Leadership Has its Reward – and its Price

Leadership Rockwall and Leadership Rowlett are programs designed to identify and motivate emerging community leaders. Sponsored by their respective chambers of commerce, they provide opportunities to learn about their communities while developing personal, organizational and community leadership skills. Last months graduation ceremonies for the 2014 Leadership Rockwall class was held at Allure Restaurant on May 21. The following is a recap of the program given by Kevin Fowler, one of the 2014 graduates:

I was asked to take a few minutes and talk about my experience with Leadership Rockwall. So I’ll walk you through some of the more significant events so that if you haven’t gone through Leadership Rockwall before, you can get a feel or flavor of the program.

The first thing you do after being accepted is go to a welcome reception. There’s some food, drink – it’s nice – and all the previous classes gather in groups and tell you how their class is the best. Then there is a time where the new class sits around a table to introduce themselves and the class advisors outline the program. There’s a little excitement, some trepidation, some nervousness. My impressions are, “Hey there are few people I know, this is going to be ok.” “Hey, there’s Robin Fowler. We have the same last name. That’s cool. I wonder if we’re related? I wonder how many people here think we’re related? Yeah, probably no one. That’s silly. Who really thinks about that kind of thing? Everyone knows we’re not.”

There is a time of questions from the class and about the first one out of the box, “Yeah, I’ve got a question. What’s up with Fowler and Fowler? Are Robin and Kevin related?” At that point I think, this could be a longer 9 months than I thought.

The next step in this adventure called Leadership Rockwall is a “retreat”. To me a retreat is a peaceful place, a place that is cool and comfortable, relaxing. A place to get away and recharge your batteries so to speak.
To Leadership Rockwall, it is a time where they pick the absolute hottest three days of September to go do an outdoor challenge course in what I think was the middle of a desert. Well it was actually in Commerce, so yeah, about the same thing. There was one time, and I’m sure that I remember this correctly, that a 9½ month pregnant woman climbed a telephone pole, a telephone pole mind you that reduced grown men to tears and walked across another telephone pole 20 feet off of the ground. I think she may even been in labor and delivered a baby up there on that telephone pole. Needless to say we all survived, “the retreat”, and made it back home with everyone we left with – plus one newborn baby.

The rest of the program consists of taking a day each month and visiting with different city and county officials, non-profits, the school district, the EDC, Chamber and so on which is very enlightening and enjoyable. So that really about sums up Leadership Rockwall.

Oh yeah…. There is this other part of it. This thing called the class project. This is where the class gets together, and under a set of guidelines, brainstorms, argues, cusses and discusses ideas for a project in Rockwall County that will have a lasting effect and will continue on in perpetuity long after the class is over. So through a series of sessions where we all contributed ideas and voted, and contributed ideas and voted, talked about the contributed ideas and voted, eliminated the contributed ideas and voted, then contributed new ideas and voted, then didn’t like any of those so voted on the old contributed ideas and finally come up with THE IDEA, THE PROJECT – a butterfly garden, maybe even gardens. So the next step is to get it approved by the board. No problem this is a slam dunk. What better project than to feed, nurture, provide a safe haven for some of God’s helpless, delicate, fluttery creatures? A place of learning. A place where kids can come and learn through interactive exhibits. A respite for those in need of a quiet, peaceful, beautiful flower-filled – no butterfly filled – place for lunch.

Les Miles, who is LSU’s football coach, said something after a close victory in Tiger Stadium, where LSU plays, over the then number 3 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in 2012 who had national championship aspirations. He said, “Death Valley, that’s a place where opponent’s dreams come to die.” A great quote. I just didn’t want it to apply to us and our project. The board voted no. The Leadership Board, where the class’s project just died – like a butterfly on a windshield.

Back to the drawing board with new ultimatums and time lines – and with the encouraging words from our advisors that this is normal, that every class experiences this. Somehow, this doesn’t make me feel that much better. Now with hurt feelings, embarrassment, frustration and maybe, just maybe a little bit of anger, the process begins again. This time with the class advisors sitting there step by step, through every endless “reply all” email and even some emails that very few people saw. And so was born a new project, like a Phoenix out of the ashes, no, like a butterfly out of the chrysalis, a van for the Boys and Girls Club. And not just a van, but a newly painted, spruced up Art Room at the Club. The van provides access. Access for children, for better grades, for a better future, for fun, for challenge, for hope. So while the butterflies will have to make it without our help a while longer, there’s no informational kiosks around Rockwall, there’s no treehouse, there’s no Interurban Trail revival, there’s no mentoring program – there is some kiddo that right now that didn’t have a ride to a cool club yesterday that has one today.

Leadership Rockwall is effort, takes time, is rewarding, is tremendously fun and tremendously exhausting. Lasting friendships are formed. And, like all things with those kinds of characteristics, in the end tremendously worth it.

Leadership Rockwall and Leadership Rowlett are currently registering participants in their 2015 classes. For more information, visit the Rockwall Chamber website, or the Rowlett Chamber site.

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