issue that’s been important at the time, after determining a need.”
The class of 2014 created a project called Caring for Kids. The project worked to raise funding that would help to address the issue of child hunger in Butler County. Although that was the predominant issue for this most recent class, other classes have chosen different issues, such as rallying volunteers and pairing them with organizations in need, and opening Leo’s Garden, a memorial garden for a child who died of leukemia.
“What the project turns out to focus on all depends on who you have in the class,” says Blache. “On our end, we’re always trying to keep the classes and activities fresh so that each year it’s different. We also try to respond to the class, determining the needs of the participants along with their strengths and interests. Our goal is to create a safe environment outside of work, with peers who cheer for one another’s success and help one another feel confident. It’s a different level of confidence from work or personal life, because the program focuses so heavily on leadership skills.”
The class of 2015 recently presented their project, officially graduating from the class in September. Blache, an alumnus of Leadership 21 herself, says that once participants graduate, interaction with one another doesn’t stop. Alumni often have a hand in helping long-standing projects, such as maintaining Leo’s Garden. The West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance also hosts quarterly events for Leadership 21 grads, to encourage continued networking and camaraderie.
The West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance is located at 8922 Beckett Road, West Chester, OH 45069. You can reach them at 513.777.3600 or visit their website at www.thechamberalliance.com.