By Janene Holzberg
Thirty years after its founding, Leadership Howard County has sustained the Howard County Chamber of Commerce’s original vision by putting more than 1,150 “students” through their paces in Leadership Premier, the nonprofit organization’s original 10-month course, and two other programs have been added.
In 1985, Columbia had just turned 18 and was still evolving.
After Columbia founder James Rouse brought his vision to Howard County in 1967, people drawn by the promises of racial inclusion and socio-economic diversity were continuing to move to the planned city to live or work.
Could we, wondered the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, set up an organization to help incoming business leaders match their individual interests to the burgeoning needs of the county to affect change for the greater good?
Thirty years later Leadership Howard County has sustained the chamber’s vision by putting more than 1,150 “students” through their paces in Leadership Premier, the nonprofit organization’s original 10-month course, and two other programs have been added.
These graduates have volunteered nearly 75,000 hours, organizers say. At an average rate of $25 an hour, their community service hours represent an investment of nearly $1.9 million that the county wouldn’t have received otherwise, according to independent research done for LHC.
“The proof of the success of Leadership Howard County is in the pudding,” said Dick Talkin, a noted attorney and one of the organization’s early founders. “There has been a cross-fertilization of ideas since then as well as an increase in involvement,” he said. “There are lots of people doing things for the community behind the scenes that most people don’t know are happening.”
Stacie Hunt, who completed the course as a United Way manager in 2002 and then took LHC’s reins later the same year as president and CEO, said she is constantly amazed by the commitment of graduates. “Watching the members of each class become aware of the interconnectivity of county organizations and then go on to make important contributions above and beyond their day jobs is energizing.”
While Leadership Howard County may have a basic formula, graduates are not steered in any one direction, Hunt said, and the organization is constantly working to evolve to meet the community’s needs 10 years in the future.
“There’s no right or wrong place to be as a Leadership Howard County graduate, and we don’t want to prescribe what you do or how you do it,” she said. “We just want to see everybody take their place.”
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