A group of Leadership Brookings participants help plant trees and other plants outside Camelot Intermediate School this spring, as their community service project. Photo by Charis Prunty/Register
• Leadership Brookings gearing up for another year, getting rave reviews
BROOKINGS – An opportunity to see the bigger picture of Brookings, meet people who make things happen and find out how to get involved, that is what Leadership Brookings organizers, participants and supporters say the program is all about.
Leadership Brookings is an eight-month formal education program for people who live and work in Brookings County. It is sponsored by the Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It just opens more doors to people because we kind of get closed-minded and we do the same things day after day. We kind of live with blinders on and work with blinders on,” said Jenny Hammrich, director of sales and marketing for Swiftel Center and a Leadership Brookings graduate.
“A lot of people I went through the class with, you work at your job and you don’t really pay attention to the politics of the city,” she said.
Leadership Brookings is about to begin for the 2012-2013 year: It runs from October to May, with an application deadline fast approaching this year.
The program follows a simple format, with one meeting per month that is focused on a specific aspect of life in Brookings, Brookings County or South Dakota – business and industry, government, education, agriculture and alternative energy, and leadership.
A maximum of 25 people are accepted into the program each year. They take several tours throughout the course of the class, including of local industry, area economic development, and the state capitol while the Legislature is in session.
They also meet with local leaders in government and industry, and are introduced to the local political processes.
“Mayor (Tim) Reed and (City Manager) Jeff Weldon will come in and talk with the group, and it gives them that face-to-face time with people that otherwise they may not have access to or just wouldn’t know who to connect with on something,” said Heidi Gullickson, Chamber director and May graduate of Leadership Brookings.
“So now, they’ve met them and can find out answers directly from them if they have questions.”
Employers of Leadership Brookings participants are some of the program’s strongest supporters. Employers usually pay the $450 tuition and also give their employee a full workday each month to attend the session, Gullickson said, plus often more time to work on the group project that is part of the program.
Kevin Tetzlaff, president and CEO of First Bank & Trust, said his company has sent four or five employees a year through Leadership Brookings for the past several years; it will send five again this fall.
“We look at it as an investment in our employees as well as the Brookings community,” Tetzlaff said. “It’s our job to build leaders, not only within our organization but also leaders within our community.
“The Chamber does an excellent job with the Leadership Brookings program of exposing our people to those experiences, whether it be the networking that they do or learning of the government entity processes that are out there.”
The community service project small groups of Leadership Brookings participants complete each year directly benefits the community, he added.
“Which we feel is very important and fits right into our priority of giving back to the community,” Tetzlaff added.
These employers do expect to see a return on their investment, through their employee’s increased understanding of the community and the networking they do during the program. Tom Richter, director of the Swiftel Center, said he has sent six of his nine employees through the program, and another will participate this year.
“It really gives them a thorough knowledge of Brookings as a whole, and I like that,” Richter said. “There’s some relationships that are developed, too, that become both personal and professional relationships for our staff. And the more people you can meet and the more relationships you can develop, it benefits you both personally and professionally.”
Meeting the right people
Networking is an especially beneficial aspect of Leadership Brookings, everyone agreed. September Bessler, who works in human resources for Brookings Health System, has taken the course twice, in 2005-06 and 2011-12. She moved away from Brookings in the interim, and when she began her job with Brookings Health she wanted to get reconnected.
“You’re meeting the right people, having the right connections, and then throughout that program, you learn about all the different groups there are in Brookings,” Bessler said.
“I just can’t say enough good about it; I think it’s a fantastic program, and I think no matter what age you are, it’s a great program and anyone would benefit from it, any leader.”
Jim Housiaux, an engineer for Banner Associates and a May graduate of Leadership Brookings, said he’s lived in Brookings for years now, but even he learned things about the community. That new knowledge does benefit his employer in the long run, Housiaux said.
“I think we learn a lot about leadership. We get leadership skills as well as exposure to good leadership role models out in the community and, through that experience, I think it does help us back in our own office,” he said.
“It’s a great program; I would encourage people that are interested in it to try to become a part of it. I think you do learn a lot. You learn a lot about city, county, state government, and you learn a lot about industry and the things that help keep Brookings moving.”
A little tweaking
Leadership Brookings is not new: Gullickson said it has been going since at least 2000. Each year things are tweaked, though, based on feedback from that past year’s participants.
Organizers have two changes planned for the coming session: A switch to meeting on the third Thursday of each month, to coincide with social mixers the Chamber already hosts, and a return to hearing from representatives of local service organizations and nonprofits.
Hearing about these organizations will help Leadership Brookings members to find a place to be involved, if they want. Leadership Brookings hopes its graduates will take the next step and put their skills to use in the community, Gullickson said.
Learn more about Leadership Brookings at brookingschamber.org/programs/leadership-brookings, or by calling 692-6125. An application is available on the wesite; the application deadline for the upcoming session is Aug. 24.
Contact Charis Prunty at cprunty@-brookingsregister.com.