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.)