Changes for leadership program

To borrow from a phrase attributed to Mark Twain, reports of the death of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce’s Telesis community leadership program have been greatly exaggerated.

Although the program has been in hiatus for a couple of years, it’s definitely not dead, according to Charlotte Keim, chamber president and CEO.

“We’re looking at ways to revamp the program and still offer good leadership skills,” she said. “We want to look at what’s working, what’s not working, and what the program offers that has the most value.”

Keim said the last Telesis class was conducted around 2010, and although a class was planned for the following year, there weren’t enough applicants for the program to proceed in 2011.

“When we tried to develop a class that year we just didn’t have enough applications to run it,” she said. “In the summer of 2012 we did another survey, but still only had between six and eight people who applied.”

Hoping to address the drop in applicants, Keim said the chamber board of directors will be working on some changes to help spur more interest in the program.

“One issue of concern over the past several years is that the program can be very time-consuming,” she said. “The classes would start in October and last through April or May, meeting one night every other week from 6 to 8:30 p.m.”

Keim said in addition to attending classes, participants also had to spend time working on projects to benefit the community that must be completed within the six-to-seven-month timeframe of the Telesis course.

“So the chamber board will revamp the program with hopes of resuming the classes this fall or next summer,” she said. “And revamping Telesis is nothing new. It’s been done several times before.”

The name Telesis comes from a Greek term that Keim said originators of the program defined as “progress intelligently planned.”

The program grew out of a chamber planning retreat in 1986 where a group of citizens expressed concern for a lack of volunteer leaders in the community.

Keim said Steve Markwood, who was chairman of the chamber board’s community development committee at the time, came up with the idea.

“By mid-summer 1987 we were ready to start the program, but had no money to do it,” she said. “Then we received a $5,000 grant from the Gannett Foundation. And since then the program has been underwritten by local businesses in our community.”

The first Telesis class graduated in 1988, and the graduates included former Washington County Commissioner Sandy Matthews, former Marietta mayor and current councilman Michael Mullen, and Washington County Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Varner.

“Many of our 400 graduates over the years have gone on to become leaders in the community or in their workplace,” Keim said.

Jack Moberg said the Telesis program was already in the works when he served on the chamber board.

“At the time the program began small businesses and corporations had a real focus on their employees becoming involved with the local community,” he said, noting early Telesis classes had 26 people-many from the local business community-compared to classes of 12 to 15 in more recent years.

The goal was to develop leaders that become involved in their community, Moberg said.

“But the attendance began to fall off due to a tighter economy and companies having much smaller staffs,” he said, adding that businesses could no longer afford to give employees the time required to attend Telesis classes.

Moberg said each class developed projects that benefitted the community, like the Incredible Community Playground and a recycling program that eventually grew into a community-wide recycling effort.

Miranda Fleeman, information technology training coordinator for the Washington County Career Center, is a Telesis program graduate.

“Our project was to add hanging flower baskets on the Harmar Railroad Bridge, and we put park benches at the end of the bridge in Harmar Village,” she said. “That was six years ago. But I always felt Telesis was a beneficial program for me.”

Fleeman said the program not only helped develop leadership skills, it also provided an opportunity to network with other professionals from the local area.

Another Telesis grad, Brenda Kornmiller, dean of business, engineering and industrial technologies at Washington State Community College, said she hopes the program will continue soon.

“It’s a great positive program for the community,” she said. “Students learn essential leadership skills, but also get to hear from many professional speakers who encourage them to take a larger part in their community.”

Kornmiller said the other part of Telesis is learning about teamwork, which is another essential skill in leadership development.

“Our project was the city’s new skate park, and we learned to work together to help that become a reality,” she said. “We did fundraising and even provided some work at the site. It was really a great experience.”

Keim said if the community believes the program is important she would like to have some feedback.

“We want to look at how to do this program more effectively,” she said. “Anyone interested in helping to plan and organize future courses-maybe some Telesis alumni-should contact me or the chamber staff or board members.”

She said five or six people are needed to volunteer to assist with the Telesis classes, but more applicants are also needed for the classes to continue in the near future.

“It’s also an opportunity for businesses or people who are new to the community to become involved and build new relationships,” Keim said. “Telesis provides a good way to discover where people can best use their talents to benefit the community.”