Leadership Fairfax Creates Ties to Local Community

Posted: February 13, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Ryann Doyle

Over the past 20 years, more than 20 Mason staff members have become part of a select group in Fairfax County, Va., who have developed relations, inspired service and connected to the community and other business leaders in a special way.

They share a common bond with more than 1,400 graduates of a program offered by Leadership Fairfax, a nonprofit organization designed to bring community and business leaders together to improve quality of life in the county.

These staff members have been involved in two nine-month-long community leadership programs: the Leadership Fairfax Program (LFI) and the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI). LFI is designed for senior leaders in the corporate, small business, nonprofit or government sector. ELI is intended for younger professionals in the early to midcareer stage.

Applicants are nominated and selected on the basis of their past demonstration and future commitment to the ideals of trusteeship and volunteerism.

“For me, the most effective part of LFI was the networking opportunities. The program’s format encouraged making connections and discussing ideas with individuals outside my normal circle of contacts,” says Keith Bushey, assistant vice president of special projects for University Operations and graduate of the LFI program.

“Even now, after seven years, I would not hesitate to pick up the phone and contact a classmate since there was a bond of mutual trust and support established among all, or at least most, participants.”

Connie Kirkland, director of Sexual Assault Services and current LFI participant, agrees.

“The most effective part was my ability to meet so many other committed individuals who are working to improve the lives of Fairfax residents in one way or another,” says Kirkland.

“I have been able to make acquaintances with business executives and institutional and government leaders and better understand their individual roles within our community.”

Once selected, LFI participants form into “program day teams” and scope an area of interest and focus on a particular topic or trend, such as economic development, land-use and development, transportation or at-risk youth.

The team engages in a rigorous study of how that topic influences issues, processes and programs in and around Fairfax. The teams design a one-day agenda and assemble subject matter experts and leaders to share their perspectives and knowledge.

According to Wayne Hill, LFI CEO, these experts contribute to the remarkable learning experience that each participant encounters.

“My group chose immigration in Fairfax County. We included presentations by several local groups involved in supporting immigrants, small group lunches at ethnic restaurants where the owners discussed their experiences in immigrating to Fairfax and a question and answer session with a senior representative from the Immigration and Naturalization Service,” says Bushey.

Kirkland and her team decided to focus on environmental issues concerning Fairfax County and will present their work during next month’s meeting.

After completing the program, the LFI participants become part of a network of professional individuals who are influencers, decision makers and resources in Northern Virginia and have the ability to lead, follow and work in teams.

“I learned that there is always an answer to any challenge or problem and that the more people I can connect with, the more possible it is to find that answer. It has been great to see how George Mason University fits into the county and how the county benefits from our university being situated here as well,” says Kirkland.

The second program option, ELI, is designed for professionals who are designated as rising stars in their organizations. The program is built around skill building, mentoring, community service projects and community board service.

“What I enjoy most about ELI is the diversity of my classmates and what I can learn about leadership and community involvement from each of them,” says Katie Thomasson, associate director of Alumni Affairs and current participant in ELI.

“ELI is expanding my knowledge base about Fairfax County and has provided some refreshers on strategic planning, networking, conflict resolution and negotiation. We have a workshop in April about boardmanship and community stewardship, which I’m really looking forward to,” says Thomasson.

Every LFI and ELI member makes a personal commitment with the ultimate goal of trusteeship, giving their time, talent and expertise so they can improve the community. Each year, LFI volunteers log more than 300,000 hours of community service in areas such as health care, care for the homeless, raising money for charitable causes and serving on a Fairfax County advisory board or as an elected official.

“Partly because of my LFI experience I was recruited by a local nonprofit organization to serve on their board. I just ‘retired’ from that board in November 2007 after serving for six years, the last three as president,” says Bushey.

“Thus far, I have been involved in a Fairfax County government day, a Richmond legislative day, cultural arts day, and a day devoted to understanding undocumented residents in Fairfax County,” says Kirkland.

Other Mason employees who have participated in LFI include Traci Claar, director of Community Relations and a current LFI board member; Nikkia Anderson, office manager and budget administrator for Orientation, Family Programs and Services (ELI); Una Murphy, director of leadership gifts in Development; Sandy Hubler, vice president for University Life; Nalin Jain, director of the Arlington Small Business Development Center in the Mason Enterprise Center, School of Public Policy; Christine LaPaille, vice president for University Relations; Judy Barral, business manager and director of the Fairfax Innovation Center in the Mason Enterprise Center, School of Public Policy; Mary Ann Grandinetta, associate director of Orientation, Family Programs and Services (ELI); and Heather Hare, associate director of Leadership and Community Engagement.

“Mason is an important player in the Leadership Fairfax team — the contribution the university makes, along with the quality of the participants it sends to us, is really remarkable,” says Hill.

Leadership Fairfax Inc. was established in 1987 by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. For more information, see the web site.

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