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Elkhart Leadership Academy - Guiding Our Future Leaders

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The Elkhart Leadership Academy is designed to promote servant leadership through an awareness program combining key community issues and enhanced leadership skill development to advance community stewardship. The Academy provides a venue for an in-depth understanding of community issues. Participants gain awareness along with critical leadership skills, which are presented and then experienced.
Throughout the nine-month Academy, there are different focus days, which include a team-building overnight retreat; community connections; quality of life; economics/government/entrepreneurship; ethical decision making/diversity; conflict resolution/board development/problem solving; arts & culture/visionary skills; and education.
Chamber Board Chair Brian Clark, Sanders Pianowski LLP, was in the 1996-97 class. When asked how the Elkhart Leadership Academy changed his view of our community, he said, “The Leadership Academy helped me appreciate the different organizations that work on behalf of Elkhart citizens both to enhance our business environment and to enhance our community. It also helped instill in me the need to be involved in the community and give back to the community that has given so much to me and my family.”
Glen Kauffmann, Heritage Financial Group, Inc., was in the 2002-03 class. He found the Academy “broadened my horizons and knowledge of Elkhart and the organizations that operate here. It is a good way to become better acquainted with the community, local government, non-profits and the arts.”
Andrew Hicks of Warrick & Boyn was in the 2003-04 class, and has served on the Leadership Steering Council for 10 years. He was new to the community in 2003, and discovered “how much Elkhart County has to offer, especially its rich heritage, entrepreneurial spirit, and business climate.” Like Andrew, many graduates serve on the Leadership Steering Council to direct the program for future participants.
Denise Polachek, staff liaison for the Academy, notices a big difference in participants from when they begin the class and when they graduate. Their eyes are opened to how wonderful this community is, and ideas are formed as to how, as a part of the Leadership Academy, they can create ways to help make it better, she said.
Serving on Community Boards
Many Academy graduates have participated in local non-profit boards and service clubs, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Church Community Services, Downtown Elkhart Inc., Elkhart Education Foundation, Junior Achievement/Lemonade Day, Kiwanis, Loveway, Rotary, Salvation Army, United Cancer Services, United Way, Youth for Christ/Lifeline, and YWCA. Eleven graduates are on the current Chamber Board.
Chamber Council Leadership
Several graduates serve as Council Chairs and lead the Chamber’s program of work through the councils.
Steve Brown (1996-97), Annual Golf Outing
Melody Neagu (2010-11), Leadership Steering
Glen Kauffmann (2002-03), Technology
Kent Schumacher (2000-01), Transportation
Lori Snyder (1997-98), Economic Development/Legislative Affairs
Community Projects
Each class participates in projects for the betterment of the community. Some of the notable past projects:
Dart For The Arts – Run/Walk Fundraiser for the Lerner Theatre, raised $15,000
Built a home from start to finish for Habitat for Humanity
Remodeled the kitchen and provided new appliances for Tolson Center
Golf Outing for CARES / raised $10,000 for books to be given to every first grader in Elkhart Community Schools (purchased book from local author Mark Tarner - South Bend Chocolate Company)
Clothes drive and Bowl-A-Thon for the Elkhart Women’s Shelter – raised almost $11,000 in cash and collected over 400 pounds of clothes
The 2015-16 class divided into three groups to choose and complete projects.
Bashor Children’s Home - Raised funds and helped in the renovation of an emergency homeless shelter for teens. Danielle Miller, Mosaic, said she feels this is important because youth are the most worthwhile investment into our future. Others in the group are Shelly Crawford, INOVA Federal Credit Union; Lane Davis, Crowe Horwath LLP; Elizabeth Fisher, Kem Krest; and Kathryn Jones, Overhead Door Company of Mishawaka.
Five Star Life - Raised funds and renovated cabins for the youth camp in Union. Stephen Beasy, Kruggel, Lawton and Company, LLC, chose Five Star Life because “we have all struggled hiring people that have a work ethic and Five Star Life is teaching kids to be responsible and to develop a work ethic.” Others in the group are Vonda Litwiller, Elkhart Public Library; Jared Newburg, BABSCO Supply Inc.; Joshua Noakes, Kem Krest; Joshua Rohde, Yoder Oil Company, Inc.; Michael Rowland, KeyBank; and Matt Schrock, DJ Construction Co., Inc.
Ryan’s Place - Developed marketing materials, including a website and 1,500 information packets that were mailed to local businesses to raise funds towards hiring a grief counselor that speaks Spanish. Members of the group are Adam Cantwell, Welch Packaging Group Inc.; Matthew Cranny, Overhead Door Company of Mishawaka; Amanda Greene, YWCA North Central Indiana; Seth Hartman, Ancon Construction Co., Inc.; Christopher Pottratz, Warrick & Boyn, LLP; Mark Robinson, Indiana Michigan Power; and John Schmidlin, McGladrey.
The projects for this year’s class will be presented at the Elkhart Leadership Academy Graduation Luncheon on Wednesday, May 11 from 11:30 am - 1 pm at the Crystal Ballroom at the Lerner.
A Great Opportunity
Monica Abair, Valley Screen Products, was in the 2014-15 class and worked on the Women’s Shelter project. “If you have an opportunity to be in the Academy I would highly recommend it. You not only learn about the community but you will be a different person when it is over. You will see Leadership differently through Servant Leadership eyes, and knowing it is not about you, it is about the community and how you can help make a difference. You also learn a lot about collaboration.”
Burne Miller, with Troyer Group, Inc., participated in the Academy in 1996-97. “You will gain insights, network contacts, and valuable experiences. And if all goes well, you might even make some lifetime friends from it.”
Andy Kominowski, Welch Packaging, sums it up, “It is a great opportunity to learn about Elkhart and make some friends along the way.”

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