You lift me up

Participants in the Leadership Calhoun County program learn to rely on others during a team building activity Thursday at the YMCA of Calhoun County's Camp Hamilton. 

Blindfolds on, tennis shoes scuffling through leaves, 25 strangers learned something about trust by literally falling backward into one another’s arms. So went a portion of Thursday morning for participants in Leadership Calhoun County at their membership orientation.

Chamber of Commerce programs director Krychelle Smith said she and the LCC advisory board designed a sweaty, challenging day for the purpose of building a true team. That’s not hard to do in the late summer air at YMCA’s Camp Hamilton, north of Anniston.

“The day always starts with awkward silences and handshakes, but by the time they get to the challenge course they start to open up because they have to get pretty handsy,” Smith said with a laugh.

Thursday’s session marked the beginning of a new year for LCC. The leadership program hosted by Calhoun County Chamber Commerce brings together some two dozen participants to be motivated, united and challenged as local leaders, according to the LCC website.

Each year LCC participants undertake a year-long educational journey through local government, small business, education, law enforcement and other aspects of Calhoun County life.

“The goal is for everyone to become more knowledgeable on what exists in Calhoun County already and the gaps that still need to be filled,” Smith said.

LCC also extends to Calhoun County high school juniors through Youth Leadership Calhoun County (YLCC) and to executives through a program called Calhoun Leaders in Management and Business (CLIMB).

As LCC’s 2018-19 class moves on from day one, Smith said participants will learn about opportunities and people outside of their typical sphere, helping themselves and the county as a whole become more connected. These connections offer LCC alumni unique resources to affect the area in broader and more effective ways.

“It gives them a better understanding of people in the area, what makes up our county and what that looks like for our area as we go forward,” she said.

LCC also allows its participants avenues to affect the community before graduating from the program. A group project of the class’s choice is one of LCC’s requirements; previous classes have chosen to build a home with Habitat for Humanity, remodel the second-floor space of a local safehouse and work alongside Community Enabler Developer.

Each of the participants must also take on his or her own project and present the final project to a school in the area. Police or EMS ride-alongs are required for LCC participants, as well.

Any person employed by an active member of the Chamber of Commerce is able to apply online for LCC. The program’s advisory board holds panel interviews for every applicant during June and selects the top 25 overall scores for the next LCC class.

For participants employed by nonprofits or small businesses, two scholarships are available by request. These scholarships, as well as funding for YLCC and scholarships for YLCC seniors, are made possible by annual alumni dues.

LCC Class of 2012 alumna Ashley Mitchell said she’d never think about dropping her involvement with the program. One of two LCC graduates voted to be board members by her class, Mitchell is taking a year off the advisory board after having served two three-year terms. Even still, she said she’s going strong.

“This year I had to roll off and sit back, but I’ll always day chair for this,” she said of the team-building day. “I love LCC. It’s a great organization in this community that a lot of people don’t know about, but it’s getting bigger and bigger each year.”

Class of 2013 graduate Jessica McCauley offered the program similar praise when speaking of LCC’s recent acceptance cap. Rather than accepting all applicants as it did in the past, LCC now limits a class to 25 for a more robust and individualized experience.

“Not everyone can do this. It’s a true leadership program,” McCauley said.