Leadership Natchez program inspires new generation leaders

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 24, 2002

A few years after she graduated from Leadership Natchez, Sue Stedman put the skills she’d learned there – and the knowledge about her community – to work for her and the city.

She ran for alderman in Ward 3, where she is now serving her second term.

“I felt like it helped prepare me to be in the position of alderman,” said Stedman, who is also a Realtor with Prudential Stedman & Associates.

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Sponsored by the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Natchez is a nine-month course designed to enhance leadership skills and teach its participants about the community – and the role they can play in it.

Participants meet for one day, once a month to learn about various components of the community, such as education, government and industry.

They may tour the public school system or the International Paper mill; they hear speakers from volunteer groups; they take part in roundtable discussions on racism.

“I was impressed by the course,” Stedman said. “It heightened my awareness of everything that has to do with the community.

“It made me appreciate what a wonderful town we have and how fortunate we are to have such wonderful people,” said Stedman, who grew up in Crystal Springs and moved to Natchez in 1986.

But not only do newcomers learn more about Natchez, natives get to know their community as well.

“I learned more about Natchez than I ever knew, and I grew up here,” said Agnes Holloway, a member of the Class of 1993 and an assistant vice president at United Mississippi Bank.

In addition to the monthly meetings, Leadership Natchez participants take part in group projects designed to aid the community.

Among the most successful are the revitalization of a neighborhood park and a firemen’s ball which raised money over two years for needed fire equipment.

Natchez City Planner David Preziosi, Leadership Natchez Class of 1998, helped the Osceola community rebuild its neighborhood park. Originally, Preziosi’s group worked to develop a Neighborhood Watch group, but in talking to the residents found out they wanted to revitalize their park.

The neighbors raised some money for the park, and the Leadership Natchez group helped secure two grants for playground equipment.

The park had been under the control of the Natchez&160;Public Works Department, and now it is under the auspices of the Natchez Recreation Department. It has a swingset, volleyball court and monorail slide, as well as trees which were donated by Dick Thompson.

“Our project was something we worked really hard on,” Preziosi said. “We got them two successive grants for playground equipment.”

Two successive classes, and later the Leadership Natchez alumni organization, worked to raise money for a thermal imaging camera for the Natchez&160;Fire Department. The annual fund-raising firemen’s ball, held in the spring, is in its fourth year. The alumni have now turned it over to the Firemen’s Association.

The program also brings together people from different disciplines and different walks of life – and forces them to work together on the class projects.

Classmates in Leadership Natchez come from “different different sectors, which helps to widen your horizons,” said Van Laurant, a 1999 graduateof the program.

“(Leadership Natchez) taught us how to deal with a very diverse group of individuals and how to solve problems,” said Kim Arnold, who works with Britton & Koontz First&160;National Bank and was a member of the Class of 1999. “It forces you to work together.”

The class projects, along with the monthly sessions, also give participants hands-on experience, Stedman said.

“I think it is a unique opportunity for individuals to learn or to have hands-on knowledge about how their community works,” she said. “When I had the privilege of being a participant in Leadership Natchez, the trustees did a great job of selecting the programs that covered both city and county government.”

For Laurant, a Natchez native who spent a number of years in California, the leadership program helped him become reacquainted with his hometown. Participating in the program exposed him to “all the major forces that enhance quality of life” in the community, said Laurant, programs director for Adams County Lifeskills.

Many Leadership Natchez graduates continue to work with the program – as session leaders the following year, as alumni board members or, often, as participants on session panels.

And they also continue to work within the community. In fact, Holloway said that when people are looking for volunteers, she often directs them toward Leadership Natchez alumni.

Laurant, who calls Leadership Natchez “one of my most rewarding experiences to date,” said he became more active in chamber of commerce and other community activities after graduating from the course.

“I think it’s a catalyst for developing leaders,” Stedman said. “Sometimes you have a situation where you don’t step up because you don’t think you have the confidence. But certainly I think this course does a great job of putting you in a situation where you realize, I know more about the community than the guy next to you.

“There are people who just don’t like being in the forefront. You learn how to work together. But it kind of kickstarts you if you are one of the people who doesn’t mind sitting in the alderman’s or supervisor’s chair.”