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Grassroots Leadership Institute prepares 20 to lead

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With three months of civic training under their belts, 20 new graduates of the Clayton County Grassroots Leadership Institute are poised to contribute to the community.

The county celebrated the 2008 class of the Grassroots Leadership Institute on Thursday night during a graduation ceremony at the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center in Jonesboro. The institute, which is structured to give concerned, average citizens the tools to be effective leaders, commended citizens from all walks of life for completing its 12-week program.

The 2008 graduates of the Grassroots Leadership Institute are: Charlton Bivins of Rex, Zulaikha Thomas of Jonesboro, Jennifer Brown-Reese of Riverdale, Johnnelle Terrell of Riverdale, Ronald Ringer of Jonesboro, Melany Williams of Jonesboro, Anne Foster of Riverdale, Gerrian Hawes of Jonesboro, Lisa Tinch of Riverdale, Breka Tinch of Riverdale, Jo Ann Mitchell-Stringer of Jonesboro, James Drake of Morrow, Charles Ecton of McDonough, Robert Hawes of Jonesboro, Sharon Daniels of Atlanta, Mikala Glanton, Andrea Branch of Ellenwood, Searless Hathaway of Morrow, Tamsyn Floy of Stockbridge, and Joshua Byrd of Ellenwood.

Kim Siebert, director of the Clayton County Cooperative Extension Service, which coordinates the institute, said participants learned a variety of leadership skills through class sessions with local leaders. The course work included: Understanding leadership; effective communication; conducting successful meetings; understanding and valuing diversity; group dynamics; managing conflict; building communities through collaboration; and other topics.

"This is a basic leadership skill building course," said Siebert. "We're not solely attempting to generate elected officials, but we do hope this class strengthens the basic skills that leaders need. Our hope is that the participants who graduate from this class have hard leadership skills that they can take into the community."

Past graduates of the institute include: Trena Morris, a school board member; Larry O'Keeffe, a school board ethics commission member; and Cyd Cox, president of the Clayton County Council of Parent Teacher Associations. This year's graduates include: Ronald Ringer, a former candidate for Board of Commissioners District 3; and Charlton Bivins, District 9 school board member-elect.

Bivins said when he first applied for the institute, he had no intentions of running for office. After completing his training, he believes he has an advantage.

"I've had some leadership training, just through my life and my job," said Bivins. "My involvement in Grassroots Leadership, [it has] built affiliations. I've built networks. I've taken course that could help [Barack] Obama.

"It was a great format because any and all people could benefit from it," Bivins continued. "It trains normal Joes to be better community servants, even if they are not community leaders. It mobilizes those who are ready to take their first step into political or civic responsibility."

Marie Barber, chair of the Grassroots Leadership Institute advisory board, said this year's class of graduates have a great desire "to go out into the community and make a difference." She believes the class will allow people to do so more effectively.

"Leadership is the prime thing that makes positive things happen in a community," said Barber. "By achieving these skills, they will be more effective in their endeavors to help the community."