Though it might cost me some gentle ribbing down the road for being “biased,” I just have to say, with all sincerity and honest evaluation, that one of the best concentrated programs for professional and personal education and enrichment locally is one sponsored right here, within the offices of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council.
I’m writing about Leadership Lake Wales, a project of our affiliate organization, the 28-year-old and nonprofit Lake Wales Area Foundation.
Leadership Lake Wales is a wonderful opportunity each year for a dozen to two dozen adults — most if not all of them rising community leaders — to learn more about the immediate world around them and, really, to discover what and often who make Lake Wales “tick.” Through retreats, forums, workshops, presentations, day or “field” trips, other brief excursions, social activities, and the general course of conversation, the members of each Leadership “class” learn so much about, well, so much.
Areas of learning and exposure for Leadership Lake Wales participants typically include local business and economy; community history; agriculture; tourism and recreation; education; civics; the arts and culture; health care; infrastructure and transportation; and local, county, and state government. One of the highlight Leadership activities is a trip to Tallahassee during the annual session of the Florida Legislature.
The Leadership Lake Wales activities often are eye-opening experiences for participants. Each year, it’s no surprise to hear one or more of the class members say something like: “Gosh, I went to school in Lake Wales and have lived here all of my life, and I never knew (“this” or “that”) about (the economy, a longtime local business, or government operations, for example).”
In addition to education and enlightenment, each year’s Leadership program provides participants with the opportunity to develop new acquaintances, friendships and perhaps even lifetime personal and professional bonds. You just never know what kind of “local good” can happen when a couple of Leadership class members get together with a neat idea for a new niche product or service.
Each year’s Leadership Lake Wales program begins with a class retreat in September and ends with a graduation activity in early June.
Leadership Lake Wales is heading into its 22nd year. The program for Leadership Lake Wales Class 21 ended June 8 with a graduation reception and dinner at Lake Wales Country Club. The event honored the following Class 21 members:
• Kayla Austin with the office of state Rep. Mike LaRosa
• Jolee Beamer with Lake Wales Care Center
• Melissa Bennett with Polk State College
• Chris Colson with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office
• Jennifer Farias with Webber International University
• Christopher Gravel with Westlake Real Estate
• Jolee Martin with Multi Axis Manufacturing
• Nate Noel with Florida’s Natural Growers
• Greg Pilkington with PME Group
• Beneshea Simmons with the Small Business Assistance Center
• Brent Sims with Kegel
• Rebecca Thomas with Dale R. Fair Babson Park Elementary School
• Sal Tropea of Bunting Tripp & Ingley
• Roy Wilkinson with the Lake Wales Fire Department
The chairwoman for Class 21 activities was Lori McKinney, a professional with Lake Wales Medical Center and graduate with a previous Lake Wales Leadership class.
In addition to Leadership Lake Wales for adults, the Lake Wales Area Foundation offers Youth Leadership Lake Wales for high school juniors. The youth program runs October through April each year, offering selected 11th-graders the opportunity to meet local leaders; learn about their community and the critical issues impacting it; develop leadership, speaking, and interviewing skills; and add to their portfolios for college admission applications.
The graduates of Youth Leadership Lake Wales Class 10, all rising high school seniors, are Joanna Arenas, Sarah Bourget, Nelson Bristol, Destiny Cornelius, Kyle Hall, Jenna Nessa, Shelby Paulson, Bradley Paxton, Julia Rogers, and Katie Schnarre. Kara Wiseman was the class coordinator and Dee Coconato was the school liaison.
Here at the Lake Wales Chamber-EDC, we’re really proud of our Leadership programs — many folks will agree with me that they truly are fantastic — and we’re thankful to the Lake Wales Area Foundation for sponsoring them. A community can’t have too many leaders, and we’re pleased that we can help develop some good ones each year.
If you want to go through the adult Leadership program and have an of-age son or daughter eligible for the Youth Leadership program, by all means, let us know. Charlotte Kosek, our chamber services and operations manager, will help put you through to the point person for each program. Charlotte can be reached by phone at 863-676-3445 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.