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DISCOVER MAGAZINE: Leadership Stanly celebrates three decades of community building

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Stanly County Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Stanly, a program designed to cultivate community stewardship.

More specifically, Leadership Stanly (LS) is a 9-month comprehensive program designed to locate, cultivate and motivate a core of informed, committed and qualified individuals from diverse backgrounds to take an active role in community affairs.

The objective is accomplished by integrating class participants into the community’s different organizational settings, including private, nonprofit and governmental.

Kathy Almond, Chamber president, touts LS as a valuable tool for strengthening the community.

“From 1989 to the present day, our Leadership Stanly grads continue to work and support our local Stanly County community,” Almond said. “Individuals learn the value of weaving a strong network of personal and professional contacts.”

As a result of LS, local companies and organizations have reaped the benefits of supporting LS by getting their team members involved in the community and exposing them to various aspects of leadership and successful partnerships. LS builds networks of professionals who become stronger employees, informed individuals and thoughtful community leaders.

John Lowder was part of the debut LS class after he transferred from Kannapolis to Albemarle while employed with Concord Telephone Company.

“Even though I had lived here all my life and was educated in the county school system and Pfeiffer College, I found that there was much more I didn’t know about the community than I did know,” Lowder said. “It was a wonderful introduction to our history, the business community, the diversity of the community, the strengths and weaknesses of the community, and the opportunities that are available in the community.”

For his experience, Lowder said, he forged lifetime relationships with classmates while also gaining a heightened awareness of the many opportunities for volunteerism.

“I think that the most significant benefit I received was the realization that our community was the beneficiary of a wealth of strong and dedicated leadership over the course of its history,” Lowder added. “It led me to think seriously about what I might do in order to ‘pay forward’ the benefit I had received from those past leaders. My experience in the program and the relationships I forged during that time encouraged me to get off the bench and get involved in trying to make a difference in the community.”

Brian Freeman was a native of Salisbury, but later lived and worked in Stanly County.

“Leadership Stanly provided me a deeper understanding of this county’s history, infrastructure and resources that I would have never otherwise known,” he said.

“Leadership Stanly provided me the professional connections to help build stronger community relationships with Carolinas HealthCare System Stanly, as well as a roadmap for connecting with resources as future needs arise,” Freeman added. “From a personal standpoint, the program gave me a better understanding of community offerings for my family to enjoy, as well as ways for us to give back to the community we call home.”

Lindsey Dunevant, former director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Albemarle, echoed similar professional benefits from participating in LS.

“Often we work in silos. This program allowed me to know others in different lines of work and to be known, Dunevant said. “When you know and think more highly of people in an organization, you trust and have more confidence that the organization will accomplish its mission.”
LS graduates agree they leave the program with a richer understanding of the county and a need for a greater investment.

“My appreciation for ‘our little, rural county’ and her people deepened,” Dunevant said. “My experience encouraged me to be more involved and to do more for Albemarle as well as for Stanly County as a whole.”

Freeman agreed his LS participation yielded a fuller understanding of the county’s direction.

“Stanly County has always been known as an agricultural community,” he said. “Although these deep farming roots continue to serve us well, they are helping to grow a strong entrepreneurial spirit that is giving way to new opportunities for our community to prosper.”

While LS’s core objective has remained the same, the program has evolved over the last three decades. Organizations and program components have been added. As social media became more relevant, LS integrated the new mediums into its program.

The Chamber, along with its LS steering committee, has introduced two new components: community action and a class project. This year’s incoming class will be the first to benefit from the newest additions.

All components, new and established, are designed to benefit the community with better leadership.

“It remains critical to reinforce the idea that focusing on the common good for everyone and everything leads to long-term sustainability and prosperity,” Almond said.