By Joel Hall
After nine months of incubation, the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Clayton program held a coming out event for 19 new graduates on Tuesday.
In a commencement ceremony at the Clayton State University Continuing Education Building, the chamber welcomed its 36th class of graduates. Selected for their different strengths from the ranks of business, government, public safety, and other fields, the graduates of 2008 have been groomed to assume significant leadership roles in and around the county.
This year's graduates are: Darlene Beale-Norris, of Leadership and Development of our Youth in Sports; Rosalyn Brown, of BB&T Bank; Latoya Bryant-Carter, of WORKTEC; Debbie Buck, of Southern Community Bank; Rhonda Burnough, of Clayton County Public Schools; Michael Burrell, of Clark Atlanta University; Rolesia Butler Dancy, of the Fulton County Attorney's Office; Tracey Davis, of Fulton County Government; Robin Gay, of Heritage Bank; William Hill, of the New Birth South Community Impact Center; Mark Hutchens, of Mark Hutchens State Farm Insurance; Phillip Pence, of FirstBank Financial Services; Sandy Rieffel, of Resurgens Bank; Todd Spivey, of the Riverdale Police Department; Mike Thomas, of the Clayton County Water Authority, Stephanie Thomas, of the City of Riverdale; Juliet Walls, of Clayton County Cooperative Extension 4-H, Garland Watkins, of the Clayton County Police Department, and Denise Williamson, of Southern Company Services.
Angela Redding, management analyst for the City of Forest Park, was a 2003 graduate of Leadership Clayton. Serving as this year's chairwoman of the Leadership Clayton Advisory Board, she said she was impressed by the new graduates.
"In think we have a very good class of community and business leaders," said Redding. "These are individuals who are already involved in the community, and now they are ready to take it to the next level."
Redding noted Clayton County as being in a "moment of truth," and stressed the importance of leaders who know the ins and outs of government. She said over the last nine months, graduates have held monthly meetings with municipal governments, county officials, county service departments, the district attorney, the sheriff, state legislative officials, and several other departments, learning how government works on the local and state level.
Yulonda Beauford, vice president of the Chamber, and a Leadership Clayton Advisory Board member, said the program splits the members into two teams, based on their strengths and weaknesses. She said the projects help potential leaders learn how to work cooperatively, which she believes is necessary in local government.
"When they start the program, they usually start not knowing anybody in the class," said Beauford. "When they leave here, they develop bonds that they will continue to grow during their time in the county. Every year, someone steps up ... [and] enters the public arena," Beauford continued. "We're excited about that because we look for them to take what they have learned here to the next level, and if they already have leadership skills, to be able to grow those skills."
Pence, a business development officer for FirstBank Financial Services, was chosen -- from the graduates -- as this year's Leadership Award Winner. As co-leader of his team's project, he helped develop the Connecting Clayton web site (www.claytonnonprofits.com), an "informational resource" for local non-profits and people in need of their services. He will chair the project for the next two years.
"It provides an opportunity for non-profits in Clayton County to see what exists, what does not exist, if there is a need for a particular non-profit, and then, it gives the community a chance to surf the web page and see what is available," said Pence. "There are so many great things going on behind the scenes that people aren't aware of ... this is one resource that I can give back to the community."
Dana Lemon, 13th Congressional District State Transportation Board member, was the event's guest speaker. She believes the Leadership Clayton graduates will be able to be both servants and leaders.
"When I look at the leadership in this room, I know that in the future of Clayton ... there is a lot of hope," said Lemon.