GREENFIELD — Of all the things Jamie Bell might have expected out of a seemingly routine Wednesday morning seminar with city and county officials, being attacked by a police dog was not one of them.
As his Leadership Hancock County classmates looked on from a safe distance below, there Bell stood on a mezzanine above the meeting room in a defensive position with legs spread and knees bent. Bak the K9 lunged for the bite sleeve protecting his left hand and arm.
Bell held his ground as the Shepherd mix used his full weight to try and gain control of the sleeve, one of his favorite toys.
Bell was never in real danger, though. Bak’s handler, Patrolman Jerami Summers of the Greenfield Police Department, had firm hold of Bak’s leash during the demonstration, clearly the highlight of the morning session at the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center.
This is the 17th year for the Leadership Hancock County class, a program that seeks to cultivate leadership abilities and volunteerism among emerging leaders in the county. Most students are enrolled by their employers.
Interest in the program has only grown. One thing it has proved to even the most Hancock County-savvy student: There is always more to learn about the community in which you live, and there is always more you can give to it.
Three of Wednesday’s speakers – Hancock County Commissioner Derek Towle; Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd; and Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce President Retta Livengood – are LHC alumni and stood as testaments to the program’s success.
Even more interesting, Towle and Livengood each earned their class’s highest honor: the Excellence in Leadership Award voted on by their classmates.
Towle was in the class of 1998, prior to much of his community involvement. Livengood was already president of the Chamber and of the Greenfield-Central School Board when she enrolled. But it had no less effect on her.
“I was born and raised here, and I didn’t think I needed to take it,” Livengood said. “But I learned a lot about the county and met many people I’d never met before.
“It made me stop and think about the importance of a leadership role, trying to be the best leader you can be, learning about your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a wonderful program, and I tell everyone who will listen about it.”
She was obviously sold.
Or as she put it during her lively Wednesday presentation to the class about the Chamber: “I drank the Kool-Aid.”
Despite his K9 encounter, Jamie Bell, a Greenfield native, has drunk at least half the Kool-Aid during his six weeks in LHC.
“I’ve lived here 43 years, and I’ve learned things I didn’t know,” said Bell, a manager for NineStar Connect. “One of the biggest things is it’s an excellent networking tool. We can lean on each other if we have issues to solve.”
For Janet Strauch, Leadership Hancock County offers an opportunity to learn more about the county she has worked in for 21 years but only lived in for six years.
The director of laboratory services at Hancock Regional Hospital and former Pendleton and Noblesville resident said she’s had several opportunities to take the class and finally felt she had the time to do it.
“It helps me feel connected to the community,” she said. “The first day we went to the park (Chapel in the Park), and learned so much about the history. The one about nonprofits was great. I knew some existed but learned how I can serve. I didn’t know what the commissioners do. We elect them but we really don’t know what they do. Now I know, and how they interact (with other county departments).”
On Wednesday, she was shocked to learn, through Greenfield Parks Department Director Ellen Kuker, that Beckenholdt Park on the city’s north side is a public park.
“I’ve driven by it many times and it just looked like it was private,” she said.
Leslie Melton is an office manager with Hancock Physician Network, which she said encourages its managers to become involved in the community “in any way we can.”
Melton has often encountered indigent patients in need of local services, but she didn’t know how to help them. Now, to her relief, she does.
“I often run into patients in dire straits. It’s good to know about the soup kitchen, the food pantry and all the nonprofits. It’s good to know that I can send them to the right place for help.”
LHC graduate, board member and volunteer Paula Jarrett, Hancock County area director of United Way of Central Indiana, helped put together Wednesday’s government program.
She said employers of all stripes – private, not-for-profit, life services and government – continue to send employees through the program.
“It’s exciting,” Jarrett said. “There’s no better feedback than they keep sending people each year.”
The networking, she said, is invaluable, and is no doubt a boon to business.
“I do business today with the majority of people I was in class with,” Jarrett said.
But three aspects of the class stand out in Jarrett’s mind.
First is the increased knowledge of county history and how government works.
Second is the increased confidence in leadership skills through increased knowledge about how to work with others. “Some people are already budding leaders, and it makes them stronger,” said Jarrett.
Third is encouraging people to become more involved in community service.
“We stress community service, especially with nonprofits. Many of them already do, and our hope is they will go on and keep volunteering.”
Leadership Hancock County community service projects
Each year, the Leadership Hancock County class breaks up into groups that choose a community service project to carry out. Following are the projects and participating class members for this year’s class:
School Bus Cameras
This group is studying the idea of installing stop-arm traffic cameras on school buses to record videos of violators who drive past buses that are picking up or dropping off students. The group also is studying the idea of a law that would charge fines of violators to help pay for the equipment, plus deter drivers from ignoring bus stops.
Leadership team: Tania Cruser, Edward Jones; Troy Griesmeyer, Greenfield Banking Co.; Ross Ferson, NineStar Connect; Leslie Melton, Hancock Physicians Network; Tandy Paarlberg, Elanco Animal Health.
Nameless Creek Youth Camp
This group will help the youth camp in Blue River Township create a marketing strategy to assess needs and outreach.
Leadership team: Jamie Bell, NineStar Connect; Jeff Delp, Ricoh-USA; Susan Davis, Greenfield Banking Co.; Devon Brown, Family Fun & Fitness
Tangram, a nonprofit agency that helps people with disabilities live independently, is pursuing an initiative that will promote the employment of individuals with disabilities, including disabled veterans, by forming collaborative partnerships with corporations and small- to mid-size businesses, helping them create internal employment outreach strategies to the disability community.
Leadership team: Kelly Buzan, Alternatives Inc.; Josh Daugherty, PNC Bank; Polly Fox, Edward Jones; Janet Strauch, Hancock Regional Hospital; Kyle Turpin, Hancock County Public Library
This group is researching the feasibility of building an arena at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds. Also in the scope for this project is the identification of possible funding sources.
Leadership team: Lori Cooley, Hancock Regional Hospital; Jane Smith, Daily Reporter; Candy Trout, Elanco Animal Health; Kara Harrison, Mental Health America of Hancock County