Academy builds city leaders

Published 10:51 pm Monday, December 22, 2008

When Suffolk-born Blake Baker attended the Suffolk Leadership Academy a few years ago, he was surprised at how much he didn’t know about his city.

“I was born and raised in the city of Suffolk, and I actually learned a lot about Suffolk that I didn’t know,” he said.

The tenth session of the Suffolk Leadership Academy is scheduled to commence Feb. 3. The academy, headed by the Suffolk Tomorrow organization, is designed to develop leadership skills for residents who want to serve the community, as well as fostering a better understanding of the workings of city and state government.

Email newsletter signup

The 12-session academy covers such topics as agri-business, education, transportation, volunteerism, regionalism and more. Participants take a tour of Suffolk, a field trip to Richmond to meet with legislators, and meet with area CEOs to learn how they developed their leadership skills.

The program also provides networking opportunities that can be useful in the future, said Kenda Council, who helps put together the academy.

“It provides an avenue for people to network,” she said. “It’s sort of like an introduction to the goings-on of the city, as well as things going on in the region.”

Every year, Council said, many individuals sign up for the class, and several companies send employees to take part. In addition, one student from each of the high schools participates in the class, Council said.

“The high school students bring something to the class, too, because they’re sort of coming at it with a blank slate,” she said. “It adds a nice flavor.”

For residents who are new to Suffolk or even those who have lived here their entire lives, it gives them a chance to meet the power players in Suffolk and to tap their knowledge, Council said.

“I hope that they would take the basic information that they’ve learned, and also the knowledge of the people who run each department and what they do, and try to get involved in some way or another,” Council said.

Past graduates of the academy have been appointed to city boards and commissions, have run for office or have signed up to volunteer with Suffolk agencies that need leaders.

“This sort of whets their appetite for what goes on in Suffolk, and you hope that they engage more after they graduate,” Council said.

For Blake Baker, the class taught him much that he didn’t know about his hometown, and it helped him meet the leaders he hadn’t talked to before.

“It exposed me to a number of business leaders that either came and talked or that we saw through the program,” he said. “I hadn’t ever gotten to know them, and I met them through that.

“It was good and informative and I learned right much.”

The program will be held on Tuesdays from Feb. 3 to April 28 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The cost is $350. Dinner is provided for every class. Sessions will be held in Council Chambers at 441 Market St.

For more information about Suffolk Leadership Academy, call Kenda Council at 539-8789, extension 3339, after Jan. 3. The deadline to submit your application is Jan. 30. Companies are encouraged to sponsor students.