A region cannot thrive without strong leaders, and organizations must always be looking ahead to those who will carry the torch forward.

Thus was the desire of community leaders Cathy Gifford, Debbie Thomas and Lance Lanier, who in 1998 set out to start Leadership Crawford County (LCC). After attending the Van Buren 2010 Vision Fair, they visited leadership programs in other areas to decide on the programming for our own. In the summer of 1999, the first class of LCC was announced, and 20 years later, the program is still going strong.

Each spring applications are submitted and class rosters selected for the next group of LCC participants. With class sizes at around 25, the students spend roughly 10 months diving into the history of Crawford County, along with government, education, volunteerism, public safety, tourism and more.

In 2012, Janet Petty was one of the participants of LCC, and upon graduating from the program, joined the staff to become Coordinator. Petty spent years overseeing the administrative work for the program and in 2018 became the official leader.

Petty says for the most part the class sessions have not changed over the past 20 years. The LCC leaders have built great relationships with session teachers and always receive positive reviews from students after each session.

LCC has taken suggestions into consideration, including the expansion of history day to include part of it during the program’s opening retreat, and by allowing the sessions to have a more casual, conversational feel versus a lecture-style setting.

Community awareness plays a huge role in the education and understanding participants receive. During this session, the class visits locations such as Abilities Unlimited to learn more about the services provided. Abilities Unlimited clients have taken the time to make and serve lunch for the LCC class, utilizing the skills learned through AU programs while enjoying the interaction and time spent together.

Another aspect of LCC that bonds classmates is a group project, with an aim to research, discover and solve a problem found in Crawford County. Groups are placed together based on various personalities, creating an environment that allows members to celebrate each other’s strengths. Groups are encouraged to go to great lengths in researching their projects and finding solutions. At the end of the program, every group presents their projects to a panel of judges, with the winner being rewarded.

Past projects have included such ideas as: a county dump, community centers, entertainment needs and increasing eye exam availability in local schools. Several group presentations have come to fruition due to the research and work involved, allowing community leaders to see and fulfill the need in our county.

Leadership Crawford County offers attendees more than just a greater knowledge of our area. Networking with other local professionals, gaining a wider audience for their business, connecting with session speakers and the resources they offer and gaining a deeper relationship with others you may not have otherwise ever met are a few of the benefits one can find through LCC.

Through learning more about areas such as government and non-profits, LCC students have found where they fit in around the community, often going on to serve on boards or even in the case of one student, running and being elected as a state representative.

The class for the 20th year of Leadership Crawford County has been selected and will be announced in August with the sessions running from September to May.

In May 2020, nominations will begin for the next class. Nomination information will be available on the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce website when the time comes.

For more information on Leadership Crawford County, please call the Chamber at 479-474-2761.