O'Fallon Progress

Through institute, chamber hopes to train and retain community leaders in O’Fallon

Hoping our best and brightest will take root here and contribute, the Leadership Institute works to cultivate the next generation of community leaders.

The program through the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce will begin its third nine-month class in January. Applications are due Nov. 19.

The “Lead In” offers young adults skills necessary to hopefully make a difference in their local community – both professionally and personally. Those who wish to participate must be between ages 21 and 40 who live or work in either O’Fallon or Shiloh.

“They do not have to be a chamber member to apply,” said Jessica Lotz, the chamber’s special events planner. She coordinates the program.

Lotz said they hope to attract people who want to become more active in their local community and volunteer for civic organizations. Their motto is: Connect. Emerge. Equip. Lead.”

Ideal candidates are young leaders who are involved and desire to enhance their career, network with other young professionals and become engaged where they live or work.

Also known as “Lead In,” the chamber graduated its second class of last month. Class size is limited to 20 each year. The group meets for four hours once a month from January through September. Lotz said it is usually the third or fourth Wednesday of the month.

Lotz is a former president and board member of the chamber. She was the youngest board member at age 25 and served for nine years, and as an officer for the last four before taking on the job.

“We want to recognize people’s strengths. The goal is to identify people who would be good in community service, to get them more involved,” she said.

“We noticed that young professionals don’t take traditional paths, run in traditional social/professional circles, like older people do. There was a disconnect, a gap,” she said. “I kept thinking ‘What’s Missing’?”

That’s why she helped she first helped the chamber launch a Young Professionals Group.

But she wanted a way for potential young leaders to get access to people who have been serving their community for decades and learn from them, stay here and be productive. Thus, the Leadership Institute.

The two sections they concentrate on are a community awareness track and a talent development track, strategies for the class to become more involved.

Understanding assets and resources within a community is one of the points, so that participants can think about potential solutions to problems.

They also interact with public servants and have access to community and business leaders so that they can experience hands-on learning.

“We want them to expand their understanding of people and beliefs that may be different than their own,” Lotz said. “They can break in to getting involved. They meet decision-makers.”

In the talent development segment, activities and materials are provided that are specifically aimed at enhancing strengths-based leadership, team work, critical thinking and professional growth, she said.

Recent graduate Amy Stuttle, Chief Executive Officer for Victory’s Men’s Health, said she had a positive experience.

“This was a great opportunity to connect with young, confident and passionate leaders, all striving to make an impact not only in their profession but in the community,” she said.

“Ultimately, the end result is a larger pool of emerging leaders who are committed to remaining in the area,” Lotz said. “We want them to see themselves as partners for change by serving in civic leadership positions, on non-profit boards or becoming involved in the political process.”

Applications are available on the Chamber’s website at www.OFallonChamber.com. They are confidential.

Applicants should have a record of community, school, career or personal achievements and willing to commit the necessary time to fully participate in the program, Lotz said.

Tuition is $249 tuition, which covers program costs, printed material, staff time and in some cases, light food and/or beverages. It can be paid by employers or organizations wanting a person to go through the training.

A small committee will review the pool. Those selected for next year’s class will be notified around Nov. 28.

“We get more applications than we can accept,” she said.

The graduating class is always asked for feedback.

“This is a professional opportunity to grow as many leaders as we can, to give them the tools to be a leader,” she said. “One of the hallmarks of the program is that it is a real confidence booster.”

The class has produced candidates for the O’Fallon City Council, people who are named to boards of directors and other civic opportunities.

“The outcome so far is inspiring. We have inspired people to get more involved in something,” Lotz said. “These different voices can get a seat at the table.”

One of the class perks is that a student is nominated by fellow classmates to serve on the chamber’s board for one year.

“It’s very exciting, because it’s usually someone of a different generation and demographics that we can learn from,” Lotz said.

“We’re hopeful about the impact of this program.”

The O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit business membership organization made up of 600+ members representing the local communities as well as the Metro East. The chamber has represented the interests of the local business community since 1946.

For more information, please contact the Chamber office at 618-632-3377 or visit online at OFallonChamber.com.