Donald Trump's got nothin' on us - April Avison

We were split into four teams and given a deadline of April 24. The community was depending on us. The task: find a few dozen meaningful projects in need of service – construction work, beautification, maintenance. Find at least 500 volunteers willing to execute the work. A limited budget is available, so materials such as paint and lumber will need to be donated. It must be the best Hands on Henry in its six-year history.

We were apprentices – all 32 of us. There were characters among us – Denese Rodgers, the outspoken cheerleader. Bruce Dickerson – the class comic. Chuck Ekstedt – a fireball of positive energy who sometimes seemed to be moments away from explosion. Lanelle Henderson – organized business savvy entrepreneur. David Buckner – quiet but persistently ambitious.

Personalities will clash. Challenges will face us. But we, the Leadership Henry Class of 2004, would accomplish our task, and even Donald Trump would be proud.

I realized how much I'd grown last week when my "team" – the Hands on Henry committee I chaired – told me I'd changed from shy and timid, whining, "I don't know what to say," to a take-charge leader who confidently delegated assignments to the capable troops.

I can imagine that some of the others in my Leadership Henry class, the branch of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce that organizes Hands on Henry annually, also see themselves as shy and obedient followers. But after completing the rigorous boot camp of organizing the Hands on Henry project there's no way any of us emerged as anything less than leaders.

My classmates are now my friends. There are some who I thought I'd never get to know – people who aren't like me, people with whom I seem to have nothing in common. During our kickoff retreat last September, we were assigned an exercise in which we had to partner with a classmate we didn't know and determine something we had in common. "I hate this crap," I thought, as I approached Eric Vaughn, a banker who I later discovered is one of the kindest people I have ever encountered. Of course, at the time I had no idea what kind of person he was. Eric and I decided to cheat in this game and make something up, and once the pressure was off, we figured out that we did have something in common – I was born in the same year that his daughter was born.

The point is, you've got something in common with everyone you meet. They may be better looking, less educated, more charismatic, less creative – but you can find something to share if you take the time.

Leadership Henry has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I thank the friends who shared this journey with me, and encourage those reading this column to experience this camaraderie and personal growth for yourself. Applications are available at www.henrycounty.com and are due by May 31. If you go through the class and don't gain something from it, I'll get my banker friend to refund your money.

April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at aavison@henryherald.com.