Leadership Clark County aims to grow the spirit of 'servant leaders'

A community needs people who want to solve problems, serve others, and address critical issues. Leadership Clark County (LCC) works to find and develop those kinds of people.

LCC’s Executive Director Leigh Anne Lawrence says the non-profit has equipped and trained about 1,200 people to be community leaders since its founding in 1981. The organization’s programs don’t just give people information but also provide tools and resources for making a difference.


“We want them to gain more knowledge about Clark County but also empower them to be servant leaders and change agents for the community we all live in,” Lawrence says.


Chelsea Hart, an LCC board member who works in accounting at Konecranes, says the concept of servant leadership is crucial to the organization’s mission. Hart defined servant leaders as people who want to give back to their community and help other local residents to be successful.


“Being a servant leader is not your normal leadership position. It’s not synonymous with having power or being in a decision-making role. All you have to do is be motivated with a desire to help others and improve your community,” Hart says.


The primary program of LCC is the Leadership Academy, a monthly program of eight full-day sessions that cover such topics as law enforcement, board governance, Clark County history, the experience of poverty, and more. Speakers include managers, board members, professionals, front-line workers, volunteers, elected officials, and other community leaders.


Hart, a South Charleston resident who graduated from the Academy in 2018, says the program gives participants valuable information and goes beyond lectures.


“We cover anything and everything you could want to know about Clark County,” she says. “But what we’re providing them isn’t just a sit-down classroom experience, but something that you become emotionally invested in.”


The Academy’s first session makes clear they intend to go beyond the classroom. The Academy normally begins in September with an “Amazing Race” competition that has the incoming class of 35-40 students split into teams of four. Each team travels to 15 or so locations in Clark County in the course of an 8-hour day. As in the TV show, teams have to decipher clues to find the next place they will go. Once they arrive at a location, they must complete a task that helps them to learn more about the work of the organization they are visiting.


Some of these challenges are a definite departure from the students’ everyday work. Hart recalled walking goats through an obstacle course when visiting On the Rise, a farm program that serves at-risk youth. During a stop at a fire station, she put on a firefighter’s full gear, handled a water hose, and put an axe to a tire. The group also gathers at a central location in the middle of the day for a service project, the most recent being to clean The Salvation Army building, including mopping floors and scrubbing toilets.


The team members usually don’t know each other when they start the program, so the day’s events are planned to help them bond with each other, as well as learn about Clark County.


“You get to know someone very quickly driving around Clark County all day doing these tasks,” Hart says.


Participants in the Academy must live or work in Clark County and make a commitment to be involved in community service volunteer work after completing the program. Many people who sign up for the Academy are sent by their company, because managers often have done the program and know the employee will benefit from it, she says.


In addition to developing the employee’s leadership potential and increasing their knowledge about the community, participation brings networking potential to a company from the contacts they make.


Academy tuition costs $860, which includes breakfast and lunch at all sessions, as well as instructional material. Many participants have their tuition paid by their employer, and scholarships are available for those in need. Applications are due in July, before the Academy’s start in September.


The pandemic disrupted Leadership’s programs, with the 2020-21 Academy having to be completely canceled, Lawrence says. The 2019-20 class finished its final session of instruction, but had to have a socially distanced graduation ceremony instead of the usual dinner program. In addition, LCC had to cancel fundraisers that support the program and quarterly programs to keep alumni involved.


Lawrence says the plan is to be back with a full program in September 2021.


“In some shape or form, we will make it happen,” she added.


The pandemic pause did provide time to re-evaluate some of the LCC offerings, Lawrence says. Surveys of Leadership graduates were reviewed to find suggestions for improvement, such as devoting more time to learning about law enforcement. The Academy also has created an application form, which will streamline the application process and make time available to interview applicants in person.


Lawrence says they also saw a need to provide alumni with more information about volunteer opportunities, so they are planning a non-profit fair – similar to a job fair – where community organizations can meet with people wanting to get involved.


“We know our community has needs, we know there are people who want to help, but they may not know the needs,” Hart says.


Anyone wanting to learn more about Leadership Clark County or to apply for the Leadership Academy should go to its website, leadershipclarkcounty.org.

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Read more articles by Steve Schlather.