An Athens-based, multi-county nonprofit aims to prepare itself for growth by working with the University of Georgia to develop leaders within its organization.

The UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development has developed a leadership skills and mentoring program for Brightpaths Athens, an organization that works to build stronger families through education, connection and support in Clarke, Barrow, Jackson, Madison, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton counties.

“As we expand and hire additional staff, we are adding a number of young professionals who we want to invest in and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth while ensuring our organization grows sustainably,” said Grace Arthur, Brightpaths Athens senior clinical supervisor. “We see working with UGA as an opportunity to invest in our people and change the conversation within our agency as we grow, preparing our future leaders and managers to succeed.”

In addition, Brightpaths hopes participants will be able to pass those leadership skills on to parents who work with the organization, helping the greater community.

“If a community is like a puzzle, providing these leadership skills to parents will help give them the tools and skills to fill in any pieces that might be missing,” said Tiara Smith, Brightpaths Athens program manager.

Between now and June, UGA Fanning Institute faculty are providing leadership skills training to Brightpaths’ staff members as well as parents who serve on the organization’s parent advisory board.

“This UGA program is unique because it is supporting staff collaboration and development, while giving them tools to develop family and caregiver leadership skills,” said Leslie Hale, UGA Fanning Institute public service faculty member and MENTOR Georgia executive director. “We are doing this by covering topics such as how to lead through change, understanding leadership styles and intergenerational differences, and managing difficult conversations – all of which is important in the workplace and at home.”

These leadership skills are helping the organization think about its growth differently, said Jennifer Henderson, Brightpaths Athens program director.

“It can be easy to sail along, but as leaders, we need to pay attention to our mindset and the organizational culture,” Henderson said. “These skills are helping us think about growth intentionally and how to lead other staff through these changes successfully.”

Along with the leadership skills training, the program pairs participants to form mentoring relationships and teaches best practices for mentoring and being mentored.

“Developing strong mentoring relationships provides leaders at all levels with support and feedback that helps them put the skills they learn into practice, while also building the connections that underpin a positive organizational culture,” Hale said.

Including a mentorship component plays a key role in the program, according to Arthur, Smith and Henderson, who are all participants.

“As our staff grows, we can all learn from each other’s perspective,” Smith said.

Brightpaths developed this program through the UGA Fanning Institute’s Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative, which provides resources and training for communities and organizations across Georgia that aspire to develop or revamp leadership programming.

“Investing in leadership development helps organizations move forward sustainably and more effectively engage in the communities they serve,” said Matt Bishop, director of the UGA Fanning Institute. “This equips communities to address challenges and build a strong future. We are proud to partner with Brightpaths Athens on this investment in its present and future.”

The UGA Fanning Institute is now accepting applications for the 2023 Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative. The deadline is April 15.

For more information on the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative or to apply, click here.

Writer: Charlie Bauder; 706-542-7039;
Contact: Leslie Hale; 706-542-7149;