ELKINS - Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce members learned about a unique leadership program visiting Elkins Wednesday.
Pam Farris, of Charleston, serves as the executive director of Leadership West Virginia, a not-for-profit statewide training and professional development program. Leadership West Virginia is a statewide program to develop, strengthen and connect emerging leaders for the Mountain State.
During the eight months of training, participants in each Leadership West Virginia cohort are helped to enhance their personal leadership skills and enrich their knowledge of not only the problems facing the state, but also of its diverse and unique attributes.
"Leadership West Virginia is born out of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce," Farris said at Wednesday's Chamber meeting. "The program started in 1991. I was fortunate to go through the program in 1998. I was happy to become the director in 2001."
Farris said members roam around the state of West Virginia for eight months, expanding their personal leadership skills, enhancing professional networking skills and being exposed to issues, challenges and "wonderful things" about the state of West Virginia.
"Think about people you would want to experience that with," Farris said. "We engage in rich discussions on key issues for the state, we have an eye toward the solutions and we provide the tools to do so."
Farris said the objectives of Leadership West Virginia are to bring emerging leaders together who represent a broad spectrum of professional, personal and geographic diversity.
"We give these individuals the knowledge of specific state issues on a level and to a degree that they would not otherwise have," Farris said. "We had 51 alumni of the program come back to speak on their expertise."
"It is very important to us that we develop a core of knowledgeable, dedicated and motivated individuals that can build a state-wide network of graduates," Farris said. "Those folks truly make a difference."
Farris said it is our responsibility to activate and participate in what's good for the state and our communities.
"That is key," Farris said. "We cannot just sit back. If you take the challenge to be in the class, you need to be ready to perform."
Farris said the group travels around the state for two days a month, for a total of eight months.
"We are in a different part of the state each month, focused on an issue or topic that is important to the state of West Virginia," she said.
Executive Director Jess Arbogast said there are many members of the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber who are graduates of Leadership West Virginia.
"I am in the current Leadership West Virginia class," Arbogast said. "The 2014 Class is coming to Elkins today to begin the economic development session."
Arbogast said this year's class has 55 members.
"To be in Leadership West Virginia, you are nominated by alumni and make application," Arbogast said. "It is one of the largest classes. Members travel as a cohort throughout the state. We were just in Logan and talked about coal. We are going to the New River Gorge in June to learn about tourism. We get a taste of all of the things that are great about West Virginia and how we can continue to change the perspective of West Virginia."
Arbogast said the program's graduates learn about the problems of West Virginia and how they can be changed.
Robbie Morris, executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority, said he was part of the Leadership West Virginia class of 2009.
"Especially as a young person, when I went through the program, Leadership West Virginia helped my professional career," Morris said. "The networking and professional development opportunities were incredible. The contacts and the people I was able to meet have been invaluable to my career."
Morris said not a month goes by when he does not call someone from his Leadership Class or other people who have gone through Leadership, to ask them who to call for help or solving a problem.
"It's phenomenal," Morris said.
Robert Dunkerley, owner of Helianthus LLC and a former teacher and band director, said he was also part of the Leadership West Virginia class of 2009.
"The networking is incredible," Dunkerley said. "It opens the doors for lots of opportunities to develop additional relationships in the business world. Having spent 34 years in education, there is a need to find out more about the business world."
Dunkerley said there is a huge disconnect between the educational world and the business world.
"They talk about being connected but they are actually not developing collaboratively," Dunkerley said. "It's been a nice outlet for the development of our firm and a real positive program."
Dunkerley said he started to understand how partnerships between business and schools could benefit the entire community.
Farris was formerly employed with Wells Fargo Disability Management as a client relations manager. She is a graduate of the West Virginia University School of Business & Economics and serves on the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council Board of Directors and the West Virginia Business Volunteer Steering Council for Volunteer West Virginia. She is the past president of the Charleston Vandalia Rotary Club.
Additional information about Leadership West Virginia is available by calling 304-342-1497 or online at www.leadershipwv.org.