A second year of the Knox-Haskell Counties Texas Rural Leadership Program (TRLP) is in the books. Twelve participants from Knox and Haskell counties graduated from the 8-month program on Monday night, May 9, 2016, at the Webfoot Connections Lodge in Rochester, Texas. They were joined by their employers, family, city and county government officials, and board members.
The graduation celebration was a fun-filled evening. Live music was provided by Parris Pittman, who was a graduate of last year’s program. Roger Rowe and his staff at Webfoot Connections Lodge prepared and served a steak and chicken dinner to the group. The speaker of the evening was Nicki Harle from Baird. Ms. Harle is the former executive director and founder of Texas Midwest Community Network and currently runs a leadership program for Bastrop County. Participants answered her questions about impactful and memorable moments throughout the past 8 months. She left the group with some final notes on not letting fear, fault or feelings get in the way of accomplishing big things in the community.
Ms. Nancy Birkenfeld is the County Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Knox County and also serves as the KCVG Board Member. She sent one of her employees Bea Hernandez through the program. “It is encouraging to see how these ladies have developed into confident leaders for our respective towns and counties through this program,” said Ms. Birkenfeld.
Each county will put their new-found skills and experience into practice through the fulfillment of a community project. These projects are collaborations among the participants. The Knox County participants are planning to host a Youth Engagement Symposium in the fall of 2016. The goal of the symposium is to bring communities and volunteers together at a day-long event and provide them with information and resources they need to focus on and address youth issues identified in the county. Hopefully, each community will leave empowered to develop youth centers that provide kids a safe place to come to study, learn and socialize after school. The Haskell County group is working on a digital sign that will be placed on the courthouse square. The sign will be used to display messages that pertain to the citizens of Haskell, events and emergency messages. The group is gathering quotes from several different companies and working on the details for the public to get their messages displayed.
“In the past two years, we have seen the incredible impact this program has had on our communities. Besides their group projects which have benefited our towns, many of these young men and women have joined civic organizations, volunteered for events, attended meetings and brought their newly-minted leadership skills with them. Their enthusiasm is contagious, their presence: priceless,” beamed Jill Druesedow, Haskell City Council.
The TRLP program began last year as a joint effort between the Knox County Visioning Group (KCVG) and the Development Corporation of Haskell (DCOH). These two groups saw the need for leadership in their communities and decided to do something about it. Once a month for 8 months, the group met and worked through a leadership curriculum provided by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Powerful speakers from around the region were brought in to teach the curriculum, lend their experience to the group and help the participants to establish valuable networks. The afternoons are filled with tours and speakers from around Knox and Haskell Counties. Participants explore city and county government, healthcare, education, economic development, quality of life. The tours help participants explore their local resources and learn more about their communities as a whole. A highlight of the program is a trip to Austin where they have the opportunity to tour the capitol and visit with key leaders, organizations and state agencies about the wide variety of state-wide resources available to rural communities.
Haskell County Judge David Davis said he believes in the leadership program. “I went through a similar program in the mid 90’s, and I believe they are very worth-while. It’s important for people to understand their commitment when they enter into such a program.” Judge Davis is currently working with the Haskell graduates on their digital sign project.
This year’s TRLP graduates include Christina Isbell, Jamie Ferguson, Nicole Buchanan, Jamie Jordan, Veronica Anderson, Jessica Boggs and Susan Jarred from Haskell County. The Knox County participants include Nicki Ivie, Sheri Warren, Lisa Tidwell, Bianca Harrimon and Beatrice Hernandez from Knox County. The program was directed by DCOH Director, Jimi Coplen and Knox County Agent, Lorrie Coop.