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September 23rd, 2009 - Heide Brandes

Leadership classes form acrossOKC metro area

On Oct. 22, Leadership Oklahoma City\'s 28th class will host its annual fall party, but for members of the organization, the work and training is just beginning.

On Oct. 22, Leadership Oklahoma City's 28th class will host its annual fall party, but for members of the organization, the work and training is just beginning.

This nonprofit organization dedicates itself to increasing a pool of volunteers who have the capacity to be effective forces of positive change in the community. Goals include bringing focus to the communities' needs and resources; connecting members of the community to make improvements; and training members for leadership.

The program has resulted in more than 1,000 graduates who are involved in more than 3,000 organizations. Executive Director Beth Shortt says the program isn't about the numbers, but about the relationships.

"The organization is about developing leaders for community service," she says. "The results of the program are hard to see sometimes, but we know it affects the community. We hear stories, and people say they credit Leadership OKC with changes in their lives. Leadership OKC becomes a huge web that continues to connect people and build bridges."

Its Signature Program is currently in its 28th year. Over a 10-month period, classes focus on different community issues, such as public safety, human services, education, economic development and quality of life, to name a few. Up to 45 class members are selected from an application pool, picked to represent a broad range of occupations and backgrounds.

"Our programs include the most diverse group of people toward a common cause," Shortt says. "There are those connections between groups; they meet and come to like people who come from different backgrounds."

Leadership OKC has two adult programs and two high school youth programs. Much like the adult class, the youth class also aims to connect diverse groups of students in a spirit of leadership and training.

"We don't take more than three from any one high school, so we usually have 30 or more schools in one class," Shortt says. "We have a wide range of students involved, from the very poorest to the Fortune 500 families. They all come through the class on a level field."

Area communities also have leadership training classes. Leadership Edmond is a development program designed to provide community leaders with a deeper understanding of the critical issues affecting the Edmond area. The Leadership Edmond program also aims to bring together diverse leaders who can serve as a catalyst for positive change and quality of life in Edmond.

Norman's Leadership Class began taking applications in August for its 29th class, which runs from September through May. Like Oklahoma City's program, Norman's consists of interactive sessions on topics such as communication, city and state government, health care and others. Class members also will be given the opportunity to serve three months as an "intern" on a local nonprofit's board of directors.

Midwest City's Leadership Class follows the same format in bringing diverse participants together to learn about community needs and encourage creative solutions. The sessions combine tours, lectures, demonstrations and dialogue between speakers and members of the class.

"The Leadership Classes have probably opened the eyes of a lot of people who didn't realize what Midwest City has," says Bonnie Cheatwood, Midwest City Chamber executive director. "Those who go through the class are more proud, more willing to stay and be involved in this community."

Involvement in the community translates to a higher quality of life and economic development, she says.

"The networking opportunity is tremendous. People have formed such tight bonds with those they attend the class," Cheatwood says. "It's all about showing leaders what Midwest City has to offer, and they, in turn, become more involved."

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