On June 10, I attended the graduation of the 24th class of Leadership Washington County. The program began as Leadership Hagerstown and morphed into Leadership Washington County several years ago. It's the same program, just with a different name.
The list of the founders as well as the graduates of the program read like a "who's who" of leaders and future leaders in our community. With local names of note like Elliott, Reuter, Phoebus, Cirincione and more as founders, the program got off to a great start. Directors named Stroh, Spong, Jackson and now Horst have, over the years, been the leaders of leaders and moved the program forward. Graduates' names appear today as corporate, not-for-profit, government and small-business leaders throughout the area, as well as regionally and, in a few cases, nationally and internationally.
Facilitating the program, most often at the opening two-day retreat, have been nationally recognized mentors Jack Smith and Eliot Phanstiehl. I could write books about Jack's efforts with post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly as it occurs in veterans. He is truly a treasure to past classes of Leadership Washington County as well as to those who have gone in harm's way. Eliot is well-known locally, having served as a facilitator at numerous local board retreats and is recognized as a "master" for his direction in funding and building the nationally acclaimed Strathmore Center for the Performing Arts. Both Jack's and Eliot's participation speaks volumes about the quality of the program.
Many may not know, but the Leadership Washington County program's design was used to develop the very successful state program known as Leadership Maryland. Public and private sector leaders and aspiring leaders have attended the local program as well as the state program, making Washington County a force in leadership development.
Part of the strength of the Leadership Washington County program comes from the diversity of class members within each class. The program draws men; women; stay-at-home moms and dads; public officials; private sector owners and managers; clergy; minorities; educators; not-for-profit directors and board members; health care professionals; police, fire and rescue workers; retirees; and most any other "walk of life." This diversity breeds new and innovative ideas, debunks cultural and societal myths, and builds strong community relationships. Each class, as it graduates, earns the moniker of "Best Class Ever."
The Leadership Washington County program gives participants the opportunity to see and learn — up close and personally — the ins and outs of local and state government by meeting with members of the Hagerstown City Council, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners and our delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. Classes visit and learn about our not-for-profit infrastructure and its immeasurable benefit to the community. There are arts and culture days, public safety days, education days and health care days. The program is a "tour de force" that builds strong and lasting community relationships.
I had the privilege of graduating with the 11th class of the program — then Leadership Hagerstown. It was, of course, the "best class ever." Since that time, I have been invited to speak, along with panels of local leaders, to each of the succeeding classes. I treasure few venues more than those moments when I get to talk to new class members.
My platform has been and remains "get involved." God, family, nation and, certainly, community must remain the important priorities as we travel life's highways. There are literally hundreds of boards and commissions locally in the public and private domains that need community input and support. If you don't like something, get involved and do something about it. If you really like something, get involved and support it. That's leadership in its purest sense.
You see, if I were king for a day, I would require everyone in Washington County to attend the Leadership Washington County program. Why? Because of the positive changes that occur in most of the folks upon completing the program. Graduates usually have a positive, fresh and informed view about job creation, local and state government, the not-for-profits' role, development, economics, public safety, arts and culture, and more. Graduating from Leadership Washington County is like getting a "doctoral degree in community."
I wish Leadership Washington County all of the best in the future and I hope that readers will consider the program. But, mostly, I hope that you will "get involved" in your community.
Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.