Timeless Treasure – Chateau Chic January 2024January 3, 2024
Point of Vue – January 2024January 3, 2024
As southern Louisiana continues to rebuild and revitalize following the devastating effects of Hurricane Ida and the COVID-19 Pandemic, organizations such as Leadership Terrebonne and Leadership Lafourche are giving local leaders the tools they need to bring our hometowns back to life. Through a several-month program including outreach projects, lectures, and more, graduates of Leadership Terrebonne and Lafourche are well equipped to give back to the community in new and exciting ways.
Each leadership program consists of 20-30 students per year, comprised of 7-10 full-day sessions featuring presentations by local elected officials, school superintendents, sheriffs, hospital administrators, and business owners, covering a range of topics such as Business & Industry, Healthcare, Environment, Community Concerns, Education, Economic Development, Law Enforcement, Tourism, Leadership. In 2023 both organizations celebrated 30 years since their inception.
“Leadership Lafourche is a leadership immersion program designed to train cross-sections of Lafourche residents and workers for productive roles focused on the future and well-being of our parish, institutions, and communities,” reads the opening page on Leadership Lafourche’s website. “Leadership Lafourche will provide its participants with a better understanding of the make-up of Lafourche Parish, challenge them to make a difference and provide them with opportunities to meet with leaders and decision makers in Lafourche.”
Leadership Terrebonne’s mission reads very similarly, stating, “Today, as many as 30 community residents a year participate in the 10-month program designed to promote the development of community leaders by providing participants from diverse backgrounds with an understanding of the problems, opportunities, and issues facing the community.”
Lin Kiger, Executive Director of Leadership Lafourche, recalls taking over leadership of the organization after the program was on a hiatus for several years. “I became involved when the program was resurrected in 2007, so this is the 17th class that I have overseen,” said Lin. “We believe that Leadership Lafourche can be a very eye opening experience for members of our parish, because it shows all the effort and little pieces it takes to make our community function the way it does. It can be easy to take these simple things for granted, so seeing the resources we have around us and how we can help is very inspiring for our students. We are always happy to see how much knowledge our students take out of the program that they may not have known before.”
Lin went on to say that despite being in the position of Executive Director for almost two decades, no two classes are ever the same in his eyes. “The most rewarding aspect of this job is that it is never like Groundhog’s Day,” chuckled Lin. “Each class is different and I love seeing the lightbulb light up whenever they get a new idea. We want to continue to make the program better, more challenging, and more enriching for all our students because they put so much work in as well.”
Executive Director of Leadership Terrebonne Karen Schilling expressed similar feelings of gratitude and pride when talking about her program, and her beginnings with the organization. “I actually graduated in the very first class from Leadership Terrebonne in 1993, and have been Executive Director for 18 years,” said Karen. “Our program can be described as something that helps those from all walks of life– whether you are in a formal leadership position within a company, or an emerging leader– we want to educate them on what is going on within our community, and expose and uncover problems and ways we can make those problems better.”
Leadership Terrebonne is not only uncovering issues in the community and brainstorming ways to solve them– members of the 2023 class are taking definitive action. This past year, Leadership Terrebonne brought back group community projects following a several year break during Hurricane Ida and COVID-19. Four groups were set to the task of identifying an issue within the parish, and implementing a solution for it. “Leadership Terrebonne has done some projects in the past, but overtime that went away–we wanted to reintroduce our projects again this year so that our groups could work to make a lasting impact on the community,” explained Karen. “We divided the class up into four groups, and each one picked something in the community they wished to do and created a project to help out.”
The first Leadership Terrebonne group devised a project called ‘Rock Da Boot,’ where members visited local elementary schools and educated the students on coastal land loss, before the students were able to paint their own rock to be added to a nearby levee– creating a colorful way to combat erosion. The second group decided to create the project ‘Light Up Downtown Houma,’ with the mission of flooding the heart of downtown with light to help make community members feel safer and encourage them to come out for events. The group placed several inflatable LED light towers downtown, which are 12 feet, 64 lbs, and output 74,400 lumens.
The third Leadership Terrebonne group returned Christmas cheer to downtown Houma, working actively with local small businesses to install Christmas decorations on Houma’s bridges, the new Rotary Centennial Plaza, the bandstand, the arch, and more during the month of December. The fourth and final group is currently working to beautify Houma, with plans to install 20 self-watering, hanging planters on the light posts from the Courthouse Square to the Bayou Walk. The planters will add vibrant pops of color to the downtown area.
With a combined total of over 1,200 graduates from Leadership Terrebonne and Leadership Lafourche, both Lin and Karen are excited about the future for their programs, and the positive impacts it will bring to the community as a whole. “I hear people tell me every year that they were born and raised in this area and they think they know what the parish is all about,” said Karen. “And after they go through this program, they realize how much more there is to learn about their community. These programs are about getting to know parts of the community you may not find yourself in, meeting new people, and exploring new areas. It is such a rewarding experience.”
Leadership Lafourche is currently operating on a September-May schedule, and Leadership Terrebonne is on a January-October schedule. Although both are currently running or planning to run filled classes in the next several months, it is never too early to start the application and envision the way a leadership program can impact all aspects of one’s personal and professional life. Leadership Lafourche and Leadership Terrebonne are providing invaluable skills for local leaders, propelling community members to be catalysts for positive change within our community– and ensuring that the impact of this experience echoes far beyond their time in the class.