Leadership St. Joseph

February 12, 2020

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photography submitted


DEFINITION: Positive in attitude and full of energy and new ideas.

Step into a Leadership St. Joseph monthly gathering, and you’ll hear some friendly banter. And lively brainstorming. And some out-loud problem solving, with plenty of “what if” questions (hand-raising not required). The annual Leadership St. Joseph class is like one big and busy family, with ages, interests and occupations spanning every generation.

Make that one big and busy family with lots of big ideas, and even bigger plans to get there.

Started in 1982, the program was initially a program of the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce and now is operated by the United Way of Greater St. Joseph. Leadership St. Joseph participants are given the opportunity to assess their leadership style and strengths, enhance their current leadership skills, and learn and develop new leadership strategies. Hands-on activities, guest speakers and presentations throughout the year bring a real-world element to the experience.

But this isn’t a sit-down kind of thing. Community tours span all types of businesses and all corners of the city, introducing participants to St. Joseph’s history, its challenges and its opportunities. The entire class meets once per month for a full day, actively sharing ideas and concepts together. Early in the year, the large group is broken down into smaller project teams, and from there, each team can choose a challenge and get to work to prepare a solution. These are shared and discussed at the year’s conclusion.

Jean Brown, Director of Leadership St. Joseph, says the group project work promotes teamwork, project development skills and a deeper understanding of community issues and assets. “Through all of these learning experiences, the participants develop a bond with fellow classmates and network with other established community leaders,” says Brown. “These new skills, relationships and levels of community awareness impact the participants’ families. They impact their places of employment, and they impact St. Joseph in terms of community involvement/volunteerism.”

Many local enhancements and initiatives are a direct outcome of Leadership St. Joseph through the years. From health initiatives to city beautification – and across entertainment, education, tourism and nonprofit organizations – the impact from nearly 40 years of Leadership St. Joseph projects is pretty incredible. In fact, you’ve probably been darting around town involved in former class projects, unaware.

Here’s a snapshot from dozens of initiatives coordinated by Leadership St. Joseph graduates:

Backpack Buddies: A program of Second Harvest Community Food Bank, backpacks of food are sent home with students on Fridays to help offset weekend food instability.

Trash App: This project utilized a phone app to map out trash cans, doggie waste stations, benches and other landmarks along the City hike/bike trails. This paves the way for future development of a sponsored phone application that St. Joseph residents and guests can use to navigate the pathways of the hike and bike system.

UCP of Northwest Missouri: One Leadership class helped create a Business Expo event to generate awareness about the UCP Supported Employment opportunities, designed to pair adults with disabilities with area employers in a supported environment.

Tiny Tot Town: This is an interactive event designed to introduce young children to life in St. Joseph. The event, hosted by Parents As Teachers and supported by community businesses and organizations, brings hundreds of toddlers, preschoolers and their parents together.

Adopt-A-Trail: One Leadership team worked with the City of St. Joseph’s Parks and Recreation Department to establish an Adopt-A-Trail program along the historic St. Joseph Parkway System. Another group helped establish new Parkway signage.

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS): The 2007 group created connections and partnerships to bring this nationally-recognized mentoring program to St. Joseph. The work included forming a steering committee and incorporating a board of directors, and BBBS is thriving today.

Help Can’t Wait: Recognizing missed opportunities to engage St. Joseph’s older population in disaster relief, one past Leadership St. Joseph team partnered with the American Red Cross and Salvation Army to develop their “Help Can’t Wait” project. This includes marketing tools for the groups to use when recruiting among the senior sector for disaster relief volunteers.

Inspiration breeds inspiration, and it’s typical for one project to creatively lead to another. It’s also common for Leadership St. Joseph graduates to get together at alumni gatherings, both to network and to volunteer for a community event together. “Since its beginning, the program has created a large network of trained leaders, with numbers exceeding 900. They continue to support our community through volunteer service and collaborative efforts to address community challenges and opportunities,” says Brown. “Leadership St. Joseph not only educates individuals to become effective business and community leaders, but also develops and promotes community advocates and volunteers equipped to address community issues of education, health and financial stability.”

At the end of the year, final group projects are presented to Leadership alumni and partners at a graduation ceremony. This is really just the start.

“Nearly all of our Leadership St. Joseph graduates go on to maintain active and inspiring volunteer and workplace roles. They are movers and shakers, and the class really helps them identify their best skills as they go forward.”

Or, as recent alumni Jessica Stewart says it: “I liked meeting so many different people and learning so many new things. I think what was most surprising is all the people across different sectors who have been through Leadership St. Joseph. I’m proud to say I’m an alum.”


Leadership St. Joseph


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