After 30 years without an adult leadership program, Appling County in southeast Georgia is changing that with the help of the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at UGA.

The inaugural Appling LEADS adult leadership class graduated on June 20 in Baxley.

In 2015, Appling County joined the Georgia LEADS initiative, a partnership between the Fanning Institute and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce centered on leadership development and guided by a belief that having strong leadership development is a key to economic success.

Through the Georgia LEADS process, Appling County community partners determined a need for a new adult leadership program.

“After so many years without any leadership program, it was imperative to the success of our community to identify and harness the potential of our future leaders,” said Keri Crosby, executive director of the Baxley-Appling County Chamber of Commerce. “Today’s young people are tomorrow’s leaders, and tomorrow belongs to the ones who prepare for it today.”

Working together, the Baxley-Appling County Chamber of Commerce and the Fanning Institute developed a nine-month program focusing on developing participants’ leadership skills and introducing them to different aspects of their community.

Fanning Institute faculty facilitated sessions derived from the institute’s Community Leadership Program© curriculum, which focuses on topics such as understanding leadership, leading change, communicating effectively, building collaboration, and solving problems and making decisions as a group. A session was also added to discuss multigenerational leadership strategies.

The class also learned about local government, industry, education, and agriculture in Appling County, including visits to Atlanta and the port of Savannah.

“Through Appling LEADS, we are able to engage a new generation of leaders,” said Crosby. “Community awareness paired with leadership development gives our students the skills and motivations to lead our community into the future. Appling LEADS gives participants the tools needed to be a leader whether they want to lead their business or run for public office.”

The program was an amazing experience and well worth the investment, said 2017 Appling LEADS graduate Christy Brocato.

“Gandhi said, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’,” said Brocato. “Through Appling LEADS, I learned how to be the type of change agent and visionary I wish to see in Appling County”.

Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute, spoke to the class at its graduation and congratulated Appling County on making this commitment.

“Investing in leadership development is critical to the long-term vitality of any community,” said Bishop. “The Baxley-Appling County community understands that, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to work with them over the last year on Appling LEADS.”

This program is only the beginning of a leap into the future for Appling County, said 2017 Appling LEADS graduate Vicky Escalante.

“Appling LEADS is creating leaders who can work together, despite our myriad of differences, to bring ideas together for the advancement of our community,” said Escalante.

Thirteen people graduated from the inaugural Appling LEADS class. They are Christy Brocato, Samantha Craven, Ray Dixon, Vicky Escalante, Santina Fryer, Brenda Harris, Mallory Harvey, Danita Hayes, Greg Hudgins, Steve Meguiar, Kevin Peacock, Carrie Vanderver, and Pam Williams.