Leadership Raleigh focuses on community

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — On April 27 and 28, about 50 Wake County ninth-grade students will participate in a series of workshops, led by business leaders, as well as team-building activities, all aimed to helping them succeed in the workplace.

The day-and-a-half session, known as “High Climbers,” was created three years ago by a team of participants in Leadership Raleigh, a leadership-development program the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce launched in 1984-85.

Now, in an effort that began last year, Leadership Raleigh is working with its alumni association to provide opportunities for alumni to get involved in addressing community needs by working with local groups.

On April 14, at the offices of the Junior League of Raleigh, for example, Leadership Raleigh alumni will be doing volunteer work for Backpack Buddies, SAFEchild and Brentwood Boys & Girls Club.

And in September, the program will host “Leadership Raleigh Alumni Back on the Bus,” an effort to “take a deeper dive into new community issues and topics” that alumni can get involved in and support, says Greg McNamara, vice president of small business and member services at the Chamber.

Leadership Raleigh, which has over 1,000 alumni, includes an overnight retreat each fall, followed by a day-long session each month through June on local topics, including quality of life, law enforcement, human services, economy, education, health services, and media, and local and state government.

Development of the curriculum for each year’s program is the commencement project of the previous year’s graduating class, which in years past consisted of about 50 people, each paying $2,200, with their employers providing some or all of the tuition for most class members. This year, for the first time, the program has expanded to two classes totaling 96 people.

In addition to its monthly curriculum focus, each class typically subdivides into project teams of five to six people, with each team working with a local nonprofit or other organization on a need it has identified.

A team in the 2012-13 class, for example, created High Climbers in partnership with the Wake County Public School System to provide leadership-development opportunities for students. The project has become an annual event for Leadership Raleigh.

For perspective, Leadership Raleigh each month provides participants with educational meetings and discussions throughout the community designed to help them see first-hand the impact of the issue that is the focus of the curriculum that month.

Following the alumni bus tour this September, McNamara says, a reception will give alumni an opportunity to talk about how to address local needs that may have emerged since they participated in the program.

“We are a community of people interested in supporting each other and organizations we’re passionate about,” he says. “We’re building a community of leaders.”

While the Chamber does not offer a special program for nonprofits, he says, nonprofits represent about six percent of its more than 2,200 member organizations and represent one of the highest-rated searches on its online membership directory.

“Employers are very interested in having employees involved in the community,” he says. “It builds a sense of community engagement, ownership and empowerment for the employees to work for these community organizations.”

June 15 is the deadline for submitting applications for the Leadership Raleigh class that begins this fall.

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