In the 24-years that the Leadership Blair County program has been helping with the professional development of people in the business and education communities, it has also been helping to make the overall community better. Each class establishes a rallying-point around a project that in some meaningful way makes a difference, either helping a non-profit organization to do something better or creating an amenity that helps the county put its best foot forward.
It’s hardly a new concept, according to former Blair County Commissioner Donna Gority who was on the original planning committee that created Leadership Blair County.
“True servant leaders are also good community stewards,” Gority pointed out. “The class project was more than just a team building exercise. It helped each class define who they are and what type of legacy they would leave.”
Their legacies have made a monumental difference in so many tangible ways.
The most recent LBC class, which graduated in June raised money for Evolution Expressions’ Arts for Healing program. The program uses art, dancing and music therapy to help children cope with traumatic experiences. Through a number of fundraisers that included restaurant nights, a Zumbathon and a 200-Club cash bash, the class was able to buy new art supplies, instruments and a wall-length mirror and rubber flooring for the Zumba room. That’s not all. Additional funds financed not only arts-related field trips but the 14-passenger van that will transport them there.
“We believed that this was a worthy cause because there are local youths coping with some truly rough times,” explained class member Mandy Murphy. “We knew that Evolution Expressions was doing what it could to make a difference but really didn’t have the means, as a relatively new organization, to do more. It was wonderful to be able to help.”
Craig Clark, Evolution’s Vice-President and co-owner, heartily agreed.
“The LBC Class of 2018 communicated and shared our passion to help a part of Blair County’s population that is most in need of services,” Clark acknowledged. “This class can best be described as a talented, hard-working group of individuals who worked together as a team to meet their mission. And for that, we are very grateful.”
In 2017, the LBC class took-on a similar project. Working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Blair County, the class raised funds to enable every child involved with BBBS to receive a new bicycle, helmet, lock and safety training. In addition, they were able to completely remodel the basement of the BBBS building, adding a handicap accessible ramp and door, a new bathroom, floors, paint, lighting and tools to enable the kids to work on their bikes when they needed fixed. A new trailer was also purchased to transfer the kids and their bikes to all the exciting trails and parks in Blair County.
“The project was a lot of work but the day that the kids actually picked out their new bikes and rode them for the first time was truly a rewarding moment for our class,” remembers Jackie Lantzy. “Aside from the benefits to the kids, the project brought us together as a group. Everyone was able to help out in some meaningful way.”
Class member Rachel Prosser was happy to experience the feeling that a person gets after a job well done.
“Just knowing that our time, effort and resources were going to youth in our community was all the incentive that we needed,” Prosser disclosed. “Just knowing that these young people felt cared-about was tremendous.”
The 2016 LBC Class renovated the gymnasium and recreation room used by The Beacon at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Altoona. That involved installing a network of ten security cameras, monitor and a control center; replacing lights and fixtures with energy efficient lighting and installing a new exhaust fan; and repairing and painting everywhere it was needed.
The Beacon provides youth with a safe environment and structured activities led by supportive adult role models. Through a daily after-school program, youth receive mentoring, tutoring, homework research tools and employment preparation support.
“Throughout the project, our class often applied the teamwork and servant leadership skills that we learned in the LBC program,” stated class member Diana McClure. “We gained the satisfaction derived from being part of a team that practiced servant leadership in ways that provided a good example to the The Beacon program’s youth and we hope our project inspired them to look for ways in which they can make a positive impact in their community.”
The renovations at The Beacon were far from revolutionary. In fact the previous year, the 2015 LBC class did a similar project at “The Door” in Bellwood. An after-school program that attracts many young people who often have difficult home circumstances, The Door provides a safe place for students to do school work, interact and receive what for many of them is the only hot dinner meal of the week.
“Our project was to remodel and upgrade the kitchen at The Door,” said class member Walter Goffart. “This included purchasing some new appliances, putting up drywall, painting, trim work and installing cabinets. It felt so good to watch a committed group of people – our class – pulling together for such a worthwhile cause. People talk about servant leadership. We had a chance to experience it for the benefit of others.”
Of all the common experiences that graduates of the Leadership Blair County program have had, perhaps none has been as enduring as the projects to which each class can independently hang-its-hat. There have been 24 classes. There have been 24 projects. We have described only the most recent four. Suffice it to say, the other twenty are just as special and have made significant impact.
“There is much about the LBC program of which we are proud,” Donna Gority emphasized. “The really great thing is that there is much more to come.”
(For more information on the Leadership Blair County program, contact the Blair County Chamber at 814-943-8151 or visit the Chamber Website at www.blairchamber.com.)
Sharon Green has accomplished considerable success in teaching yoga because she allocates much of her time to learning as much as possible about the many health benefits that yoga offers. The 57-year-old owner/teacher at Bloom Yoga & Wellness in Altoona, Green has a BS Degree in Education from Penn State Altoona, has a 500-hour Professional Level Kripalu Yoga Teacher Certification and is a Licensed Massage Therapist.
The Chamber: How did Bloom Yoga & Wellness come about and why did you feel that this type of business would be successful here?
Sharon: I purchased Bloom Yoga & Wellness from Andrea Young in 2011 after she moved us to Downtown Altoona. It was her inspiration and desire to provide our community with a Yoga centered wellness studio offering a different focus and experience than the fitness center environment. I already had an established yoga student base who were committed to their yoga practice and supportive of me taking this leap. I wanted to continue teaching and learning in a personalized, peaceful and cozy environment. With my extensive movement and anatomy background, Bloom provides an opportunity to teach smaller classes while utilizing my professional gifts to serve individual needs as well as the group. Our classes are done in 8 week series so we can get to know our students and not have a revolving door environment.
