The Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce is in the middle of its fifth session of Leadership Lehigh and again, a large group of Lehigh Acres individuals, who are active local affairs, are spending days visiting interesting sites and listening to the experts talk about their businesses and institutions.
Leadership Lehigh began in 2006 with an August Retreat, and this year with an overnight stay at the Microtel Hotel in downtown Lehigh. This year's Leadership Lehigh session will end on Dec. 15 and a graduation will be held on Jan. 12, 2011.
Joe Whalen, the president and CEO of the Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce believes the sessions are just right for the building of future leadership qualities in its participants.
Here the Leadership Lehigh group visits Lehigh Regional Medical Center. Chris Rakunas, the hospital’s CEO is shown in the center, talking about the operations of the hospital. Photo by Mel Toadvine
"Its mission is simple, the produce future leaders of Lehigh Acres," Whalen said.
The group visits all sorts of businesses, both private and public, in an attempt to learn what makes Lehigh and indeed, Lee County click.
Many of the people in the class have never been to see what makes a fire department work, or how a utility is run or how newspapers operate. The list goes on and on.
Beginning of hospital tour:
Whalen was in that first class, along with Ollie Conover, the Chamber's director at that time.
Leadership sessions like the one in Lehigh are held by the majority of Chambers across the country, Whalen said.
"It really gives an insight into the operations of the community," he said. "When you finish the course, you have met a lot of the people who make the community and the county click," he said.
In that first class were people like Bo Turbeville, Damon Shelor, Fred Elliott, Richard Thompson, Oscar Gamble, Don Adams, Pat McDonald, Laurie Jerriey and Barbara Kerby, names that are recognizable today because of their involvement in the community.
"They didn't know a lot about the county and the community, but at the end of the session, they were in tune with what is going on and they understand the reasons for this and that," he said.
Some examples of this year's session include a visit with Dr. Wilson Bradshaw, the president of FGCU and also its small business development program. They also have a visiting at the Lee County Port Authority which operates Southwest International Airport.
On Education Day, which included the visit to FGCU, the college picked up the tab for lunch. They also were scheduled to visit the Lehigh Acres Fire Dept. In some sessions, members get an opportunity to climb the aerial ladder of one of the newest trucks in the department.
Generally, the group meets every other week on a certain day and membership is held to about a dozen or so participants.
This year's session includes a visit and tour of Lehigh Regional Medical Center, government offices in Lee County, a walk through the swamp of the Caloosahatchee on Environmental Day, Fire and Safety Day at the fire department, Agricultural Day and other events. They also get to visit the recycling plant in Fort Myers. On Ag Day, they have a visit planned at an area flower growing operation. A tour of the News-Press is planned on Media Day. They also visit the local water and sewer utility, FGUA. The last session will include a visit to a medical supply manufacturing facility that is located in the industrial park in Lehigh.
All of this cost participants $695 and those who have gone through the course all agree the leadership sessions are well worth the price.
When you finish the course, you really feel that you are much more knowledgeable about the way our community, including Lee County, and how everything works.
If you're interested in next year's session, you can get in touch with Whalen now as a list is being formed for the next session.
"It's something that attracts a lot of people and it will be an ongoing annual project," Whalen said.
What are the benefits?
According to the Chamber, it broadens community perspectives, enhances leadership skills, builds networking skills and contacts, encourages personal growth and development, creates a working understanding of local needs and existing governmental expectations.
This year's session, which began Aug. 11 covers sessions dealing with healthcare, utilities and environment, media, industry, agriculture, public safety, county government, arts and non-profit, education and leadership.