Training Tomorrow’s Leaders

Community stands to benefit as Leadership Clark County welcomes Class of 2011

Expect to see a rash of new community projects across Clark County over the next year.

Leadership Clark County, an intensive training program designed to develop leadership skills and community involvement, will welcome its 2011 class on Sept. 15 with an alumni reception at the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver.

Throughout the following 10 months, approximately 36 people – some already recognized as community leaders, others new to civic engagement – will develop unique projects meant to better life in Clark County as they learn about the social, political and economic mechanisms that drive local civic life. In doing so, these students will join nearly 500 graduates of the program who have used their knowledge as a springboard to public office, a business development tool, a resource for nonprofit management or simply to establish a stronger connection to their community.

LCC participants learn the ins and outs of leadership via monthly day-long classes and two retreats. According to John Bockmeir, a 2007 LCC graduate who owns a government relations and business development consultancy firm, the program focuses on the county's history and governance, diversity issues and the skills necessary to shape a good leader.

"I found it to be an extremely positive experience to me in regards to learning about my community, the history of my community and things going on in the community that I wasn't aware of," Bockmeir said. "It was one of those instances where you kick over stones in your own backyard and discover something there."

In addition to kicking over the occasional metaphorical stone, many LCC participants also literally till the soil, teaming up on projects involving local shared assets such as community gardens.

Teams of four or five students are selected based on each individual's personality, with an emphasis on having people with divergent traits work together to solve problems. Meanwhile, the team's efforts allow students to help the community, often with projects whose impact carries on long after graduation.

One community initiative Clark County grocery shoppers may have noticed in recent months is the "Got Bag?" sticker program. The slogan, adhered to store windows and car bumpers, reminds shoppers to bring reusable bags to the market. The idea was developed by a team of six 2009 LCC graduates, including area realtor Lisa Costa.

Since putting together the program, the "Got Bag?" concept has been adopted across the Columbia River in Oregon's Clackamas County, as well in other states, Costa said.

The project developed by Costa's team isn't the only LCC alum-led initiative to demonstrate sticking power.

A youth summer camp developed by Bockmeir's LCC team called, Students Transitioning Into Exceptional People (STEP), is now in its fourth year.

Costa said being forced to work with teammates with different approaches was tough at times but valuable in the long run.

"Most of us have a tendency to be drawn to others like us," she said. "In this particular situation it creates an opportunity for us individually to work with folks that we normally wouldn't work with."

Costa heard about the program through a newspaper article, eventually applying with the support of friends, family and coworkers who put up half of the program's approximately $2,400 cost.

"I see with different eyes now after having gone through Leadership Clark County," Costa said.

Though Costa had no previous civic experience, she now serves on the Salvation Army's regional advisory board and subcommittees for Evergreen Habitat for Humanity. Though she describes LCC as more of a personal endeavor than a professional one, Costa says her improved knowledge of Clark County learned during her time enrolled in the program has helped her as a realtor – particularly when dealing with clients from outside the area who want to know more about local schools, social services and government.

One of Costa's classmates, Temple Lentz, managed then-Councilmember (and LCC alum) Tim Leavitt's successful 2009 Vancouver mayoral campaign while attending the program. According to Lentz, LCC "opened [her] eyes to the community," even as it opened doors in terms of future employment opportunities.

"The contacts you can make in LCC were a huge benefit," Lentz said. "It's not just like getting into an all boy's club. You really do meet lots of different people from lots of different sectors."

Though Lentz now works for the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals in Portland, she says her employment in the Beaver State doesn't mean her experience in LCC doesn't translate to a benefit for Clark County.

"I hate the commute, but you go where the work is and I'm always looking for opportunities to come back," she said. "At the same time I'm on three different boards in Clark County. I'm on my neighborhood association. The fact that I come over here to do a job doesn't mean I don't have my fingers in Clark County all the time."

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