Leadership Highlands Offers Greater View of Highlands County
“To be an effective leader, we must be willing to get to know and understand the people and the community we serve,” said Kris Schmidt, program director, Leadership Highlands. Through the Leadership Highlands program at South Florida State College, local professionals who aspire to become leaders in Highlands County are given the opportunity to do just that.
Leadership Highlands was conceived by Morris Adams, a local businessman who had gone through the Leadership Florida program. He felt that Highlands County could benefit from its own community leadership program and began working with the three chambers of commerce to create the first class, which graduated in 2000. A class has formed every year since, and consists of 20-30 participants from varying local industries.
“The program familiarizes participants with all aspects of Highlands County, so they are aware of community needs and the variety of resources the county offers,” Schmidt said. “It gives them an opportunity to get to know their county, its people, government, industries, and responsibilities. It also provides some lifelong Highlands County residents the opportunity to visit places they never knew even existed, and participants get a deeper look at what goes on behind the scenes at various businesses and agencies in Highlands County.”
Each year, the class visits businesses in a variety of local industries including county government, human services, media, agriculture, the airport, education, and healthcare to get a better understanding of what they do. Not only does this help aspiring community leaders know what resources are available to them when trying to solve a community need, it lets businesses show what they have to offer. SFSC is among one of the many agencies Leadership Highlands tours, and over 20 SFSC employees and District Board of Trustees members are alumni of Leadership Highlands.
“The college is one of the largest resource providers in the area,” Schmidt said. “But many people don’t realize how much the college has to offer outside of degree programs and the theatre until they visit. They’re surprised to learn they can get their teeth cleaned and dental x-rays in our dental education program and pamper themselves in our cosmetology program.”
SFSC DBOT member Tami Cullens graduated from the class of 2007. Cullens is a lifelong resident of Highlands County, but she still learned more about county business through her experience in Leadership Highlands. “You know what a business does as a whole, but you don’t know the details of what goes into it until you go behind the scenes and experience it yourself,” she said.
Through the program, Cullens was able to form new business relationships with other classmates who worked in agriculture, learn some things about their businesses she didn’t know, and gain knowledge that has benefitted her family’s citrus business. In return, she’s been able to help her classmates when they have questions they have about the college. “People feel like they can approach me now and ask questions about the college, scholarship information, programs and classes, and who they need to talk to get the information they’re looking for,” Cullens said. “You form a bond with your classmates, and because of that, you become more comfortable approaching each other and helping each other out when you might not have felt so comfortable doing it before.”
“The networking opportunity Leadership Highlands brings is another major benefit of the program,” Schmidt said. “Participants, both classmates and the businesses the program visits, build professional and personal relationships with each other, and they are able to carry over those relationships once the program has finished.”
Lorrie Key graduated from Leadership Highlands in 2010. As director of SFSC’s Corporate and Community Education Department, Key’s participation in Leadership Highlands has benefitted the Highlands County business community as well as the college. Many of her classmates and their businesses have since approached her about holding various training programs for their employees at the college.
“We’ve been able to create a couple dozen new training opportunities,” Key said. “More businesses now know what my department does, and they’ll call me when they need special training. I’ve also added them to my contact lists, so when we have a training session that pertains to their area, I can call them and let them know. It’s a win-win situation for all of us.”
Key has also been able to approach her classmates for her department needs. “We’re always looking for sponsors for some of our community education programs like the Heartland Games for Active Adults and summer camps,” she said. “Now, because of the contacts I made from Leadership Highlands, I have more options when I’m looking for resources.”
Following graduation from the program, participants are encouraged to contribute to the community. “We want them to take what they have learned in the program to identify needs in the county and figure out ways to meet those needs with the various resources and agencies they are now aware of,” Schmidt said.
One way they do this is through a class project at the conclusion of their program. Class projects have included the Hometown Hoe-Down, a block party to raise proceeds for the Heartland Food Reservoir, and the class of 2012’s project, a professional clothing closet which hopes to provide professional clothing to students who cannot afford to purchase their own for job interviews. Graduates have also joined county boards and rotaries, become involved with county government, and have become mentors to students.
“Leadership Highlands opens your eyes to a whole other level of community service and outreach,” said Cullens. “You get to see the good and the sad but true things that happen in Highlands County. However, it gives you a full understanding of what goes on and helps you recognize where you can help.”
“Being a leader isn’t just about being in charge,” Schmidt said. “It’s about having the courage to step up when the need presents itself and the knowledge of where to turn to solve it. Leadership Highlands gives its participants the confidence to do just that.”
SFSC employees who have graduated from Leadership Highlands are:
2000 – Catherine Cornelius
2002 – Kevin Brown, Glenn Little
2003 – Mike McLeod
2004 – Dean Annie Alexander-Harvey
2005 – John Brown, Leana Revell
2006 – Anita Kovacs, Rebecca Sroda, District Board of Trustees Member Davis Leidel
2007 – Deborah Bell, Rebecca Rousch, District Board of Trustees Member Tami Cullens
2008 – Kimberly Batty-Herbert, Deanne Shanklin
2009 – Keith Loweke, Christopher van der Kaay
2010 – Lorrie Key, Lyndsay Lynch, Kris Schmidt
2011 – Susie Hale, Sylvia Turner
2012 – Manuel Cortazal, Colleen Rafatti
2013 – SFSC Leadership Highlands Class members – Michele Heston, Cindy Kinser