Flourish is thrilled to participate in this year’s Connect 25 program! This ten-month program, fueled by Leadership Greater Huntsville, is designed for emerging leaders who are passionate about our community and are ready to invest fully in the Rocket City. Connect provides professional development segments, jam-packed program days to learn more about our community and its available resources, and links group participants to nonprofits and organizations that will benefit from their involvement and perspective. Nicole Boonin, an Account Manager with Flourish, is participating in this year’s program and will be documenting her journey over the next several months. We look forward to utilizing this experience to help our team learn more about contributing to our thriving city.
First, we heard from the knowledgeable Antonio McGinnis, Executive Director of Huntsville Housing Authority, to learn more about the efforts being made to accommodate the growth of our community and the residents that have lived here for decades. Huntsville has a unique opportunity to help our neighbors thrive in our growing city and we were honored to hear about the initiatives Mr. McGinnis has taken to ensure we grow successfully together.
Our first month, Human Services Day, began at The Downtown Rescue Mission where we learned more about why social services are important. The purpose of the day was to help our class better understand the community through the lens of nonprofit offerings and access to the underserved population, ensuring we consider what these services mean to those facing barriers to employment, education, and physical, mental, and financial wellness.
Afterward, we broke out into groups and were given the task of navigating through real-life situations based on the difficult circumstances families go through daily. This exercise opened our class’ eyes to the laborious tasks the underserved population goes through every day. In fact, this activity reminded some of us that despite the challenges we’ve faced in life, whether through childhood or adulthood, it doesn’t define who we are as people. Instead, it reminds us to always show compassion to people regardless of their current life situation. This humbling experience grew our servant hearts even further, leading us into our next exciting activity.
We broke into groups to spend time with local nonprofits- we chose the Greater Huntsville Humane Society for the day. We spent time at Three Tails ReSale to help sort clothes, clean the facility, organize products, and more. After speaking with multiple nonprofits in the area, it’s important to understand the need these organizations have aren’t as much for dog cuddles as it is for maintenance support. This is a resonating need for almost every nonprofit in our community. It was clear to our group that the best way to help animals in our community was to help get the thrift store to a place where the staff could continue selling products and engage with their customers. With 100% of every sale going back to the animals, it’s safe to say our heart was humbly filled with gratitude after Human Services Day!
In October, we participated in Public Safety Day. This program day was an immersive experience designed to give us a peek into the everyday lives of our public safety officers. First, we started our day off at the Huntsville Fire and Police Academy where we got to hear from Leadership Greater Huntsville alumni on what a typical day in the Fire Department looks like. Hint- there’s no such thing. Every day is different, but what impressed our class the most was the passion, teamwork, and true dedication the panelists have for what they do for our community.
We then met with Retired District Chief, Mark Clouser, at Huntsville Fire Station 1 for a tour of the facility to learn more about what it means to be a part of the firefighting community. Although the tools were fascinating, the most interesting part of the tour was how much emphasis was put on teamwork. The Fire Station 1 team reminded us that every person, no matter the position, plays an integral role in the success of any rescue mission.
Where would public safety officers be without dispatch? Connect 25 toured the new Madison County 911 Center and had a chance to listen to the Chain of Survival Panel on their role during the most critical seconds of a person’s life. From the first 911 call to the arrival of paramedics, every moment is critical. We walked away from the discussion with a newfound appreciation for 911 dispatchers and the impressive communication tactics used to provide safety, comfort, and action on what we would consider some of our worst days.
Our class made our way back to the Huntsville Police Academy to hear from Police Captain, Mike Izzo, of the Huntsville Police Department. We spent time with the SWAT team, the bomb squad, the narcotics unit, and much more, to learn about the different strategies used to keep Huntsville safe.
The Police Academy really saved the best for last by introducing us to the K-9 unit! We watched along as officers demonstrated apprehension bites and training tactics- a perfect way to end an immersive day of learning! Public Safety Day was packed with so much insightful information. We walked away with a fresh perspective on how we, as a community, can also contribute to the safety of our city.
November was Local Economic Development Day! This day was focused on understanding the impact of the Redstone Arsenal, how North Alabama is attracting new business, and what development opportunities and challenges exist in our area now and in the future.
We started the day by visiting our friends at the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation and Integration Center (AMIIC)! It’s always fun when our two worlds collide.
Our first speaker was Shane Davis, Director of Urban and Economic Development for the City of Huntsville. Shane spoke about his role in helping businesses establish roots in our city. The sheer determination and passion Shane has for our community were inspirational.
We then heard from Rob Hamilton on the efforts behind Launch 2035. This organization is paving the way for true connectivity in the North Alabama region! Our class was moved by the amount of work going on behind the scenes to rethink and imagine our region’s economy 20 years from today. To say we’re excited for what’s to come would be an understatement.
We then had a chance to hear from our friend John Schmitt on the overview of AMIIC. Our class was briefed on the manufacturing workforce gap that AMIIC seeks to close through its customized curriculum, national partnerships, and community outreach. Afterward, we heard from the Manufacturing Workforce Development panel on the challenges the manufacturing workforce currently faces, how our community addresses these obstacles, and how C25 can get involved.
For the second half of the day, we traveled to Yulista to hear from some fantastic movers and shakers in the community. We heard from Mike Ward, Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, to learn more about how our local government is involved in the growth of our community.
