“It’s great to get to look back and see how careers have blossomed,” says Guy Occhiogrosso, of the growth of the Leadership Whatcom program.

With a history rooted in leading a community working together to make things happen, the Leadership Whatcom program works to create solid leadership skills through real-life examples in the community to continue to build and support future business and community leaders.

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Leadership Whatcom creates quality leaders through knowledge, guidance and support. Photo courtesy: Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber.

Originally started by the Whatcom Coalition of Healthy Communities to follow a historical legacy of involvement and activity in the community, Leadership Whatcom transitioned to the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce. Though the program has seen changes since, just a year ago the Chamber turned to one of the original program designers and added elements to make it a complete leadership package.

Framed in an adult education style, the program is a start-to-finish leadership program that takes attendees through leadership skills building, community awareness and local leadership with an added the element of safe and honest communication practice.

“The program is structured to educate participants in the varying skill sets of different types of leadership, framing it within the current issues of the community and then talking about it in a safe environment,” says Guy. “It’s a truly reflective opportunity when you’re building a community conversation on a specific issue.”

Guy goes on to explain that the program is for anyone that wants to invest in themselves to become a leader in the workplace, community, church, or organization. It’s a program very specific to the broad sense of leadership.

“We need quality leaders,” says Guy. “We need to build them up and support them. We need to build communication through the noise.”

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Through field trips, the Leadership Whatcom participants get hands-on experience in leadership and the community.

Part of the program includes trips to a local businesses or organizations that exemplify the leadership skills and qualities discussed in Leadership Whatcom in some way. Recently the group of participants visited Trinity Western University. During this time, they discussed mission-based leadership skills. As a part of the field trip they were able to see these leadership skills in action, a truly educational, hands-on moment.

Through the exploration of leadership skills within the program, the participants also follow and engage in one issue annually. Last year, Leadership Whatcom participants discussed, followed and engaged on the issue of housing, from housing accessibility to housing affordability. And, this year, the issue they are following and engaging is jobs, from job creation to job retention. Throughout the sessions over eleven months, the group learns to work with complex issues such as these through leveraging community assets and working with unlikely partners. They continue to apply what they’ve learned to these issues to be innovative in what it takes to create healthy communities.

Leadership Whatcom participants also explore the meaning of the difference between being an effective leader and a reflective leader. They discuss the meaning of taking a step back and taking a fresh perspective-driven look at any given situation, whether in business or in every day living. And, by putting these skills into action, Leadership Whatcom participants learn the meaning of carrying on community stewardship to protect and improve quality of life in the community.

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Participants benefit from the opportunity to discuss frankly and openly about the issues and leadership skills within Leadership Whatcom. Photo courtesy: Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber.

Each Leadership Whatcom applicant that applies to the program is reviewed and carefully selected. The program draws on experience and diversity in terms of demographics, experience and values.

Applicants are evaluated on their commitment to the community, interest in developing and applying their leadership skills,  as well as the ability to fully attend and participate in the program.

At the end of the program, the new graduates are honored at a short reception where they share their plans to actively participate in Whatcom County with their peers and audience members.

As the program continues to grow, the alumni from each year will continue to add to the development, conversation and growth of Leadership Whatcom.

“We are one community. At the end of the day, we are the ones who get to build up this community,” says Guy.

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