This year's Leadership McDuffie class was special - it marked the 20th anniversary of the program in McDuffie County.
"In regards to Thomson-McDuffie County, I couldn't be more proud to represent you," Representative Sistie Hudson said at the graduation ceremony last Tuesday. "And when I heard this was the 20th anniversary of Leadership McDuffie, I couldn't be more amazed. You don't see this in a lot of communities. I wish we saw more of it."
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. Co-chairman Bobby Hildreth said more than 400 people have gone through the program in McDuffie County. The 2009 class had 12 graduates.
"In numbers, this is one of our smaller classes," Mr. Hildreth said during the ceremony. "But in quality, all the board members talked about it, and this is one of our better classes."
The class began their year with a weekend retreat at Hickory Knob State Park where they did team-building activities, learned the strengths and weaknesses of the community, took personality tests and worked with several consultants, including Dr. Jon Coleman and John Perryman.
They were divided into two groups to work on a community project. One group decided to build a pergola at the ballpark on Pitt Street with help from the people that live in the Pitt Street community.
"We learned that community involvement, no matter how small, can make a difference," team member Tim McEnery said as he made the presentation on the project.
The other group decided to research the graduation and teen pregnancy rates in McDuffie County and determine if they were related and what could be done about them.
"But our research sort of backfired on us, because we learned that there are many factors involved in school drop out besides pregnancy €¦ and there already are a lot of programs to address the problems," team member Hope Rogers said during her presentation.
Because so many resources to help teens complete school already exist, the group made resource packets explaining all the options, and distributed them to families.
"We all received so much more from this than we anticipated," Ms. Rogers said. "It is amazing that you can take seven personalities that are thrown together - not by choice, but by circumstances - and they can come together and work on a common goal."
The graduates and their spouses, members of the Board of Directors, Chamber of Commerce officials and Rep. Hudson and Sen. Bill Jackson, attended the graduation ceremony and dinner held at the Depot.
"Congratulations and thank you for these moments of sharing what's great in this community," Sen. Jackson said. "Service to humanity is the great work of life. America was not founded by timid and weak-kneed people, but by people who had a commitment to their fellow man. You have shown this commitment."
To commemorate the program's 20th anniversary, Rep. Hudson had separate resolutions drawn up for each graduate, which were read in the House of Representatives and adopted on March 30. Resolutions also were made for the Board of Directors. Rep. Hudson presented the resolutions during the graduation ceremony, and Sen. Jackson presented the graduation plaques. Co-chairwoman Irish Alderman said now that they are Leadership McDuffie Alumni, the members will be called on to serve as volunteers in the community.