When the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students had to shift its Preschool to Third Grade (P-3) Leaders Fellowship away from in-person format after one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Georgia came in to help.

Through its Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative, the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development – a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach – helped the organization retool the program from an in-person series to a completely virtual format to overcome COVID-19.

The Preschool to Third Grade Leaders Fellowship program connects early learning program directors and elementary school principals to learn from and work collaboratively to improve outcomes for their area’s youngest learners.

“By better aligning early learning center directors and elementary school principals, we can create better experiences and outcomes for students at that age,” said Greg Barrett, project manager at the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students. “Our leadership program provides joint training for these leaders and promotes effective collaboration and communication in order to foster that alignment.”

Key to a successful program is having the ability to facilitate it well, which was especially daunting once the pandemic forced the program to move online, Barrett said.

“Working with Fanning changed how we viewed the program,” Barrett said. “We now feel empowered to facilitate the program ourselves, which makes the program more sustainable and helps us better continue moving forward. Receiving facilitation training from Fanning was game-changing for me individually and for the program.”

The organization is looking to expand this program into other communities and thanks to the support it received from the Fanning Institute, there is a path forward for that, Barrett said.

The Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students was not alone in receiving leadership development support through the pandemic thanks to the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative.

In Carroll County, the Chamber of Commerce wanted to develop a leadership program specifically targeting young professionals and emerging leaders.

“Sometimes, young professionals or people who are new to a community can get lost in the shuffle,” said Rhyne Owenby, vice president for the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. “We wanted to develop an inclusive program that would look like our community and reach beyond the typical leadership program for regular professions.”

Through the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative, Fanning Institute faculty provided technical assistance to help design and implement the program, working through the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“Fanning was invaluable as a partner in helping to build a program in pandemic mode,” Owenby said. “While the program was delayed due to COVID-19, Fanning provided the tools and expertise we needed to work through the challenges of a pandemic and create a program that will be inclusive,” Owenby said. “So far, we have received an overwhelmingly positive response.”

Launched in fall 2021, the initial class has around 25 members. The program not only includes leadership skills training, but focuses on building relationships and networks to ensure these emerging leaders become engaged in the community.

“Strong chambers need strong leaders to help move communities forward,” Owenby said. “For our community, we think this will make a difference with the hopes that we will reach a new group of leaders. With Fanning’s support, we have the opportunity for an amazing program.”

Since its inception in 2020, the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative has enabled 15 organizations across Georgia to work the Fanning Institute on leadership development programming.

“COVID-19 caused unprecedented challenges for communities and organizations in terms of continuing their leadership development efforts,” said Matt Bishop, Fanning Institute director. “The Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative has allowed us to provide support to organizations such as these and ensure that their leadership development efforts were able to continue moving forward.”

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

The Fanning Institute is currently accepting applications for the 2022 Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative through April 29. Click here to learn more.

Writer: Charlie Bauder; 706-542-7039; charlie.bauder@fanning.uga.edu
Contact: Matt Bishop; 706-542-6201; mlbishop@fanning.uga.edu