VIRTUAL DILEMMA: Leadership class postponing its 25th anniversary year

Leadership Hancock County coordinator Jason Wells addresses members of the 2019-20 class at their retreat last fall. The Class of 2020 was cut short in its studies, and there will be no class this year, although the program plans to present a number of seminars online, Wells said. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter) File photo

HANCOCK COUNTY — The Leadership Hancock County program is the latest casualty of COVID-19.

This fall would have kicked off the 25th year for the popular program, which nurtures emerging leaders in the community and fosters networking skills.

Leaders decided Wednesday to forego this year’s program due to safety concerns surrounding the ongoing pandemic.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

“We discussed the challenges — what are the benefits and what are the risks — and decided there were just too many risks to carry out the year,” program coordinator Jason Wells said.

Classes typically meet once a month from September through May, during which class members study various aspects and issues in the county. They also explore leadership concepts and are encouraged to become active in the community and in their own organizations.

The program has welcomed a new class every year since 1995.

While disappointed, Wells and fellow program leaders are determined to still make the most of the coming year, albeit virtually.

They plan to stick with the tried-and-true curriculum that has been used the past several years, focusing on a different aspect of county leadership each month.

Program alumni, future class members and the public in general are invited to follow the virtual classes this year on Facebook Live.

Wells hopes the free streaming events can help alumni get reconnected while giving potential new members a free sampling of what the leadership class is all about.

“We want to keep the momentum going. We’re driven to make sure we still keep the community involved and connected with Leadership Hancock County,” Wells said.

“Our alumni are our biggest advocates. We really want people to see and know who we are and what our goals are, and how we can benefit the community. It’s really all about networking, community service and leadership.”

Erika Whittington, a marketing coordinator at NineStar in Greenfield, said she cherished the opportunity to grow and learn as a member of the 2020 class, which consisted of two dozen emerging leaders.

“I learned a lot about the history of Hancock County as well as what’s going on in our current state. It was a great experience that I recommend to anyone, whether you grew up here or are new to the community,” she said.

Typically, the leadership classes hold a graduation celebration at the end of the program’s year in May, but last year’s season was abruptly upended with the onset of the pandemic in March.

The Class of 2020 suspended the year and postponed its graduation dinner, which was scheduled for May.

Earlier this week, they finally reconvened for a socially distanced celebration at the Overlook at Briney Creek in Greenfield.

“It was a way of putting a bow on the year, since things were disrupted so quickly back in the spring,” Wells said.

Graduates received a book on leadership as a graduation gift from the program’s board of directors, and the group celebrated this year’s Stacia Alyea Excellence in Leadership award winner, Jane Barton.

The award is given to a member of each graduating class, as voted on by their peers. The honor was created to honor Alyea, who was a member of Leadership Hancock County’s inaugural class of 1996.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy was killed just a month before the class ended while she was in pursuit of a drunken driver.

Her leadership class created the Excellence in Leadership Award to honor her memory, to recognize an individual from each class who shows outstanding leadership qualities.

Barton is senior marketing manager at the Daily Reporter.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Learn more” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

To learn more about Leadership Hancock County, as well as its upcoming Facebook Live events, follow the group on Facebook and visit