The Chamber: What would people in Blair County be surprised to know about Bloom Yoga & Wellness?
Sharon: We offer Yoga Dance that blends yoga and dance movements to a variety of music. No dance or yoga experience is necessary to enjoy this energizing class ended with a peaceful relaxation. Classes are also offered for Adult/Child combinations. It is rare to find Yoga Dance offered outside of metropolitan area. Thanks to our teacher Tracey Roth it is offered in our community. We are also the folks that provide FREE Yoga On the Beach “YOB” each summer at Canoe Creek State Park near the swimming area on Saturday mornings, 9-10:00.
The Chamber: You’re currently working on creating some events to enhance the appreciation of yoga and wellness. Can you describe one of those?
Sharon: We are bringing an international senior Kripalu Yoga teacher, Rudy Pierce to Altoona in 2018, 2019, and 2020 for Dynamic Gentle Yoga Teacher Training and some classes open to the public! I’m still pinching myself that this is happening!!! Rudy is a sweet soul and gracious yoga teacher trainer with at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
The Chamber: Wellness has become a popular buzzword in practically every venture that involves lifestyle. In what tangible ways are yoga and wellness connected?
Sharon : One of my mentors called yoga the “ultimate multi-tasking”. As we take care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally through the practice of yoga, it not only serves us on the mat, but permeates throughout our lives. Yoga shares movement, meditation, mindfulness, breathing and relaxation techniques, which all nourish and cleanse our whole being.
The Chamber: How do you measure success among your students?
Sharon: I measure success among my students, who are also my teachers, by the changes I am blessed to witness not only physically but more importantly by their overall sense of mindful presence. Most meaningful is the changes they discover off the mat as to how the yoga shows up positively throughout their lives such as: peace and clarity of mind, coordination and balance, consciously preparing and focusing during physical or mental activities, flexibility and strength, less judgmental thoughts of themselves and others, being lighter hearted and playful, etc.
The Chamber: What’s still on Sharon Green’s “bucket list?”
Sharon: Professionally, in the next few years I hope to complete the 1000 hour Professional Level Kripalu Teacher Training in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which is the largest international yoga teaching center in North America. Side note to those who think they can’t do yoga -- Kripalu means Compassion. There are different strokes “yoga ” for different folks. Personally, I hope to bicycle the “Ride of Your Life” consisting of the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC (332 miles).
Discovery in Des Moines
Bob Layo is a friend of mine. For three decades, he served as President/CEO of the Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber until he just couldn’t take it anymore. “My motivation to do the programs and events that we did practically every year was gone,” he told me. “It was time to move on.”
I’ve heard similar comments from colleagues who have only been in the chamber business a few years. Chamber management can be a balancing act between meeting member expectations and convincing non-members of the importance of coming onboard. Both are challenges that bring satisfaction and frustration, hardly ever in equal measure.
Much like the school year, our Chamber moves into high-gear in late August and goes strong until mid-June. July is our catch-up month, a chance to assess where we are in relationship to our budget and our annual goals. It’s a time to breathe. And wherever possible, it’s a time for exploration and discovery. Last month, I was provided the opportunity to explore and discover.
The Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals (PACP) is an organization to which we have belonged since its inception. Each year, PACP awards scholarships to members who apply to attend either the PACP Conference or the annual conference of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). I applied for the ACCE scholarship and was notified in the spring that my application was accepted.
I am guessing that my scholarship from PACP was based less on my status in the chamber community than it was on the fact that the conference was being held in Des Moines. Who could possibly resist Iowa in July? Surprisingly, the conference attracted more than 1,000 people from throughout the country. I suspect that might have been because the chamber industry is undoubtedly in flux. Staying relevant is a standard that many chambers are failing to meet. Consequently, their membership numbers are dropping. It’s difficult to turn the ship in the other direction once the tide has shifted.
With the vast array of educational sessions from which to choose at ACCE, I found myself focused on the three topics that seem to have the greatest sense of urgency for our Chamber – workforce development, membership retention and young professionals. I was hardly alone. In all but two of the sessions I had to stand against the wall, despite arriving early. The seats were all filled.
The workforce development discussions had a common theme: Job availability without the requisite number of qualified candidates to fill those jobs. To the larger cities, that meant accessing greater numbers of training dollars and the hope for a favorable resolution to immigration legislation. To smaller cities, it came down to doing more with less and finding creative ways to entice its young people to embrace careers closer to home.
From the membership retention side, the most beneficial sessions were the best practices ones where chambers readily shared how they were re-inventing themselves so that they no longer looked like chambers of commerce. To no one’s surprise, those discussions bled-over to animated exchanges on how young professionals were the “fly-in-the-ointment” of business prosperity. Thankfully, the two sessions that I attended on engaging young professionals provided solid examples of how several chambers had figured-out ways to recognize and appreciate the many assets that young professionals bring to the table. I’m looking forward to finding more of that common ground with our own young professionals program.
In all, my trip to Des Moines was enriching and even enjoyable. The people in Des Moines are friendly and the city is clean, safe and welcoming. I’m grateful to PACP for providing the spark that has allowed me to re-charge my battery and I look forward to carrying my enthusiasm to our Chamber staff so that they, too, will be invigorated for the task ahead.
We have many things to accomplish during the remainder of 2018. We invite our business community to be an integral part of the process.
Joe Hurd is President/CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.