Next, we sat down with the FBI for an update on their expansion efforts on the Redstone Arsenal and why they chose Huntsville as their second home.
As you may have heard, Artemis I successfully launched recently. As a result, our class had a chance to hear from Kirk Pierce for an Artemis overview. Pierce discussed its positive impact on our community as plans continue underway for Artemis II, III, and even IV!
We ended the day at the Trash Pandas Stadium to gain insight into the initiatives to expand our art sector and how our community makes decisions on behalf of growth efforts. We found that although many businesses are attracted to the Rocket City, not all are accepted to settle here to ensure our community maintains the unique quality of life we have here in the Huntsville area- and we love that!
Overall, Economic Development Day centered around a better understanding of the action taking place to effectively grow our community! The only question left after the day is- how can we get involved?
Leadership Connect Class 25 ended 2022 with Local Government Day. The goal was to introduce us to the elected officials in our area to help us gain a better understanding of our local government systems and institutions.
The day started strong with a panel discussion from our Mayors: Huntsville City Mayor Tommy Battle and Madison City Mayor Paul Finley. Both mayors spoke about their journey to becoming people of change. The most admirable part of the discussion is their focus on teamwork. Despite a history of competition between the city and Madison and the city of Huntsville, both Mayor Tommy Battle and Mayor Paul Finley understood the need to “bury the hatchet” in order to create a truly thriving city. In essence, they saw the bigger picture. This eye-opening discussion gave us a peek into what it took and what it’s taking to become the number-one city in America. It starts with our leaders and how they choose to serve the people. To say that our class walked away from this discussion with appreciation and a renewed passion for the Rocket City would be an understatement!
Although many of us think we understand how our local government operates, this day helped us realize how much we don’t know about the people behind our everyday quality of life. We had the privilege of hearing from the City Administrator of Huntsville, John Hamilton, and the Chief Financial Officer of Huntsville, Penny Smith to get a better understanding of who does what- and at what magnitude!
After we learned more about the organizational structure of our municipal departments, it was time for us to walk in their shoes. We were given a city council exercise with a budget, roles as city council members, and the challenge to come up with an agreement based on our city’s allocation. Let’s just say 20 minutes is not nearly enough time to come to a genuine consensus! We ended the activity inspired by how decisions are made, where to look for more information, and how we can get involved.
We then had lunch with city officials, providing us with the opportunity to have intimate discussions with our elected officials. We talked about the pros and cons of their roles, what their position entails, what lead them to take on this responsibility, and much more! The day ended with us hearing from Representative Rex Reynolds and Representative Andy Whitt on state legislation and what truly building a strong Alabama means for its political leaders, and representatives of our Board of Education, Ryan Renaud, and Ranae Bartlett. The continued success of our community starts with our children, and the Board of Education representatives gave us a great insight into what our city is doing to protect, educate, and empower our future leaders.
Local Government Day was an eye-opening and inspiring experience! C25 walked away from this day with more questions and curiosity about how we, as emerging leaders, can be of service to our local government to continue maintaining and improving our city’s most precious goal- to preserve our quality of living.
We started the new year with Education Day! Designed to provide our class with insight into the education opportunities in our community, we had a chance to engage with the next generation of workforce leaders.
Our first stop was Grissom High School. We were given a fantastic tour around campus to gain a better understanding of the programs and classes offered at the high school. Honestly, the career-tech and extracurricular opportunities offered at Grissom were enough to make our whole class jealous of the commendable hands-on experience students are receiving today! From getting pre-certified in welding to an immersive nursing program, the next generation of leaders is well on their way to changing the future through the pursuit of their passion.
We then traveled to UAH to get an in-depth breakdown of the status of the Desegregation Order by Chris Papge, Attorney at Lanier Ford Law Firm. It’s eye-opening to know that although we’ve made progress, there’s still a long-standing battle within our education system and a fully integrated North Alabama. However, we’re grateful for the people like those at Lanier Ford Law Firm who continuously seek to enforce the desegregation of Alabama in our education system.
Afterward, we stopped by the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE) to gain a better understanding of how a school that’s designed to focus on the integration of cyber technology and engineering into all academic disciplines works. The impressive vision behind a collaborative education environment truly impressed our class’s concept of what education looks like today.
After we visited the high schools, it was time to visit historically black colleges (HBCUs) to explore their significant importance in our region. We toured Oakwood University, to learn more about its history and programs. We then visited Alabama A&M University for a bus tour to learn more about campus life, how its history is incorporated into its vision today, and how Alabama A&M has helped college students achieve new heights.
We ended the day with a panel discussion with three young women, ready to enter the workforce. We had representatives from Calhouse Community College, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Alabama A&M. The ladies discussed how their experiences with their respective colleges have helped them achieve their career goals, what they’re looking forward to in the workforce, and what they’d like the community to know about their educational institutions.
To say that C-25 was impressed by the schools and our future leaders would be an understatement. Although Education Day was designed to help us discover the multiple education paths students have, the day was also centered around how all career paths deserve respect and admiration, regardless of whether or not a field requires certification vs. a degree. Students are encouraged to explore career paths that resonate with individuals and schools have adapted their curriculum to nurture all interests. We can say this is an education mindset that we can get behind!