Forming the bonds of future leaders

As you may have read on the front page of today’s edition, this weekend saw the kickoff of the 24th class of the Leadership Weirton program.

Leadership Weirton, which is organized each year by the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce, is put together in the hopes of taking members of the local business community and teaching them about the importance of teamwork and getting involved in their communities.

It’s a program I went through about eight years ago, and since then have assisted in planning it along with the members of the chamber’s Education Committee and each year’s coordinators.

We all come from different backgrounds. We were all raised in different ways. We may have different experiences, even living in the same area, that have helped to form our views.

In Leadership Weirton, the class has a chance to form lasting friendships with a variety of individuals they otherwise may not have ever met. They get an opportunity to see some things about our area they may never have known, and, believe me, there is a lot out there we don’t know, even in our own back yard.

You can grow up somewhere, and never know about a particular community festival, or a business.

I can tell you, there is so much I didn’t know when I went through it, even with as much as I have to go around our area for my job.

There are 16 members of this year’s class. Their names and sponsors are: Jim Beckman, Foxcrest; Marissa Collette, CHANGE, Inc.; Bre DeFelice, Robinson and Son Construction; Marian Edgell, Hancock County Savings Bank; Susan Fletcher, Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort; Laurie Hurdle, Fort Steuben Mall; Jered Gamble, Hancock County Savings Bank; Karen Krenn, First Choice America Community Federal Credit Union; Scott Lockhart, Edison Local School District; Tammy Mankowski, Hancock County Sheltered Workshop; Flora Perrone, Rotary Club of Weirton Heights; Laura Rauch, Weirton Medical Center; John Robinson, Hancock County Commission; Melissa Rujak, Serra Manor; Christina Wolfarth, Howard Hanna-Mortimer Realty; and Stephanie Wuebbles, Hancock County Commission.

As you can see, it is a good mix of backgrounds, and they are already bonding in important ways.

There are many leadership programs in our region, offered by local chambers and other organizations. One of the things which makes Weirton’s program unique, though, is that the class is actually responsible for their entire experience.

The chamber can provide some guidance, when needed, but the class plans each of their sessions, including selecting the date and the type of activity.

The chamber simply gives them the topic for each month, whether it be government, health and human services, education, history and culture, and business and economic development.

It’s always interesting to see what the class comes up with, whether it be touring Weirton Elementary School prior to its opening, planning a scavenger hunt of local historical sites, visiting the site of an ongoing redevelopment project, getting to see the state Legislature in action, or learning about the growth of the local healthcare industry.

The chamber doesn’t tell them to show up somewhere and lecture to them for a couple of hours. Their experience is completely dictated by the effort they put into it.

The same goes for their service project. It can be anything the group wants it to be, as long as it shows some benefit for the community. But, everyone in the class has to make some type of contribution, from the planning stages, to fundraising, to performing the labor.

Last year’s class, for example, helped to upgrade the entrance to the Panhandle Recreational Trail, while previous classes provided assistance to Starvaggi Memorial Pool and Park, or purchased new flags and benches for the veterans memorial near Three Springs Drive.

Some helped to provide landscaping to a couple of city streets, while others assisted with a project at the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center.

It is important for those who are able to find ways to contribute to their communities, whether it be volunteering their time for a local non-profit organization, working with their neighbors to put together some kind of project, or even holding a fundraiser to help out with a program.

Leadership Weirton is one of the ways the people of our communities can open the door of public service.

I wish the new Leadership class the best of luck as they set off on this new journey.

Take some time to enjoy the experience, but most of all, learn from each other, learn about the community and learn about yourself.

The torch is now in your hands.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)