For many years, the Oglethorpe County Chamber of Commerce identified leadership development as a community need, but did not have a way to make it happen.

However, with the help of the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development and the support of community partners such as the Oglethorpe County Rotary Club and retired Oglethorpe County School Superintendent Jeff Welch, Leadership Oglethorpe became a reality in 2018.

“We recognized the need to build a core of leaders,” says Cary Fordyce, past president of the Oglethorpe County Chamber of Commerce. “In a rural county like ours, all kids see is a road out of the county and as they leave, it eventually creates an adult leadership void.”

Starting in January and continuing through October, 15 adults completed the Fanning Institute’s community leadership curriculum and learned more about economic development, education, agriculture and healthcare in Oglethorpe County.

“Cary brought in so many different partners, which allowed us to design a curriculum that responded to the community’s needs,” Terence Johnson, Fanning Institute faculty member, says. “We focused on the leadership skills that community members said they needed to further develop such as multigenerational leadership, group decision making, collaboration and conflict management.”

Seavy O’Neal, mayor of Crawford and the owner of Building Wrights & Renovators, LLC, said identifying his leadership style and learning about others has proven very beneficial.

“Having worked with young people, I took a lot away from the session on multigenerational leadership,” he says. “Before, I learned some of those generational differences the hard way, and learning how other generations communicate and collaborate is something I have carried on into my business.”

Another takeaway was networking with other community leaders, O’Neal explained.

“Oglethorpe County is very spread out, and I made a lot of contacts through the program I couldn’t have made as easily without it,” he says. “Building those relationships will help all of us as we try to grow the county.”

As part of the class, some of the graduates started a Facebook page called “Discover Oglethorpe” that encourages people to communicate about what is going on in Oglethorpe County.

Meanwhile, other Leadership Oglethorpe graduates are working to start a youth leadership program in Oglethorpe County.

“We want to keep it moving,” Fordyce says. “These programs will help our residents of all ages grow as leaders, learn about our community and be part of improving Oglethorpe County’s future, and the Fanning Institute played a pivotal role in helping make this happen.”

Leadership Oglethorpe plans to alternate between an adult and youth program yearly, Fordyce said, and they are also looking at starting an alumni association to help sustain the program.

Writer: Charlie Bauder; 706-542-7039;