40th Leadership Jackson County class kicks off

Arriving at Camp Pyoca in Brownstown for the opening retreat, a group of people didn’t know they were part of a milestone.

Nineteen of the 20 members available to attend the first of 10 Leadership Jackson County class meetings on Aug. 26 were focused on getting to know each other’s names and finding out more about each other.

They also spent half of the day working with presenter Lou Stein on communication skills and the other half on team-building and trust activities.

They had no idea they are members of the nonprofit organization’s 40th class.

The leadership program for adults started as Leadership Greater Seymour in 1982 and later changed to Leadership Jackson County as the focus shifted to bringing awareness of the value in all areas of the county.

Today, there are more than 700 alumni.

“For an organization to thrive and have sustainability, it must be relevant and meaningful,” said Rexanne Ude, who became the organization’s fifth executive director in 2020. “With a 40-year history, Leadership Jackson County has proven that this program is meeting our goal and mission of developing community leaders who are making a positive impact on our communities in Jackson County.”

Ude said LJC’s success and longevity can be attributed to very strong, talented and committed leadership, both in executive directors and board members.

“The longevity can also be attributed to community businesses and organizations’ continued support through financial resources and sponsorship of class members,” she said. “I feel the observable and tangible value that LJC provides has played into the 40-year history and is essential to the necessary community engagement we have. All of this has allowed LJC to create a foothold within this county.”

Ude was a member of the second LJC class, which included 12 people who completed a group project.

For a while now, there have been at least 20 people in each class, and they are divided into project teams that come up with something to make a difference in various areas, including social concerns, youth, community awareness/growth, history and health.

In recent years, the class has been extended to start in August and end in May, meeting once a month in a different location around the county.

Ude said the opening retreat Aug. 26 was a great start to what she expects to be a great 10 months with 20 leaders.

“I was thrilled with the active participation we had from all of the new class members,” she said. “They all seemed very interested in the activities and the knowledge being shared from our facilitators and also presenter Lou Stein.”

While there’s a lot of communication that happens prior to the retreat, Ude said she likes getting to meet each class member face to face for the first time.

“The connectedness that happens from the start of the day to the end of the day makes all the difference and the preparation work worthwhile,” she said.

Doug Ballinger, Peggy Brewer, Maci Baurle and Candace Foist are among this year’s LJC class.

As a newcomer to the county, Ballinger said he appreciated Ude’s leadership and energy and the help of her guests at the retreat.

He also liked getting to know his classmates’ names and jobs and how they contribute to the county.

“It was interesting to see the older and younger generation connect,” Ballinger said.

He said he’s looking forward to networking and partnering with other leaders to make the county a better place to live.

He attributes the longevity of the program to the leaders’ energy, creativity and passion.

“It is a much-needed program and beneficial,” Ballinger said. “The challenge is that you have to put into it what you want out of it.”

Like Ballinger, Brewer said she liked meeting her classmates and is looking forward to the upcoming monthly meetings with them.

“I had such a great first day of LJC,” she said. “I enjoyed the exercise of learning everyone’s name as well as the team-building exercises. Those really helped with getting familiar with people we will be spending the next several months with. I’m excited to have this opportunity to learn how to better serve our community.”

Baurle said the retreat was memorable.

“I loved how we were forced to get out of our comfort zones and complete activities we would never typically do,” she said. “It was definitely a class I won’t forget.”

Foist said she, too, was forced out of her comfort zone with some public speaking right off the bat, but it was done in fun.

“I truly loved Lou’s presentation with the stacking exercise. The outside team-building activities were definitely interesting — full of laughs, for sure,” she said. “Most of all, I really enjoyed meeting so many other leaders in the community.”

Ude said this year’s class theme is “Leading with agility.”

“This theme was chosen because of the adjustments we have all had to make in both our personal and professional lives over the last months and year,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I look forward to hearing and seeing how this class embraces the incorporation of agility and fluidity into their existing leadership and teamwork styles.”

She’s excited to see the 40th class come together.

“There are many aspects of this program that I enjoy, but by far, the most rewarding part is developing relationships with the class members, watching them develop new connections with each other and seeing the impact they make through the work of their project teams,” she said.

For LJC to remain relevant and exist for another 40 years, Ude said it must continue to be intentional and compensatory.

“Intentional in our focus and create sustainable outcomes that compensate for the gaps that are identified throughout Jackson County as we help develop emerging leaders,” she said.

LJC also has a youth leadership program for seventh-graders, YoJack, with fall and spring sessions. That program started in 2000.