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Jackson, TN Program Offers Businesses, Community Opportunities

Young professionals give back through leadership development program

By Teree Caruthers on August 6, 2018

In the late 1970s, cities across the country began to look at ways to increase civic participation and train more citizens to take on leadership roles in the community. Determined that Jackson would be one of those forward-thinking communities creating strong leaders for the future, the Jackson Chamber created a task force with a mission to develop a structure and curriculum for the creation of Leadership Jackson. The program gives business professionals an opportunity to learn more about the city’s strengths and challenges and the roles they can play to solve some of the community’s problems.

Community Education

“We launched Leadership Jackson in the fall of 1979 with 28 class members. Our goal was continuous improvement, challenging ourselves to improve the program each year to make it even more effective,†says Judy Renshaw, who served as the program’s executive director until her retirement in 2015.

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“As the manager of the program, I participated in 36 class years of Leadership Jackson. Each year, I was blessed to observe 30 people from diverse backgrounds and occupations as they came together to learn about their community, both the exceptional assets and the challenges our community faces. The transformation happened when they wanted to be involved in making the community better by engaging in areas of the community they felt passionate [about], whether it was government, volunteer agencies or leading a business or industry to invest in the community. Each graduate left the program empowered, informed and ready to be engaged.”

Learning by Doing

During the three-month program, participants meet with area leaders, network with other professionals and attend workshops to explore areas impacting the community, such as education and health care. Each Leadership Jackson class also completes a group community service project. The 1982 Leadership Jackson was instrumental in establishing a Crimestoppers program in Jackson. Another class helped the local school system develop a social media marketing plan. Yet another helped build benches at bus stops, and other classes have renovated rooms at the Dream Center, a transition residence for women and children.

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“Leadership Jackson is a great resource for members of the community who want to get involved but don’t know where to start,†says Brandy Stutsman, manager of Leadership Development for the Jackson Chamber. “My hope is that participants will gain a better understanding of our community and how they can use their own talents and strengths to better the community, no matter what those strengths are.”

Learning to Lead

The Chamber also sponsors Leadership University, a leadership development program for high school juniors. Lane College, Union University, Jackson State Community College and the University of Memphis – Lambuth Campus are co-sponsors.

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“The key is to expose young people to the community’s needs and issues at a young age so they can learn early how to improve it,†Stutsman says. “We make them aware of local governments and local nonprofits so that the kids living here will really get to know their community and become invested in it at a young age. And if they go away to college, they’ll be more inclined to return after college to start a career and become a leader in the community.”

Renshaw agrees and says investing in young people is essential to maintaining a strong and vibrant community.  

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“Students are a powerful force for change. When you channel that energy and creativity into community leadership, it is a win-win situation,†says Renshaw, who was honored as the namesake for the Leadership Jackson Alumni Association’s annual college scholarship. “Youth leadership programs like Leadership University help students develop their leadership skills, see their community in a different perspective and find ways they can invest themselves to make a positive difference. It creates a new mindset for the students. It’s not just about getting volunteer hours; it is also about making life better for others and creating positive change in the place you live.”

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