GREENFIELD — This year’s Leadership Hancock County class came together nine months ago as strangers, but they gathered to celebrate Wednesday night as friends.
Twenty class members and the leadership team gathered in Greenfield at Overlook at Briney Creek to celebrate the group’s graduation and hear the results of this year’s leadership projects.
This was the 25th graduating class for Leadership Hancock County, which exists to create and connect effective leaders throughout the county.
Each year, the class is divided into teams which complete a variety of service projects throughout the county.
“It’s so amazing to see the class projects come to fruition and the class to grow stronger together,” said Jason Wells, Leadership Hancock County’s executive director.
This year’s projects included creating food lockers at the Hope House, generating program awareness for the county’s Sexual Assault Response Team, creating a sensor garden, and collecting gently-used sports equipment for underprivileged kids.
“These were some of the best projects we’ve ever had. There’s not one this year that I don’t think is spectacular,” said Nicole Mann, president of Leadership Hancock County, who has served on the leadership team ever since graduating from the class in 2017.
Mann, who manages the Jane Pauley Community Health Center in Greenfield, said the leadership class is designed to make a positive impact on the county for future generations.
“I’m extremely passionate about growing and teaching leaders,” she said. “Any leaders in this county that we can retain, I’m all for building them up and getting them to stay here because that only makes Greenfield and Hancock County a better place.”
Over the course of nine months, the class introduces participants not only to teach other, but to a variety of leaders and officials throughout the county. Mann said the class provides the unique opportunity to get a glimpse of how a number of city and county departments operate, in addition to connecting with a number of individuals, organizations and businesses throughout the county.
“You learn all about the county and its origins all while making connections and developing leadership skills. It’s a vital experience for anyone who aspires to be a leader in this county,” she said.
Trey Edwards, a sergeant at the Hancock County Jail, said experiencing the leadership class over the past nine months has made him a better leader and helped him to feel more connected in the county.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to expand my leadership abilities and learn from other people in the community on how to be a better leader,” he said. “It was great networking with a lot of people who I didn’t know in the community, learning about what they do and finding ways that we might be able to connect and help each other in our roles down the road.”
Melissa Ham, Safe Families Coordinator for Love INC in Greenfield, also had a positive experience in this year’s class.
“Getting to know other nonprofit directors and getting to network with them is such a great opportunity in the nonprofit world,” she said. “We all kind of run in the same circles, and I feel like through this class we were able to get to know one other on a deeper level.”
She said the same was true for classmates outside of the nonprofit world, as well.
While the annual leadership class has often pulled from a number of large local employers — like Hancock Health, NineStar Connect and the Hancock Public Library — Wells said it was exciting to see a record number of participants from local nonprofits and small businesses this year.
“We had more nonprofits and local small businesses attend this year than we’ve ever had, which was really cool to see. It’s all about networking and getting all these different leaders connected and working together,” he said.
Mann would love to see Leadership Hancock County grow and welcome an even more diverse group of leaders in the future.
“I would like to pull more people in from factories, small businesses — anyone who is interested in cultivating their leadership skills,” she said.
Donnie Munden, day shift commander for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, said it’s been exciting to see the class generate dozens of local leaders in the 12 years he’s served on Leadership Hancock County’s advisory board.
Wednesday’s celebration was bittersweet for Munden, whose term as president emeritus is coming to an end.
He has confidence the board will continue to prosper as they connect and lead a new class of leaders year after year. “The impact this class has on the county is amazing,” he said.
Wednesday’s celebration culminated with the presentation of this year’s Stacia Alyea Excellence in Leadership Award, named for an inaugural class member who was killed in the line of duty as a deputy with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.
This year’s recipient was Aimee Herring, Hancock County’s chief deputy prosecutor, who was selected by fellow class members for demonstrating a balanced commitment to work, home and activities along with a dedication to improving the lives of others.