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Leadership DeKalb County focuses on future

In 2014, Brian Baine was working hard to revamp something that Dekalb County had been missing for years: a leadership program for adults in the area. One established in the early 1990s had died out around 2008.

Baine knew that it needed to make a comeback. After months of hard work, the program, Leadership Dekalb County, was reborn.

Baine, Leadership Dekalb County’s president and six-year board member, said the program allows local leaders and citizens the opportunity to “discuss the future of Dekalb County.”

 Each year, 17-25 students take part in the program, which consists of nine classes that explore subjects designed to make participants more familiar with the county, including topics such as “Media and Local Government” and “Tourism”. These classes include guest speakers and field trips for even more hands-on instruction.

Requirements also include engaging with local government by attending school board meetings or other city events.

Another key facet of the program is service projects. Each class works together to organize a project that helps serve the greater Dekalb County community. According to Baine, past projects have included building a boardwalk for one of the county’s state parks, building a back porch for a housing unit at a local rehabilitation facility, and holding a county-wide litter pick-up day to clean the streets.

These events are important to Baine because he feels that “leaders are the ones to get in there and help where we lack.”

Jennifer McCurdy, a former participant in the program and current director of the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce, said these events helped her learn important lessons about leadership such as the importance of delegating responsibility, adding that she learned that “you can’t do it all.”

 McCurdy said that the classes allowed her to get a truer glimpse into all that her home county has to offer. Despite growing up in the area, she did not get a good picture of the diversity in tourism, business, and other aspects of community until participating in Leadership Dekalb County.

Knowledge of the county is not the only thing that the program allows participants to gain. A very important part of the program, said Baine, is bringing leaders together, which “gives them the ability to network with each other.”

McCurdy also emphasized the importance of the “professional and personal relationships” she developed through the program, especially with the other women in her class who consistently helped support her when things got hard.

These relationships, along with the program’s classes, allowed her to “identify who will step up in their community and continue to lead” in the future.

Eventually, Baine said he hopes that the program can expand. Youth and teens are Leadership Dekalb’s next target. Baine said getting a youth program started has been discussed. In Fort Payne specifically, McCurdy said one program for youth 18-35 called Rising Leaders of Dekalb encourages business networking within the community.

Many of the current participants in these types of programs come from employers in the Fort Payne area who send employees to gain skills in leadership that strengthen the business.

However, both Baine and McCurdy said they would like to see more participation from all communities across the county, rural and urban alike. McCurdy said she would like to see young adults get involved because “now is your time to step up and strike.”

Both Being McCurdy and Baine said their participation has shaped their views of what being a leader means. For Baine, it is simple. He said, “A leader is someone who leads. If you aren’t willing to get out and do these things yourself, you become more like a boss.”

 He added that being a leader also means “listening to both sides of the situation” as many people “just want their voice to be heard.”

McCurdy added that she thinks it is vital to “let other people lead” and empower those around you to become leaders.  She said that she sometimes believes that local leaders across the country are scared to confront the most pressing community issues with action, adding that honest communication is key because “people are so much happier with transparency.”

Above all, she encourages leaders of Dekalb County to “do what is right in your heart for the people.”