Leadership McDuffie, a program that fosters community leaders, is recruiting participants for its 23rd class.
The program is associated with the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce and costs $300. Completed applications and a $150 payment must be submitted in person or by mail to the Chamber of Commerce at 149 Main St. by Oct. 14. The balance is due by Dec. 8.
Participants must live or work in McDuffie County. Each year about 20 people take part in the program.
"Typically we look for candidates that are involved in every aspect of the business community, from schoolteachers and principals to individuals that perhaps are incredible volunteers," said Keryl Corley, a co-chair of the Leadership McDuffie board of directors. "They make incredible leaders or have the potential to be leaders."
The program begins in January with an overnight retreat and includes six additional classes from February until graduation in June.
Participating in Leadership McDuffie can benefit both newcomers to the community and those who have spent their entire lives here, Corley said. She and co-chair Sheron Rutkowski represent both backgrounds.
Rutkowski, a longtime McDuffie County resident, was a member of the class of 2009.
"Even though I'd lived here for 25 years, I still learned a lot about the community," she said. "You meet people you probably wouldn't otherwise come in contact with on a daily basis."
Corley took part in the class of 2010 as a newcomer to the area, having lived in the county for less than a year.
"It gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded people for networking," she said. "Being that I was not from here, I probably would've never had the potential to so quickly meet our community leaders, like the mayor and the county commissioner, and be made aware of the issues in our community, good and bad."
Along with meeting local leaders, participants have met past governors of Georgia and the senators and House members who represent McDuffie County.
Another vital facet of Leadership McDuffie is to spark an interest in community development. Participants work in small groups to create volunteer projects that address the needs of the community.
"The class identifies social, economic and cultural issues here within our county that they feel they would like to help improve," Corley said. "From there they are guided into what they want to do based on where their passions are."
Past classes have landscaped the skate park in Dearing, translated the community resource guide into Spanish, worked with the local Boys & Girls Club and the animal shelter and promoted beautification efforts.
Corley, Rutkowski and the board of directors hope to instill a level of community involvement that will continue once participants become alumni.
"They definitely have a greater awareness about where they can be involved and a greater interest in the community," Corley said of the program's past graduates.