Once a month I have the enviable opportunity to spend a day with some of Lawrence's decision-makers.
We talk about the city's future as well as its opportunities and problems. We also discuss possible answers to solving those problems.
And I've been able to do some things I've never done before, including sing in an impromptu choir and get a hug from a worker at Cottonwood Inc.
I'm one of 25 members of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Lawrence Class of 2006. We're bankers, retired utility workers, vice principals, school janitors, lobbyists and insurance agents, among other things.
Leadership Lawrence is a professional development program that exposes class members to how Lawrence and Douglas County work. The organization also is preparing us to be community volunteers and board members for city and nonprofit commissions and boards. We are seeing firsthand the city's needs.
Classes started in September with a two-day retreat. Each meeting since has had a theme. On Education Day we learned that 30 percent of the city's students qualify to receive free or reduced-priced lunches.
On Health and Human Services Day we learned that the $15,000 monthly budget for emergency rent and utility assistance in the city lasts about 15 minutes.
We've also had Arts Day. At the end of the day the class stood on the Lawrence Arts Center stage and sang a song. It's true: With the stage lights hitting you in the eyes, you can't see the audience.
Next week is Media Day. Coming up are Government Day, Business and Industry Day and Community Leadership Day. Graduation is in April.
So far, I am getting what I'd hope I'd get out of Leadership Lawrence - a unique and up-close opportunity to learn about Lawrence. I'm also making some new friends. I can't go to Hy-Vee without running into someone I met through Leadership Lawrence.
Most importantly, I'm getting involved in my community, and soon my classmates and I will be giving back.
Twenty-five area residents were selected in September to participate in the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Lawrence program.
After a two-day retreat concentrating on leadership skill-building, participants practice those skills as they learn more about specific topics of community interest during the eight-month program. The 2006 participants: Dennis Anderson, the Lawrence Journal-World; Doug Dawson, CornerBank; Jill Dickerson, UMKC/Kansas Department of Education; Katherine Dinsdale, New Focus Ministries Inc.; Emily Donaldson, Stevens & Brand L.L.P.; Susan Esau, Lawrence Schools Foundations; Kirsten Flory, Lawrence Community Theatre; Colleen Gregoire, United Way of Douglas County; Susan Henderson, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce; Ken Hite, Mize, Houser and Co.; Jason Hornberger, Kansas University; Claudia Jones, Intrust Bank; David Jones, David A. Jones, D.D.S., M.S.D., L.C.; Amy Kelly, Payless ShoeSource; Kevin Loos, Astaris; Peggy Loyd, Westar Energy; Brian McCaffrey, Central Junior High School; Jeffrey Novorr, Lawrence Memorial Hospital; David Reynolds, Apple Tree Homes Inc.; Rita Sharpe, retired; Jim Thomas, Lawrence Public Schools; Linda Trotter, Coldwell/McGrew Real Estate; Ryan Wedel, Central National Bank; Keith Yehle, Kansas University.
The Leadership Lawrence Program was established under the sponsorship of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce in 1982.