HANCOCK COUNTY — Who knew professional development could be so much fun?
On Thursday and Friday, a group of 20 local professionals found themselves giggling, singing and playing air guitar at random places around the county as part of Leadership Hancock County’s kickoff retreat.
This is the 25th year for the leadership program, which promotes professional development and networking while fostering connections that could last a lifetime.
The program was developed in 1996 thanks to a Lilly Endowment grant that invited counties throughout the state to start leadership development programs.
Each year, a new leadership class comes together in Hancock County from September through May, typically once a month. Class members meet at various sites to learn about multiple aspects of the county — from government to economic development to nonprofits.
Due to COVID, the 2019-20 year was cut short in early spring, and the entire class was canceled for the 2020-21 year.
Jason Wells, executive director of Leadership Hancock County, is excited to kick off what he hopes will be a fun and productive year.
“I was more excited about today than I realized,” said Wells on Thursday morning, as he gathered with fellow members of the program’s leadership team.
The program’s two-day kickoff retreat is designed to pull the participants together, he said, but members were already chattering away like old friends from the very start.
“It’s going to be a really fun group,” said Wells.
On Thursday, the class was broken into five teams of four to complete a scavenger hunt that took them throughout the county. Following an app on their phones, the teams scoured the county to learn a little bit of history and complete fun and seemingly random challenges — like finding an old VHS or cassette tape.
They were also challenged to recreate the scene from Tom Hanks film, “Cast Away,” where Wilson the volleyball floats away.
Emily Wilson hammed it up on video as she pretended to swim out after a makeshift volleyball, as seen in the film. Teams were required to submit videos of their challenges and answer various trivia questions regarding Hancock County through the app.
“I am so honored to be a part of Leadership Hancock County this year. We have an amazing group of leaders in our class, and that really shined this week,” said Wilson, an advancement officer at the Hancock County Community Foundation.
“What I enjoyed the most was being able to share my knowledge and experience in Hancock County with those that are newer to our community. I also found that I learned some things about Hancock County that I did not know, so it was fun to be able to see different parts of the community and learn new things,” she said.
While the scavenger hunt challenges were designed to be silly, Wells said they’re created to let the class members have fun while sparking connections that will hopefully last a long time.
It’s not unusual to have classmates eventually serve together in civic organizations and nonprofit boards, even in the workplace, thanks to connections made in the program, he said.
While this week’s leadership retreat was disguised as fun, Wells said the whole program is designed to promote network and leadership development.
“There’s no other local program out there right now on leadership development, and workplaces are often so busy they don’t have time to focus on it,” said Wells, a registered nurse who serves as director of excellence at Hancock Regional Hospital. “That’s what this program provides.”
It’s also a great way to introduce local professionals to the civic and non-profit organizations in the county, said Nicole Mann, president of the Leadership Hancock County board.
“Oftentimes, without going through this program, many people don’t know that these nonprofits in our community even exist,” said Mann, who manages the Jane Pauley Community Health Center in Greenfield.
Mann said connecting leadership class members with local nonprofits is a great way to send capable professionals out in the community. “If you don’t know what the needs are, you can’t help,” she said.
Class members are required to attend a board meeting of two local nonprofits by the end of the nine-month class. Many go on to volunteer for local nonprofits and even serve on their boards, said Mann, who was part of the 2016-17 leadership class.
George Plisinski, who also serves on the Leadership Hancock County board of directors, said going through the class in 2017-18 opened his eyes to the inner workings and needs of the county, which inspired him to run for Greenfield City Council in 2019.
“In nine months you learn a summary of nearly everything you need to know about the county,” said Plisinski, director of telecom operations at NineStar Connect, who intends to run for re-election in 2023.
“Getting leaders like George connected with the community is what this program is all about,” Wells said.
At a glance
The 25th year of Leadership Hancock County kicked off this week with a two-day retreat, which included a scavenger hunt that sent class members on a fact-finding mission throughout the county.
Following is a list of members of the Class of 2021-22, including their places of employment:
Brandon Badger — City of Greenfield
Veronica Birmingham — Hancock County Public Library
Ashlee Burke — Jane Pauley Community Health Center
Shaun Childress — Amos Exteriors
Trey Edwards — Hancock County Sheriff’s Department
Alyssa Fearnow — Greenfield Banking Co.
Kerry Grass — Erlewein Mortuary/Greenfield city councilman
Melissa Ham — LOVE Inc.
Aimee Herring — Hancock County prosecutor’s office
Monica Jeter — Lauth Communities
Brian Lott — Greenfield Fire Territory
Beth Marsh — Bookkeeping Plus
Cindy Miller — Hancock Hope House
Brandy Mills — Greenfield Banking Co.
Dillon Painter — Hancock Health
Whitney Speicher — Hancock Health
Rebekah Steele — Alternatives, Inc.
Crystal Wiley — Zoey’s Place
Jannel Wilhelm — Hancock Health
Emily Wilson — Hancock County Community Foundation
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Leadership Hancock County celebrates 25th anniversary – nonenglishfeed