Leading Up to Community Projects

Leading Up to Community Projects

August 7-13, 2002

Leesburg resident Ann Gallus considers herself an animal person, but after participating in the Loudoun Leadership program, she gained "a lot of skills toward being a people person," she said.

Gallus works part-time as a licensed veterinary technician and since 1992 has served on the nine-member Animal Advisory Committee that acts as a liaison between the Board of Supervisors and the Animal Shelter. In 1998, the year she was named chairman of the committee, she joined the leadership training program to learn more about conducting meetings and using her contacts more efficiently.

"I got a lot more out of it than I expected," Gallus said. "I learned a lot about myself and the way my personality works working with others. It made me a little more assertive than I had been. ... When you are chair, you have to learn to assert yourself and keep the meeting on track."

Leadership Loudoun is back again this year to teach students leadership, teamwork and problem-solving skills, along with encouraging them to put the skills they learn to use. The eight-month program will begin with a weekend retreat Oct. 18-19 and continue monthly through May 15 for an expected class size of 15-20 students.

THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS for Leadership Loudoun did not offer the program last year to reevaluate its effectiveness and agreed this year to continue the program as before. An aspect of the program that orients students to the county and to county government was separated into Discover Loudoun.

"You learn about working with county departments and non-profit organizations, as well as volunteering and things to do in Loudoun," said Robin Geiger, community relations specialist and staff support for the program. "We wanted to offer it four times a year, because so many people are moving into Loudoun. ... We wanted to make that accessible to everyone."

The cost for Discover Loudoun, which was offered for the first time this spring, is $40, while Leadership Loudoun's tuition is $1,000 for the nine-month training program.

Leadership Loudoun began in 1992 through the Loudoun Volunteer Services Board of Directors with the first graduating class of 32 graduates the largest for the program. So far, 10 classes with a total of 250 graduates have gone through the program.

"They [the students] learn about the issues and concerns of Loudoun County, how Loudoun County government works [and] how processes work to get things done," said Marilyn Dunnill, community relations manager who plans to retire in August.

THE PROGRAM TEACHES the students, who may end up serving on community boards, councils and committees, what they need to do to raise awareness or make changes in their communities. They learn who to contact, how to work with the media and what they need to do when appearing before or working with governmental bodies.

This year, students will begin the program with a weekend orientation retreat to choose forum topics that identify issues and concerns in the county. The students will be divided into three smaller groups to work on the topics, select experts to speak to the larger group and develop and initiate projects to enact change in the community, all related to the topic. The projects will aim to solve an issue facing the county, such as those involving growth, transportation or youth.

"Leadership Loudoun is a program that is dedicated to preparing leaders to serve the good of Loudoun County through community service and affecting community change," Geiger said. "The group will try to make the change, try to solve that problem, and hopefully the change project will be an ongoing thing."

SOME OF THE PROJECTS from past classes include:

• Establishing a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in the county.

• Improving the trails and informational signage of Claude Moore and Balls Bluff parks.

• Instituting a local government curriculum for the public schools.

• Establishing Ethics Day at the public schools.

• Establishing an annual senior citizen/senior high school prom.

"It's also hands-on experiential training. It's not a bunch of books and lists," Dunnill said. "It's roll your sleeves up."

Geiger agreed, "It's applied learning. You're learning skills as you do something else."

The registration deadline for the Leadership Loudoun program is Sept. 1. Applications can be obtained through the county's Public Information Office. Limited scholarships and payment plans are available.