October 31, 2002

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Leadership Institute of Yellow Springs—
Helping local residents learn to lead

The Leadership Institute of Yellow Springs last month kicked off its yearlong program of interactive training courses for leaders and potential leaders who want to make a difference in the community.

The idea for the Institute was conceived more than a year ago, when community members became concerned about the lack of leadership in the village, particularly among people in their 20s and 30s. Sue Abendroth, a member of the Institute’s curriculum committee, said the older generation of local leaders seemed to be aging and no one was lining up to replace it.

“It’s a nationwide trend, with the rise in two-earner households and the pace of living increasing, people don’t have as many opportunities to participate because they’re so busy,” Abendroth said. “Volunteering falls at the bottom of the list.”

The group’s goal became to recruit community members to get involved with local organizations and to participate in a way that would be most productive for the entire community.

“Hopefully, we will help enable people to volunteer at organizations in a collaborative way, as effective leaders, because that’s what will help the community regardless of the issues,” Abendroth said.

The Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization, has struggled against the notion that it has a political agenda connected to the Concerned Citizens Coalition (CCC), she said. The CCC spearheaded an unsuccessful effort two years ago to recall two members from Village Council.

But Leadership Institute organizers maintain they have no political ties. Abendroth said the Institute aims to do what is in the interest of the entire community: to nurture effective leaders.

Ten local residents signed up for the Institute’s first leadership program for a $50 enrollment fee. The program includes seven different instruction modules led by professional facilitators for a total of 55 hours. This kind of program might normally cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000, said Jim Albright, the interim chair of the Institute’s board of trustees.

But organizers felt strongly that no one should be excluded from the program because of financial limitations. The Antioch Company Foundation has contributed funds to get the initial pilot going, and the program facilitators have donated their time for little or no remuneration. Though the tuition fee may increase later, organizers anticipate the principle funding for the program’s projected $20,000 annual budget will come from donations, Albright said.

The program opened in mid-September with a day-long orientation module on what it means to be a leader. Ohio State University’s Gary Earnest and Cece Cugliari, from Leadership Coshocton, led the group through an introduction to the tools for effective communication and collaborative technique for leadership in a diverse group. The second module, led by local mediation consultant Fred Bartenstein, includes a series of sessions focusing on familiarizing participants with local civic organizations.

Deborah Wilson, director of development at WYSO public radio and a participant in the Institute, said, “I hope to learn to be a listening leader who guides and empowers people to make good decisions.”

Participants are currently involved in creating an Internet resource center about and for community organizations in town. They are also encouraged to get involved in one or more organizations to observe how its leadership functions. Wilson is volunteering for a year as a board member of Community Resources, a local group interested in local economic development and other economic issues.

“I am excited to be taking the work outside of the classroom,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, all [the participants] will learn to listen and guide people and they’ll bring their skills to their organizations.”

Every year another group of participants will do the same, she said, and the leadership will keep building.

The next instruction module will address conflict management. The focus of subsequent modules will focus on managing the work of volunteer groups, managing specific activities of community groups and project management. The final session will be an evaluation process and a look at the potential future of the program.

The Leadership Institute is still in an initial stage of formation. The board of trustees is looking for a program coordinator who would handle administrative duties and eventually take on a leadership role for the organization. In December, the board plans to elect officers who will serve on the first official term of the board of trustees, which starts in January.

—Lauren Heaton