LHA creates leadership cohorts to serve the Harrisburg community

Story By Deborah Lynch
Photo by Todd Gearhart for Leadership Harrisburg Area

Each year for the past 35 years, Leadership Harrisburg Area has welcomed another class into its rigorous nine-month Community Leadership Series training program — that’s more than 1,500 graduates since it started. Una Martone, president and CEO of LHA, says those graduates today are serving the community in a variety of ways — running boards of directors, leading corporations and large educational organizations, running non-profits, and pulling the community together.

“The fingerprints of Leadership Harrisburg Area alumni are all over the Capital region,” she said. “They individually and collectively change and improve lives through leadership and service.”

LHA programs cover the systems that affect the quality of life in the Capital region, encompass a broad geography (Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties), and facilitate experiences that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. LHA’s mission is to be a resource that matches people with opportunities to serve the community. That is accomplished by teaching servant leadership and effective community service. LHA’s vision is an improved quality of life where all can experience their fullest potential, according to Martone.

The Community Leadership Series training involves more than 100 hours of educational and experiential work. Some of that means teaching trainees everything about the region, from demographics to history to challenges and opportunities. Participants get hands-on experience working on a team project with a non-profit organization.

The class that graduated in May was working to explore an arts collective that might benefit the local arts community. The goal is to help connect arts groups and individuals so that they can take advantage of resources like capital, physical space, and audiences. By helping artists, the trainees concluded, the region would also benefit from both tourism dollars and increased quality of life. Another team project involved helping nonprofits to engage volunteers and increase their number of volunteers.

To better understand how to form an arts collective and the potential benefits of having one, the leadership class invited Sharia Benn, a local arts leader, to talk about how collaborations such as having someone who knows how to write grants, an organization that knows how to get volunteers and hold events,  or a group good at outreach, have helped. This allowed the trainees to see how similar collaborations might work for the arts community.

Because trainees are not themselves artists, they also needed to meet with artists to better understand their needs and why past collectives have failed. They held an online forum of individuals, organizations, and patrons from the arts community to gather ideas about wants, needs, ideas, and skills. They created an outline for a possible collective that includes recommendations from lawyers, financial advisers willing to help set up an endowment, and even a cohort member whose law firm gave the green light to help establish the collective if he gauges enough interest from the arts community.

“One of the things we’ve heard pretty loudly from people: a lot of artists don’t have an interest in the business side of things; they don’t want to make websites, submit grants and proposals, etc.,” recent LHA graduate Kim Pottinger, IT Manager for HM Health Solutions and President of Junior League of Harrisburg, said, adding that her cohort learned what some logistical problems could be and was able to challenge patrons who participated.

“While we aren’t artists ourselves, we all enjoy art, we understand the struggle, and we are passionate about bringing this to the community,” Pottinger said.

Another team project of the 2021 Leadership Training Cohort involved helping nonprofits to engage volunteers and increase their participation. “So many nonprofit organizations in the mid-state had been negatively impacted as a result of the pandemic,” said TaWanda Stallworth, individual giving coordinator for POWER Interfaith. “Many relied on in-person events to be able to do much of their work, including recruiting volunteers. Being able to provide this virtual volunteer recruitment experience allowed for nonprofits to make very necessary connections to continue the fabulous work that they are doing.”

The cohort had subcommittees that focused on venue and logistics, market and sponsorships, nonprofit and participant onboarding, individual participant acquisitions, and financial — all topics that were then covered with and for participants in the virtual volunteer fair to help the nonprofit organizations (33 percent of which serve those in poverty) move forward in their missions despite constrictions of the pandemic. 

LHA evolved from the Harrisburg Regional Chamber board’s desire to start a leadership training program 35 years ago. While it is completely separate from the Chamber today, the two organizations enjoy collaboration and “definitely have a similar footprint,” according to Martone. “We’re coming at it from different angles. We’re developing leaders; they’re developing economic programs.”

Multiple training programs exist within LHA — the Community Leadership Series (core program), an Executive Leadership program, a servant leadership training called Beyond Leadership, Board Strong, a video training program for new and potential board members, DEI training, and ACES, an Alumni Circle Enrichment Series, which consists of small groups of alumni. The Community Leadership Series is designed for rising professionals who are ambassadors for their organizations. A benefit of going through the LHA training program is to make connections with like-minded classmates on similar trajectories. The trainees work together on their community service project.

Employers or organizations (both nonprofit and for-profit) identify employees they think would benefit from the program, and the individuals then submit applications to LHA. Each incoming class has between 30 and 50 people that go through training as a cohort.

Pottinger sought out LHA to help her better understand how to train leaders, a role she will play as president of Junior League of Harrisburg, whose mission is twofold:  to train women leaders in the community and to create volunteer opportunities for women in the community. The Harrisburg chapter, she said, focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty, especially for women and children in the community, and works together with other community organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Covid made working as a cohort a bit more difficult for the LHA class that started in September 2020 and graduated in May. The group was split in half and met in different rooms, socially-distanced, and masked. For a time, training went virtual. 

A session was held each month with a separate focus and expert speaker for each. Topics included education; human services; demographics and diversity/equity/inclusion; arts, culture and recreation; and other areas of public life. There were also field trips for volunteers in those areas. Throughout the nine-month training program, participants gained insights on servant leadership, which Martone defines as being “more rooted in individual relationships,” adding that servant leaders “influence, empower, and help develop others to reach their fullest potential.” 

Stallworth said that completing the Community Leadership Series during Covid and the unrest of 2020-21 was a unique experience that allowed the cohort to delve into subjects that challenged their core beliefs. “We would engage in weighty dialogue that, oftentimes, revealed the division that has become quite common in our country,” she said. “However, we didn’t allow those divergent thoughts and beliefs to stand in the way of us doing what we needed to do to keep each other safe and create substantive relationships with people who think differently, because our chief priority is keeping each other and our families safe while praying that, from month to month, we will see each other again, if even on a zoom screen, healthy and well.”

The Executive Leadership series is for people already in leadership positions, such as those new to the area or new to their position, or those in need of seeing how all the community systems work together. It’s a condensed version of the Community Leadership Series and doesn’t include a service project.

The Alumni Circle breaks into smaller groups of graduates who meet monthly for continued leadership development — an offshoot for grads so the program doesn’t have to end, Martone said. One of those groups read The Servant Leader’s Manifesto by Omar Harris, and because they “enjoyed his book so much and it resonated so much,” Martone looked into having him speak to the 2021 graduating class (see related story, Page 31).

Now that she’s an alumni of LHA, Pottinger says she will look to the Alumni Circle group next year. “The connections we make are awesome,” she said. “There’s a lot of peer coaching in the alumni group — for me at work, we have structured coaching. I love the idea of peer coaching, talking through things, brainstorming, …”

Pottinger already sees the value of her LHA training for her new role with Junior League of Harrisburg, and she’s also appreciating the benefits at the office after working with her diverse LHA cohort that included lawyers, marketing directors, graphic designers, teachers, and more. “It’s really inspiring to see how people from those different backgrounds came together and everyone had a different perspective — that helped make us successful. It really helped me as a manager to encourage my team to make sure we’re hearing all the opinions.”

For more information on Leadership Harrisburg Area, visit its website at www.leadershipharrisburg.org