30 years, 900 leaders

Chamber-based training program keeps on giving

"My only hope is that when the participants get out of the class, they will serve some useful purpose in the community."

That was the sentiment of Leadership Augusta inaugural class member Quincy Robertson, a former Paine College business manager, back in 1980.

It also happens to sum up the past 30 years of the chamber-based leadership program.

The anniversary was marked Saturday at a gala celebration at the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites.

Since its inception 30 years ago, more than 900 people have gone through the annual leadership building educational program or its biannual executive forum.

"There was good leadership, but there was a void and someone needed to start developing young leaders and community workers," Nan Shaefer said of the genesis of the program.

She is a 2003 graduate of Leadership Augusta and has administered it for the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce for the past three years.

Shaefer said the 10-month program takes people who are already involved in the community and gives them an educated look at it so that when they graduate, they can make decisions on where to invest their time more strategically to help Augusta.

"They leave with the responsibility of investing in the community," she said.

Some of the classes had projects that have lasting effects.

Destination 2020, a communitywide visioning initiative, was born from a Leadership Augusta class.

Shaefer said the 2003 class brought back a youth leadership program in 2005 that had died from a lack of money.

Lee Ann Caldwell, a member of the inaugural class, worked on the improvement of downtown Augusta.

"This is 1980 now, right after the malls devastated the downtown area, so we worked on ideas for downtown revitalization. One of the thrusts of that was a facade program," she said.

Building long-lasting relationships is a commonly expressed fond memory from the people who went through the program.

"You meet people not on your own path, but who become valuable partners in community service," Caldwell said.

She uses her Leadership Augusta contacts whenever she needs to find someone to help with a project or serve on a board.

Caldwell is the director of the Center for Study of Georgia History at Augusta State University and annually conducts the program's history day.

Leadership Augusta officials try to put together men and women who have a diverse mix of races and professions. Nominations are due each May 1.

There are people who apply three times before being accepted, Shaefer said.

"The real lasting effect is the people I got to know that I did not know before and the work we've been able to do together," Shaefer said. "We have people here that want to work together to make (Augusta) strong."

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