Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creating a Community of Purpose

You just never know who you’re going to end up meeting and what you’re going to end up learning from them at Leadership Montgomery. We in the Core Program Class of 2012 just jumped into each experience headfirst, whether it was loading up in a firefighter’s gear, having a dialogue with the County Executive, tramping around a water recovery plant, or visiting an Islamic temple.  We also took time to record the epiphanies that came with each presentation or experience, and there were plenty of those.  Our learning leaps of faith were well rewarded.

Yet when I asked a cross-sample of classmates what was the best thing about LM and Class of 2012, they didn’t respond with all the cool things we got to do or cool places we got to go or statistics we digested.  Instead, each person answered with some permutation of “getting to know my classmates” and “the friendships I made.” 

It’s not surprising, really.  We came together as individuals, and thanks to adept facilitating at our opening retreat by Eliot Pfanstiehl, CEO of Strathmore and Founding Board Member of Leadership Montgomery, we became a community.  Keith Danos, Chief Financial Officer of Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, said, “I never anticipated I would be able to develop relationships with as many people in such a short time.” That sense of community strengthened each time we gathered and grew as we met leaders and visionaries in various sectors of the county and started working on our Nonprofit Discovery projects.

Ron Dimaranan, Director of Business Development for Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union, enjoyed “seeing and learning from everyone’s leadership styles and how I can improve mine.  And how type A personalities can get along!”  Discussions and experiences related to the workings of the county and promoting the wellbeing of our citizens both enhanced and were enhanced by the personal bonds we shared. As Anna Maria Izquierdo-Porrera, Executive Director of Care 4 Your Health, put it, “The people I’ve met are a phenomenal group of individuals. For me it was the intense conversations that have been the most rewarding parts of the whole experience.”

Our Nonprofit Discovery projects spanned education, literacy, the arts, disabilities, homelessness, and health.   We learned about all the good that was being done by individuals and organizations and our government, and so much more that was still needed.  Hopefully the tools we acquired in Leadership Montgomery would equip us better to tackle the complexities of the challenges facing the county.

Leadership Montgomery provided rare windows into the present and the future of our county, from the Agricultural Reserve to the arts, from planning to public safety.  Class members were encouraged to ask questions and offer our own perspectives, whether it was in small group discussions on diversity or a no-holds-barred dialogue on education with the new school superintendent. 

                                           photo credit: Esther Newman

Almina Khorakiwala, Vice President for The Walker Marchant Group, marveled that “there were things in the county I’d never seen before, innovative ideas and places that were models for how to do things.  One of my favorites was the Annapolis session and the access to lawmakers, being able to learn and understand the process and how we can all be better citizens.”

Deborah Broder, Vice President, BSO Strathmore, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, was impressed “by the opportunity to learn more about the incredible resources in Montgomery County and resources the county government throws behind them.” Susan Burkinshaw, owner of Snap Fitness, echoed this, saying she’s impressed “to know so much goes on behind the scenes to make Montgomery County better--so many things we as community need to participate in to keep things going, and going right.”

Many times we saw the power of one individual to make a difference, but also the exponential increase in making a difference that can occur when individuals and organizations collaborate effectively.  We didn’t wait to graduate to start putting that into action, building partnerships across our organizations and volunteering individually for each other’s pet projects.

My own favorite moment came during a break-out meeting with a scientist talking about his organization’s research on Alzheimer’s. In passing he used the term “community of purpose.” He continued talking but my brain had stopped at that term.  I love the idea of “community of purpose” and I also think it is a great way to describe LM and our class.  Our community of purpose is to become more informed stewards of our county’s people, environment, and infrastructure, and to create connections for sharing information, ideas, and resources toward that purpose.

Whatever achievements, jobs, education, or opinions classmates brought to the table of the Class of 2012, everyone checked their egos at the door.  DeRionne Pollard, President of Montgomery College, perhaps summed up best the personal connection we all made: “The most rewarding thing for me has been making new friends out of context.”

Our class year may be over, but the community is forever. 

 This post originally appeared as an article in The Gazette of Politics and Business: Leadership Montgomery Book of Leaders Annual Report & Directory 2012


  1. What a wonderful post. This has been an extra-ordinary experience. I've loved hearing about it throughout.

  2. And you and yours, you know are part of that community, too!