A health care executive.
A successful business owner.
A former community center director.
An employee of a global technology company.
They have something in common. All are graduates of Leadership Spokane. On June 13, the organization celebrates its 30th graduation ceremony.
“We’ve had over 1,000 people go through the program,” said Linda Finney, executive director.
Leadership Spokane has grown and evolved over the years, but its core mission remains unchanged: to cultivate and inspire individuals to seek leadership roles in their community. The course is a 10-month long civic leadership training program, based on the principles of servant leadership and cultural competence. The goal is to train “replacement leaders” in the community.
Here several alumni and a graduate of this year’s class discuss the effect the program has had on them.
Class of 1983
Nancy Vorhees, currently chief operating officer of Inland Northwest Health Services, was part of the first class of Leadership Spokane.
“I had a master’s in nursing and was working at one of the hospitals,” she said. “I was all about health care and thought Leadership Spokane would give me some exposure to other areas in the community.”
And it did. In fact, Vorhees said, “We learned everything about Spokane!”
That first class reflected the corporate culture of the time. Vorhees was one of a handful of women, the majority of the class was men. “The appropriate attire was suits and ties,” she said. “Suits for the ladies, too.”
Finney said in the beginning, the program did indeed focus on “young, white professional males – whoever worked downtown.”
But that has changed over the years. Vorhees said, “The program is much more inclusive now.” Finney agreed. “In the mid ’90s there was a real shift to include everybody.” Leadership Spokane reached out to area tribal members, nonprofit directors and others in attempt to better represent the changing face of civic leadership.
“Since 2000, the classes are even more diverse than the general population of the area,” Finney said.
Vorhees said the program stressed the importance of civic involvement, and she learned about many volunteer opportunities. “But the No. 1 thing was really about developing relationships. I’ve made lasting friendships,” she said. “Everyone gets something different out of it. It appeals to all aspects of our community.”
Class of 1987
Patrick DeVries, owner of DeVries Business Services, said when he applied for Leadership Spokane he was part of a family-operated moving and storage business. “I was fairly nontraditional in the program at the time,” he said. “But I wanted to get out there and network.”
He found plenty of opportunities to do that. “I made lifelong connections that I would have never made without Leadership Spokane. It was eye-opening in so many ways.”
After graduating from the program he served on the board for many years. DeVries said, “I think I’ve been the longest-serving board member for a variety of reasons.”
During his board tenure he worked to develop a partnership with the YMCA to facilitate the Youth Leadership Spokane program. Finney said they’ve had about 500 children go through the youth course.
As a result of participating in Leadership Spokane, “my business flourished. It fueled my business growth and my personal growth, as well,” DeVries said.
Class of 1990
Ivan Bush recently retired from Spokane Public Schools. When he first heard about Leadership Spokane he was the director of the East Central Community Center.
“It was an experience unlike any other,” he said. “I learned about the many dynamics of the city and how the pieces fit together.”
Bush was able to transform the contacts and knowledge he acquired through the program to expand services offered at the community center.
He found himself affected by the organization’s philosophy. “The commitment is so much greater when you practice servant leadership,” Bush said. “It’s not just a job; it becomes a calling or a mission”
Class of 2013
Chris Bernardi, a product line manager for Itron, said he didn’t know anything about Leadership Spokane when his boss approached him with an opportunity to participate.
“I did some research and got really excited,” Bernardi said. “I wanted to become more active and engaged in the community.”
He especially appreciated the opportunity to take an in-depth look at important issues and said he discovered Spokane is a much more diverse place than he’d thought.
Leadership Spokane students are placed on teams and challenged to find a way to impact the community. Bernardi was on the Diversity Scan team. “We created a scholarship specific to folks with diverse backgrounds. It will fully cover the cost of the program.”
Bernardi calls the organization “an incredible asset for Spokane and for our area.” And though he graduates June 13, he’s not leaving the program behind. “My passion is now Leadership Spokane,” he said. He’s agreed to serve on the organization’s board. “I want to participate in making Spokane a better place and Leadership Spokane has given me that avenue.”
Linda Finney knows well the passion graduates have for the program and she’d like to tap into that even more in the coming years. She hopes to see the alumni association become a key resource for the community.
“I didn’t intend to stay in the job this long, but it grabbed me by the throat,” she said. “It’s become a labor of love for me.”
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