In her role as Elbert County Chamber of Commerce president, Leslie Friedman saw a gap in the community’s workforce that needed addressing.

“I felt like our community needed more resources and training for ‘middle management’ in our community, specifically in leadership development,” Friedman said. “I felt that developing leaders in that sector could really strengthen our entire workforce and the whole community, but businesses do not always have the resources to provide it.”

As a result, Friedman applied for the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative (ICLI).

Through the ICLI, the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, invests resources and technical expertise into communities and organizations to enhance and innovate leadership development programming.

Fanning announced the inaugural round of ICLI recipients in 2020.

Possible ICLI projects include community-focused, skills-based programming that prioritizes community and civic engagement; leadership development for underserved populations within a community; programming that enhances workforce vitality; programs that enhance student opportunities and leadership skills; entrepreneurial leadership development; multi-county, regional leadership development programming; or programming focused on enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) or conflict transformation within communities.

As one of the inaugural eight ICLI recipients, the Elbert County Chamber of Commerce worked with the Fanning Institute to create Lead Elbert, a new broad-based community leadership program for Elbert County.

“The community had a leadership program many years ago, but it no longer existed and we worked with Fanning to create a whole new program,” Friedman said.

Fanning Institute faculty and staff helped the chamber design and develop the new program, which started in September 2020.

“We worked with the chamber to tailor our community leadership curriculum to fit the program they had in mind,” said Brittany Adams-Pope, Fanning Institute public service faculty. “Then, we trained local leaders to actually teach the curriculum. Finally, we went and led the opening retreat for this year’s class, to get the first year off to a great start.”

Ten people are participating in this year’s inaugural Lead Elbert class, which will run through May.

“All of the sessions have gone so well,” Friedman said. “Everyone responded so well to the opening retreat led by Fanning and even through the pandemic, participation has been very high and the program has continued to gain momentum.”

While the program has had to adjust due to COVID-19, incorporating virtual tours and presentations, participants have received leadership training in areas such as collaboration, communication and group decision making.

“Through attending the program, I have learned that my communication skills, along with networking with others and utilizing ideas and resources, are essential in formulating the leadership qualities it takes to pave the way to a brighter future and stronger community for the next generation,” said Tyron Yeargin, water treatment plant manager for the City of Elberton.

The inaugural class is also completing a community service project, the creation of a youth leadership program for Elbert County.

“This program has given me the opportunity to learn so much about our county through a different set of eyes,” said Tammy Dalton, executive director for Friends of Advantage, a nonprofit board that supports Advantage Behavioral Health Systems, which serves people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases. “I appreciate the education and tours of our local government, school system, healthcare and more that I have received during this experience.  Things have changed so much over the years and it is refreshing to see how Elbert County is progressing and growing. It also has afforded our group an opportunity to look at what we can offer to enhance the community as well through a youth leadership program.”

Planning for a second Lead Elbert class is underway, with members of this year’s class becoming part of the program’s executive committee.

“Partnering with Fanning was essential to building a strong program that we can keep going for years to come,” Friedman said. “With Fanning’s help, we’re providing leaders with skills they can apply at work and at home, building stronger families and stronger communities. We could not have done this without the ICLI, and we appreciate being part of it.”

The ICLI is specifically designed to help communities and organizations like Elbert County, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.

“Starting and sustaining new leadership programming requires a substantial investment of time, funding and manpower, which is challenging for communities and organizations with limited resources,” Bishop said. “The ICLI allows us to provide those resources and help communities develop leaders ready and able to make an impact for years to come.”

The ICLI is supported by private funding donated by members of the Fanning Institute Advisory Board, most notably a lead gift from the James L. Allgood Family.

“We appreciate the Allgood family and others on our advisory board for their commitment to building the leaders that will carry Georgia’s communities into the future,” Bishop said.

To learn more about the ICLI and submit a proposal, click here or contact Brittany Adams-Pope.


Writer: Charlie Bauder; 706-542-7039;
Contact: Brittany Adams-Pope; 706-542-7044;