Leadership Chattanooga: Graduation marks end of educational year

Charlie McDaniel, Attorney at Law and Director of Operations, Legal Aid of East Tennessee

Crowning a remarkable and unforgettable year, the 2017 class of Leadership Chattanooga graduated in May at a ceremony and luncheon held at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Attended by more than 700 local business and community leaders, the event celebrated the commitment of this year’s 40 Leadership Chattanooga graduates and highlighted the results of their small-group projects benefiting Hamilton County Schools.

The projects presented included the production of an online handbook for parents and students to help navigate the magnet school application process, creation of a community-driven art piece celebrating diversity to be displayed at the Chattanooga Airport and a study on the school board election process.

Other hands-on projects involved painting and preparing space in a local school for installation of an eLab maker-space funded by Volkswagen and upgrading and improving a local classroom-on-wheels staffed by volunteer teachers.

A highlight of the event was the inaugural presentation of the Julie Baumgardner Leadership Award, which will be the highest honor awarded by the Leadership Chattanooga Alumni Association.

Named in her honor, the first recipient of the award was Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First. Baumgardner has chaired the Leadership Chattanooga curriculum committee for more than 15 years and has impacted over 500 Leadership Chattanooga graduates.

As with all graduations, the event provided an occasion for the 2017 Class of Leadership Chattanooga to look back over the previous year and consider the opportunities and challenges facing our community that were explored through the program.

Leadership Chattanooga has been rightfully described as a backstage pass to the city. Challenging, both personally and professionally, it invites participants to become involved and consider how they will impact the future of Chattanooga in a positive way. No matter how each individual graduate continues forward, all agree that the most important part of Leadership Chattanooga was developing deep and meaningful relationships with each other along the way.

I have worked with Legal Aid of East Tennessee since late 2009 and have had the privilege of partnering with a great number of organizations and businesses in Chattanooga, including city and county government, Erlanger Health System, United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and many others.

I had always believed I knew all the ways someone could become more involved. Leadership Chattanooga, however, broadened my horizons and revealed pieces of the puzzle I hadn’t seen. With a deeper understanding of Chattanooga’s strengths (its people, resilience and willingness to embrace new ideas) and weaknesses (the uncertainties and obstacles facing a growing and changing city), I believe I can be more effective than ever working in our community and, along with many others, helping to guide us to an even better future.

Finally, as a point of personal privilege, the 2017 Class of Leadership Chattanooga would like to extend a special thank you to Diane Parks, who has served as the director of the Leadership Chattanooga program since 1999. Leadership Chattanooga would not be the robust and esteemed program that it is without Diane’s hard work and guidance. Thank you, Diane.

This article originally published in the Hamilton County Herald. You can find it here

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