Developing leaders in community service

Published 9:36 pm Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Most folks, unfortunately, don’t have the perspective to truly grasp all of the factors that influence life in a city the size of Suffolk. People get caught up in the minutia of their daily lives, and they often don’t have the time or inclination to learn about the things that don’t impact them directly.

They know a little about the school system if they have children being educated there, and they know a little about taxes. Maybe they’ve come into contact with the city’s emergency services, or they’ve enjoyed the offerings of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. But it is a rare citizen who can claim to be knowledgeable about the vast array of services that is available or the many programs that are in place to improve the quality of life for the folks who live within the city’s borders.

But one of the keys to civic engagement is having knowledge and an understanding of the resources available within one’s community, as well as the challenges and opportunities along the horizon. Informed citizens choose better leaders, offer better advice to those leaders and are themselves invaluable resources for their neighbors and friends.

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That’s why programs such as the Suffolk Leadership Academy are so vital to a vibrant community. The 11-week program wrapped up its most recent session on Monday with a graduation ceremony for 14 participants — business, government and community leaders with a love of Suffolk and a desire to learn more about how they can be engaged in the constant improvement of their hometown.

Participants learned about Suffolk’s history, government, economic development, agriculture, education, volunteer opportunities and more from people who are directly involved in those facets of the community. They shadowed city leaders in various jobs. And they were encouraged to use the things they had learned to find a niche within Suffolk from which they could make a difference for their city and its residents.

These most recent graduates join 250 others who have completed the program since it was started by the late Dr. George H. Barnett. Suffolk is blessed to have such a program, and the city should be proud of those who care enough to participate in it.