In partnership with a Statesboro-area foundation, the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development is helping a new group of women from southeast Georgia prepare for career and community leadership roles.

The Fanning Institute hosted the opening retreat for the third annual Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation Women’s Leadership Academy on Sept. 14-15.

Sixteen women from in and around Statesboro are participating in this year’s program.

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 academy sets out to improve career, mentoring, and service opportunities for women through personal leadership development,” said Lisa Lee, president of the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation. “The Fanning Institute has developed a strong program with unique insight that accomplishes this goal.”

While welcoming this year’s class, Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute, said the academy represents Williamson’s legacy and vision for the community.

“She had so much pride and enthusiasm for the communities in which she worked,” said Bishop. “The idea to provide women with an opportunity to go through a personal leadership development program based on servant leadership ideals is the epitome of Lynda Brannen Williamson. We are proud to provide our expertise throughout the program.”

Laura Meadows, interim vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach, also addressed the group and encouraged them to make the most of the program.

“You are in this class because someone identified you as a leader,” said Meadows. “Seize opportunities like this to grow and learn, then use that knowledge to build your communities and help mentor other women.”

During the academy, Fanning Institute faculty, led by Maritza Soto Keen and Carolina Darbisi, deliver sessions on individual leadership styles, managing conflict, work-life balance, and multigenerational leadership. Also, each class meets with local and state leaders and works together to complete a service project.

“We have designed the program to provide a perspective on leadership through a woman’s lens,” said Keen. “In this academy, the women have the opportunity to acknowledge, share, and discuss the unique challenges that women in positions of leadership can face. This not only builds their personal leadership abilities; it develops a network of women leaders that can work together to strengthen their communities.”

Christy Marsh, a 2017-2018 academy participant, said as someone who knew Williamson and knows many of the foundation’s board members, she is honored to take part in this experience.

“I am encouraged, motivated, and challenged all at the same time,” said Marsh.  “My goal in this class is to drink in every bit of knowledge and experience not just from our presenters, but also from my fellow classmates.  Each woman brings a lot to the table, and we can all learn from each other. At the same time, we can build each other up to attain our individual goals.”

Memory Littles, another 2017-2018 academy participant, said the opening retreat served as an inspiring start to the program.

“Coming in to the academy, I was unsure of what exactly to expect,” said Littles. “However, I can say that after completing just the opening retreat in Athens, it has exceeded my expectations. I’ve not only met but have genuinely connected with women that I’ve never met a day in my life. I’m looking forward to spending the coming months with these ladies and sharpening my professional sword.”

This year’s Lynda Brannen Williamson Women’s Leadership Academy runs through May 2018.