As a counselor in the Upper School at Bulloch Academy in Statesboro, Kinsley Baker has a great job and a good quality of life.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, when Baker began the 2017-2018 Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation Women’s Leadership Academy she also had a “great job,” she said. “But it was a challenge to manage work-life balance.”

The leadership program, developed by UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development for the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation in Statesboro, helped Baker realize she needed a change.

“Each session really hit home for me and was so relevant to where I was in my life and in my career,” Baker said. “I learned so much about myself, how I work with others and how I manage conflict. What I learned had a lot to do with me taking that step forward.”

Lynda Williamson, a civic leader in the Statesboro community, established the foundation before her death in November 2014 to help guide and mentor young women in southeast Georgia. The leadership academy focuses on servant leadership, mentoring and developing a personal leadership style.

“Women in leadership roles face unique challenges and situations,” said Lisa Lee, president of the Lynda B. Williamson Foundation. “We wanted to create a program that would address those specific issues and provide a safe space for women to discuss leadership, learn from each other and grow together.”

Fanning Institute faculty, led by Maritza Soto Keen and Carolina Darbisi, cover topics like personal leadership, communication and conflict, strategies for effective leadership, career and professional skill development and multigenerational leadership. The class also meets with local and state leaders.

“We created a curriculum to examine leadership through a woman’s lens,” Keen said. “By raising these unique issues and allowing women to talk about them and share with each other, they develop their personal leadership abilities and build a network of women leaders that can work together to strengthen their communities.”

Program participants also work together on a community service project, which also helps them bond.

“The support I felt from my classmates gave me the courage to grow, to take a leap of faith,” Baker said.

So far, 48 women have graduated from the program, held each year since 2015-16. The first two groups organized activities in the Statesboro area, including a career day for women that offered interview training, resume development and professional makeovers.

The 2017-18 class plans to create a mentoring program for high school girls, which will cover social media etiquette, resume building and conflict management.

“We want to take what we have learned and pass it on to the next generation,” Baker said.

An alumnae group formed by program graduates will also provide support for the program and its community service efforts moving forward.

“We want to continue supporting and connecting with each other and giving back to the community in the spirit and legacy of Lynda B. Williamson,” said Erica Sellers, a graduate of the 2016-17 program.

“Seeing women complete the program and stay involved as alumnae shows us that the foundation’s work and mission to mentor and guide young women in southeast Georgia will continue into the next generation,” Lee said. “While Lynda left us a vision and we knew we wanted a women’s leadership academy, the Fanning Institute took the heart of what we wanted to do and made it beat.”

The program is a strong community partnership, said Matt Bishop, director of the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development.

“At the Fanning Institute, we believe that communities become stronger when they empower as many people as possible with the tools and knowledge to lead and contribute,” Bishop said. “We are proud to partner with the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation on the Women’s Leadership Academy, and we look forward to seeing the impact that these women will have on future generations in southeast Georgia.”

The fourth class of the Lynda Brannen Williamson Women’s Leadership Academy begins this month.