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I routinely tease Dean Faile for a comment he seemed to make at each Leadership Lancaster session.
“This is by far my favorite day of the entire program!” I’m pretty sure I heard him say that at least four times during our six-month program sponsored by the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce.
When looking back, though, I can see why he was moved to that opinion.
Faile, president of the chamber, led the annual program, which gave 22 local working professionals an opportunity to learn more about Lancaster County, as well as the places and people who make this community go.
I was one of those 22 professionals. My role was unique in that I served as a participant and as the reporter/documentarian – snapping pictures, taking notes and writing articles for each session.
At least once a month since November, we spent a day learning about the specific facets of our community.
The first session, a chilly November day, was devoted to local history.
The next day was spent learning about education in the county.
We had our weekend retreat in North Myrtle Beach in early January.
Later that month, we had a session on health care.
In February, we learned about economic development. The next month was about social services. We then delved into city and county government.
After that, it was field trip time again, as we spent a day in Columbia learning about state history and government. Our last regular day centered on local law enforcement.
As you can image (and may have read in my previous articles), much information was divulged in these six months.
We learned a lot and rubbed shoulders with hundreds of people who help give Lancaster County its personality and tenor.
“I have lived in Lancaster my entire life. I have learned more about Lancaster County in the past six months through Leadership Lancaster than I have over my lifetime,” said participant Jill Newman, who works at First Citizens Bank. “This was a wonderful experience that I would encourage anyone to participate in.”
Leadership participant Anna Catoe, who works for Founders Federal Credit Union, said she’s become a better leader through the program. Catoe said it has helped hone her listening ability. Also, Catoe said she now focuses more on taking the opinions of others into consideration.
“Leadership is not about being in control,” Catoe said. “It is about understanding your surroundings and effectively communicating with others involved.”
Bonds were formed among the 22 Leadership Lancaster participants. Most of us began the program as strangers. But through the sessions, friendships deepened and partnerships developed.
As Faile said during our wrap-up session, we should now feel comfortable coming to anyone in the group with an idea or favor.
Our personal and professional networks have expanded greatly.
Participant Adam Biggs, a professor at University of South Carolina Lancaster, said he learned much about the “major civic institutions” in the area. That’s important since he’s new to the county.
Biggs hopes the insight and knowledge gained since November can be used to develop programs that will assist people.
“In particular, I’m thinking of ways to incorporate service components into my courses that will help students see the practical value and applicability of their work beyond the classroom,” said Biggs, who teaches African American studies.
“I think the contacts I’ve made over the past few months will help in that process.”
The Leadership program reminded me of all the people I’ve interacted with in my seven years in Lancaster.
School personnel, government officials, law officers and nonprofit leaders are just some of them.
Droves of people are on the forefront – and quietly behind the scenes – ensuring that the quality of life in Lancaster County is solid.
I have definitely walked away from this program with new friends, stronger leadership skills and more appreciation for Lancaster County’s attributes.
And for all of that, I’m grateful.
Jesef Williams is a reporter for The Lancaster News.