After six months, they thought they were through. And then they graduated.
The 2008 Leadership McDuffie graduation ceremony was held recently in the Thomson Depot, with 17 members receiving their plaques.
"This plaque does not mean you have reached the end of the road," said Lagaile Jones, the 2008 co-chair of Leadership McDuffie. "It is just the beginning, because now you will be leadership alumni. And we will be calling on you to help in the future."
Sponsored by the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce, Leadership McDuffie is a hands-on, interactive program that provides a forum for participants to learn about challenges and opportunities in the area. For 19 years the program has identified, recognized and developed leaders in the area and maintained a broad base of active, informed and effective leaders.
The diverse group of business leaders and professionals met several times since January to learn about industry and business, planning, education, local and state government, and the quality of life within the county. They also divided themselves into three groups, each with a platform to work on. The groups gave presentations of their work and what they learned during the graduation.
"I'm really impressed with the passion each team put into their project," Ms. Jones said after the presentations.
Group one was the "Ferst Cheerleaders," who sought to improve the reading level in children by promoting the Ferst Books Foundation. The Ferst Foundation seeks to provide age-appropriate books monthly to every child under the age of five across the state of Georgia, one county at a time. It was implemented in McDuffie County last fall.
"Our project was really just educating the people about the program, registering children and raising money through fundraisers," Laura Hughes said.
The group held fundraisers in the elementary schools where they raised money collecting pennies, nickels and dimes. For more information on the Ferst Foundation, visit www.ferstfoundation.org.
The second group sought to develop an effective mentor program in the county that can work with and enhance those that already exist. Called, "The Mentors," the group conducted research to identify the type of child who needs mentoring and defined a mentor. Through research and discussion, they established inter-personal relationships to be the key to a successful mentoring program.
"Time must be spent and trust must be developed," Ella Samuels said. "Unless there is a relationship, we will not accept suggestions from each other. ... And it won't be successful without consistency."
The Mentors plan to work with Partners For Success, the Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School and any other mentoring program that exists.
The third-group's hands-on experience enlightened their theory on why their project existed. Named "The Beautifyers," the group's purpose was to enhance the appearance of Thomson by cleaning up the gateways. After spending one day picking up trash on the side of the road, the group learned what a difficult and enormous job it was. Their plan is to have two trash pick-ups a year, one in the spring and the fall. But they won't be able to do it alone.
"We want to leave a lasting impression on people who drive through our city," Mindy Carney said. "And we are looking for ways to get the community involved."
As if the trash wasn't a big enough project, group three also took on another project of developing an emergency response program like the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) for disasters that is available nationally through FEMA. Members of the group attended CERT training in Columbia County, and came back excited about the prospect. The CERT program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills.
The 2008 graduates are Pamela Capps, Mindy Carney, Larry Collins, Lynn Crawley, Mike Dunn, Barbara Guidry, Gail Hildreth, Bill Hopkins, Laura Hughes, Angela Lowe, Jennifer Newton, Vicky Randolph, Ella Samuels, Karina Shelton, Martha Teamer, Gloria Thompson and Belinda Walker.
Mike Love co-chaired the program with Ms. Jones. The co-chairs of the 2009 Leadership McDuffie will be Bobby Hildreth and Chakla Davis.