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  • Writer's pictureCameron Cochran

Leadership Program Wraps Up 18-Month Classes

Posted Sunday, June 2, 2019

By Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Daily Times

Wilson’s exclusive leadership development program wrapped up the second batch of lessons with a discussion with former Golden Leaf Foundation president Dan Gerlach.

“Through Mr. Gerlach’s discussion with the class, I think our participants gained a broader understanding for Wilson’s future opportunities and connections to our region of North Carolina,” said Wilson Forward Executive Director Paula Benson. “He also shared his perspective of how leaders can assess opportunities presented in their professional leadership roles as well as those presented to the greater community.”

The 18-month curriculum is a partnership between Wilson Forward, the Wilson Chamber of Commerce and the Wilson Economic Development Council. Ten participants attended instructional sessions like Gerlach’s on Wednesday, attended community events and conducted research on an issue concerning Wilson.

It the program’s first iteration, class members researched unemployment and presented their research during the Wilson Forward annual meeting. Chip Futrell, chairman of the Wilson County Board of Elections and director of continuing and professional education at N.C. State University, was among the first class of graduates.

“The Impact Initiative was created to develop leaders to make an impact on our community. It is doing so, but I can say that the program also made a huge impact on me,” Futrell said. “I am glad that I attended and got more out of the program than any other leadership program I have attended. Because of my participation, I can say that I am a better leader and more effective in my job and in my volunteer pursuits. I am more connected to our local community, its needs and the resources to help solve the challenges we have. I am better prepared to serve as needed, when needed, where needed in our community.”

Several members of the first Impact Initiative class serve on various boards throughout the community, and Futrell said the program fills a great void in developing leaders for those roles.

“We have leaders who have the right qualities to serve, but need to be connected to those opportunities,” he said. “The Impact Initiative is about making those connections.”

The current class is composed of leaders from the private and nonprofit sector with a range of several decades of experience. For the research topic, the group decided to investigate career exploration and skill development among middle school students. The results will be presented during the Oct. 10 annual meeting for Wilson Forward.

“Developing a strong leadership pipeline is critical to the future of any community,” Benson said. “In the first two cohorts of this program, I have been assured of our talent supply and the commitment offered by our next generation of leaders.”

Program leaders plan to tweak the curriculum slightly before recruitment in the fall for the class that will kick off around January.

“One change we don’t anticipate making is sacrificing the quality of speakers that have presented to our first two classes,” said chamber President Ryan Simons, noting presenters have included nationally recognized leaders in industry, academics, politics and the military. “Practical exercises — which are termed ‘plug-ins’ — have been led by Wilsonians in skill areas that are vital to effective leadership, such as fundraising, event planning and negotiation strategies.”

Visit or for more information and updates on the Impact Initiative.

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