By CARL E. FEATHER - firstname.lastname@example.org
"I didn’t have the time.”
Like most public safety officials, Ashtabula Township Fire Department Chief Mike Fitchet thought he did not have the time to devote to LEADERship Ashtabula County, a commitment of about 25 10-hour days over a nine-month period.
Finally, Fitchet capitulated, took the course and, in 1995, became a graduate. When people tell him they don’t have the time, he responds “You waste too much time trying to get out of it.”
“I said I didn’t think it was going to be worth my time,” admits Ashtabula County Auditor Roger Corlett, Class of 1993. “I grew up (in Ashtabula County), I thought I knew the county.”
Corlett was working as an accountant for Snodgrass at the time and one of the firm’s partners was a LEADERship graduate.
“He kept working on me, and finally, I gave in. He was right. I learned so much about the county. I got a great appreciation for the communities, and I also learned there are an awful lot of square miles in the county.”
LEADERship students cover many of those square miles in buses as they explore the county like a jeweler rotating a multi-faceted gem under a magnifier. From agriculture to manufacturing, government to history, public safety to human services, the LEADERship experience is a comprehensive, hands-on, upper-level course on Ashtabula County.
Learning about the county’s resources, history, challenges and successes is just one layer of the LEADERship experience. As its name suggests, it is about developing leadership skills in people who love Ashtabula County — or at least come to love as a result of learning about all it has to offer during the course of the program.
“We want to change your perspective,” says Laura E. Jones, executive director of LEADERship Ashtabula County. “That’s what it does.”
Fitchet said that students learn as much about themselves as they do the county — their potential as leaders, their style and how to work with the 25 to 35 students who are undergoing the same process of self-discovery.
“What you take away from it is intristic to you and it belongs to you,” Jones said.
There are 25 students in this year’s class, which will become the 25th graduating class when the graduation pins are awarded in June. Jones said there are 740 LEADERship graduates, and it is likely that you work with one of them. The graduates come from all walks of life — from homemakers/volunteers like Evelyn Schaeffer to business owners like George Stouffer and Joan Billman. The microcosm created by each class and the macrocosm of LEADERship alumni create a community where negative thoughts are checked at the door.
“You get to spend one day a month all day with positive people who say positive things,” observed Evelyn Schaeffer. “Where else is that going to happen?”
Schaeffer, class of 1992, came into the program by way of Marta Stone, her neighbor and the first executive director of LEADERship Ashtabula.
“It was really life changing, I would say,” said Schaeffer, whose volunteer work has ranged from her church to
Schaeffer said that one of LEADERship’s intrinsic values is its professionalism, a quality that goes viral once the graduates become elected officials, volunteer on boards or put their leadership skills to work in the marketplace.
“It made an incredible difference in the effectiveness of my role as a community volunteer,” Schaeffer said.
Connections and relationships, however, are the most enduring of the benefits from being part of a LEADERship class, alumni say. Schaeffer, for example, learned about foundations that could assist her church-related projects and put her in touch with county decision makers when she formed the Telephone Coalition to address long-distance rate inequalities in the county. “Without the LEADERship network, that could not have happened,” Schaeffer says.