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Leadership training spurs community improvements
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A leadership training opportunity is bringing Oktibbeha County residents together to identify needs and make improvements in their community.
Lady Cox participated in The Forum: Oktibbeha County Leadership Development, a program that taps into the talents and skills of a diverse group of local citizens to evoke positive community change. Cox, a local realtor, said The Forum leadership training taught her how to build consensus and achieve synergy in a community.
“Something that is amazing to me is how you can catalog all the assets in a community and learn which people would be most likely to help achieve a goal, how to communicate that goal so the whole town will buy into it and, ultimately, how to achieve that goal,” Cox said.
Members of The Forum come from a variety of professions and represent many different views. Together, this team developed ideas for five community work projects in Starkville.
These participants will become the leadership program's first graduating class in June. A second class will be formed in July.
“We have bankers, accountants, a school principal, a homemaker and an engineer -- people from all walks of life here in the county,” said Chance McDavid, community resource development associate with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “The goal of this leadership development program is to build a pool of new leaders that grows with each graduating class.”
One community improvement project involves connecting a city park to a sports complex across the street. Cox said creating such a connection would keep families from having to drive across the street from one park to the other.
“The problem right now is that families may have one child playing soccer on one side and another child playing T-ball on the city park side,” Cox said. “Those families have to get in their cars and drive back and forth between the two.”
Cox said a series of ditches make walking or biking from one side to the other quite difficult, and her group proposes using the parking area at the city park to connect the two properties. She said the plan chosen by her group was a recommendation the MSU Carl Small Town Center proposed in its recent transit study. The group hopes to work with the city's parks and recreation department to achieve its goal.
Patrik Nordin, facilities director at the MSU Sanderson Center, said he saw The Forum as an opportunity to get involved in his community. He said he believes the diverse set of skills represented in the class proved invaluable to the group's success.
“Working for the university, I don't have many opportunities to work with people outside of the university. I think The Forum has been a great opportunity to meet and work with others in the community who have knowledge and skills different from my own,” Nordin said. “It's beneficial to bring these people together and get them involved in making positive changes in the community.”
Nordin's group goal is to bring a branch of the Columbus YMCA to Starkville. The group met with the Columbus YMCA director and discussed this possibility.
“Starkville needs indoor recreational facilities to house youth sports programs like Starkville Youth Basketball,” Nordin said. “We think it's possible to open a branch of the Columbus YMCA in Starkville. Starkville's youth have needed a YMCA for a long time.”
These are just two of the five group project ideas studied by The Forum participants. Other ideas include putting sidewalks and bike lanes down Highway 12; transforming the July 4th celebration into a more family-oriented event; and expanding the fatherless child ministry in Starkville.
“We believe the talents and skills of local residents can be used to evoke positive community change, so this leadership approach targets people with diverse ethnic, social and economic backgrounds,” McDavid said. “Not only are current traditional leaders welcome, but grassroots citizens are highly encouraged to participate.”
While foundational leadership principles serve as a basis for the program, community development, economic development, government and communication components also are incorporated. McDavid said this approach provides a complete and balanced training that encourages dynamic, outside-the-box thinking and community action.
The Forum is sponsored by the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, and the Extension Service's Community Resource Development unit coordinates and provides technical assistance for the program.
For more information about The Forum, contact McDavid at firstname.lastname@example.org or (662) 325-3144.