4:08 p.m., May 19, 2009----Twelve new participants in the second class of LEADelaware met for the first time as a group for a three-day session, May 13-15, and immediately began building their leadership skills by climbing ladders, framing walls and raising roofs to help build a Habitat for Humanity residence near Seaford.
The exercise launched the beginning of their two-year tenure as LEADelaware fellows, and in the process, highlighted a key leadership characteristic -- giving back to the community.
LEADelaware -- sponsored by the University of Delaware's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UD Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture -- seeks to build the next generation of leaders within the food, fiber and natural resources industries in Delaware.
Karen Breeding, an agriscience teacher at Woodbridge High School in Bridgeville, Del., began her career as a carpentry and wood science educator, so being on Habitat for Humanity site with hammer in hand felt natural.
“I love it,” she said of the construction experience. “This was easy.” What may be more challenging, Breeding said, is developing the listening skills necessary to be an effective leader.
Three of the 12 participants were randomly chosen to be crew leaders on the Habitat for Humanity site. For this exercise, Breeding was not selected to lead, a role she is used to as an educator.
“Sometimes we tend not to listen to each other. This training will help us learn to do that,” Breeding reflected. She looks forward to developing skills that will help her become flexible and adjust to new situations easier, and to passing on the skills she learns to her FFA students and professional colleagues. “You've got to keep working on things,” she added. “Learning is a lifelong event.”
Jeff Niethammer, construction manager for the Habitat for Humanity project, presented each crew leader with what he considered to be an excellent, good or fair outcome for a day's worth of work. Each team leader decided on what standard to achieve and set about working toward that goal for their team. How well they communicated and listened to each other will be part of later reflection and discussion as a group.
Cory Atkins, a recent college graduate and farmer in Laurel, Del., learned about the program through Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee. Before he retired as UD Cooperative Extension specialist, Kee was leader of the inaugural LEADelaware class and encouraged Atkins to enroll.
Each LEADelaware fellow invests a personal time commitment in addition to a $1,500 tuition fee for the two-year period. Atkins wants a significant outcome from his LEADelaware experience, one that he hopes will be an eye-opening adventure in receiving new ideas. “I hope to meet a lot of new people, and stop to see, listen to what they say, live like they live and not jump to conclusions,” Atkins said.
Adjusting and adapting to unexpected situations is a theme that LEADelaware mentors want to convey to their class. LEADelaware leaders include Bill McGowan, UD Cooperative Extension community development agent in Sussex County, Tom Ilvento, chairperson of UD's Department of Food and Resource Economics, and Laurie Wolinski, UD Cooperative Extension associate in food and resource economics and a graduate of the first LEADelaware class.
Wolinski is looking forward to watching each member of the second class evolve, as she did, through the leadership training process. “I have great expectations for them over the next two years,” Wolinski said. “This is a diverse group of farmers, teachers, agriculture professionals, men and women.”
Prior to her LEADelaware experience, Wolinski said she preferred working in the background, out of the limelight. “I am more confident now,” she said.
Ilvento watched as his second class of future leaders worked in unison as a team, carrying two by fours, reaching for a tool or contemplating their next move. “They are building more than a house, this first session,” Ilvento said. “Participating in this construction site also builds a sense of camaraderie. They've been wonderful -- no hesitation about taking on this project which is remarkable, because this challenges us as a group. And the chance to do contribute something for the community was a bonus.”
The initial idea to lead through community service was a collaborative one between McGowan and long time friend Mike Nally, who is a partner in a consulting group, Lead Your Way Solutions, which focuses on leadership training.
Nally explained that being a leader is something that an individual consciously chooses to undergo -- to take responsibility for becoming a change agent. At this Habitat Humanity site, the three construction crews are beginning a new process.
“They are building psychological hardiness and a foundation to engage,” Nally said, adding that they are forever changed by the experience. “Now, whenever they see the phrase Habitat for Humanity, it will mean something to them. They come away from the leadership exercise thinking -- I can change something. I am responsible for it.”
Article by Michele Walfred
Photo by Danielle Quigley