Every year, the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce conducts a leadership academy called Leadership Catoosa. Up to 25 individuals, all of whom have been nominated by Chamber members, go through an intense course to get to know Catoosa County in a way and at a level few ever will.
Leadership Catoosa students start their year of learning with an overnight stay at the Berry College WinShape Retreat where WinShape teams teach working as a team and bonding. This year’s class (2018-19) was treated to some extra training by Ron Sparks of Sandler Training. The Sandler training was sponsored by Catoosa businessman and former commissioner Ray Johnson.
“The Leadership Catoosa class is an eye-opening experience for participants no matter how long they have lived and worked in Catoosa County,” says Chamber CEO Amy Jackson. “The business relationships and friendships that people make are lasting and beneficial. I am proud that the Chamber’s Leadership Catoosa committee continues to put together such a relevant schedule of visits each year with business and community leaders that participants might not have access to through any other means.”
Jackson says that the planning committee’s chairman this year, Brad Denton of Flegal Insurance, did an amazing job pulling together an itinerary for students.
To get an idea of just how intense the leadership course is, it’s best to take a tour. Here’s a whirlwind trip through Leadership Catoosa’s year of learning.
September 2018: Kick-off. Overnight stay at Berry College WinShape Retreat, training by WinShape staff and by Ron Sparks of Sandler Training.
October 2018: Local Government Day. Throughout the day, class members met with Catoosa County Commission Chair Steven Henry, Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright, Catoosa County Fire Chief Randy Camp, Catoosa Chief Magistrate Judge John Gaff, Catoosa Probate Judge Jeff Hullender, Senior District Attorney Alan Norton and State Court Judge Ron Goulart. After lunch, which was sponsored by Community National Bank, the class toured the Catoosa County Jail and Sheriff’s Department and met with Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins and Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief Mike Helton.
November 2018: Local Business Day. On this day, Leadership Catoosa students toured the Shaw Plant RP, Propex, heard a presentation at Ringgold Telephone Company and enjoyed a lunch sponsored by FNB Bank, then toured MedSTAT. Next they visited Heritage Funeral Home in Fort Oglethorpe and learned about crisis management from Ben Friberg, managing partner of the funeral home. The class wrapped up their long day with a tour of Costco.
January 2019: Health and Social Services Day. The class started their day with DeLaine Hunter, CEO of North Georgia Healthcare Center in Ringgold, who took them on a tour and treated them to a catered breakfast. NGHCC’s Matt McUmber spoke to the group about behavioral health and the group heard from John Donahoo, branch executive director of the North Georgia Community YMCA.
The next stop was the Family Crisis Center and The Cottage (a foster home for teens), then on to CHI Memorial Georgia where leader of Special Operations Angie Hullander spoke and the class was treated to lunch. After lunch, the class visited the Catoosa County Department of Family and Children Services where they heard from director Jonathan Sloan and from a case worker, then they visited NHC Healthcare Fort Oglethorpe and visited with administrator Craig Jones. The final stop of the day was at Catoosa Family Collaborative for an informative visit with director Phil Ledbetter and some of his staff.
February 2019: Capital Day. On Capital Day each year, the Catoosa Chamber partners with the Walker County Chamber of Commerce to visit Atlanta. This year, the two groups were greeted by Sen. Jeff Mullis then toured the Capitol Museum and had their picture taken with Gov. Brian Kemp. The next stop was a visit with Mark Williams, director of the Department of Natural Resources. After that, the class got to hear from long-time lobbyist Mo Thrash about some of the realities of politics as it plays out day-to-day. Just before lunch, the class met with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Lunch was provided by Top of Georgia, the nonprofit branch of Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority, of which Sen. Mullis is president and CEO. Post lunch, the class heard from Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council executive director Jay Neal, and Georgia Bureau of Investigation assistant director Dan Kirk.
March 2019: Education Day. The Leadership Catoosa class met at Georgia Northwestern Technical College Catoosa Campus and was welcomed by Catoosa schools Superintendent Denia Reese. Reese, Catoosa schools Communications Specialist Marissa Brower and Catoosa County Public Schools Partnership Program Coordinator Buffy Hemphill served as guides for the leadership class throughout the day. The class toured the new Graysville Elementary School with principal Kerri Sholl and CCPS Director of Operations Mike Sholl and got a technology update from technology director Steve Sawyer. They also got to visit a classroom in action.
The next stop was Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School where Principal Chance Nix talked to the class about the role of ESPLOST IV and V in building the school’s gymnasium. There was a visit with the Career Technical Agricultural Education class and a tour of the Student Success Center where the class heard from Suzanne Chovanec about Communities in Schools. The class enjoyed what Amy Jackson called a truly excellent meal sponsored by Primary Healthcare of Tiger Creek Elementary and made from scratch by LFO’s Culinary Arts Class. During lunch, students heard a talk by Buffy Hemphill on the CCPS Partnership program.
Next stop was Tiger Creek Elementary School where leadership students met with Principal David Beard and learned from Mike Sholl about the CCPS system-wide security system, Sielox. There was a visit with Tiger Creek’s Robotics Class and to Tiger Care Clinic, located within the school. The last stop of the day was back at GNTC to tour the campus and also hear from a representative of Dalton College.
April 2019. The class used the month of April to plan a required community service project. They decided on a clothing drive called “Clean Up, Clean Out” to collect new and “gently used” clothes for The Family Crisis Center and The Cottage. Some of the clothing went directly to the people served by the organizations and some went to the thrift shops run by FCC and The Cottage. This month also provided a good opportunity for students to do homework – required visits to council and commission meetings, school board meetings, civic meetings and a Chamber event and written reports on the visits.
May 2019: Tourism and Economic Development Day. Leadership Catoosa started the day at Chickamauga Battlefield with park historian Jim Ogden, then moved on to the nearby 6th Cavalry Museum where they met with museum director Chris McKeever. There was a lunch break, sponsored by Flegal Insurance, at Park Place Restaurant where class members heard from North Georgia Joint Development Authority Chairman Chip Catlett and North Georgia Visitor Center manager Ontaria Finch. With tummies full, the class moved on to Elsie Holmes Nature Park where they heard from Catoosa Parks and Recreation Director Travis Barbee. The next stop was Food City on Hwy. 41 and a tour with the store’s manager, Myron McCormick, as well as a talk by Catoosa County Economic Development director Keith Barclift about the joint efforts it took to bring the Hwy. 41 Food City to life. The final stop of the day was a tour of the Georgia Winery.
Graduation for Leadership Catoosa was June 13 at the Colonnade and featured Chattanooga-based author and motivational speaker Vincent Ivan Phipps.
Kathleen Hill of Real Estate Partners was one of the 16 members of this year’s Leadership Catoosa class. She was also the class’s president. “Leadership Catoosa was an incredible experience,” she says. “Getting to go into businesses and other places we would normally just drive past and see how they work behind the scenes was very motivating. It made me ask myself how I can help my county grow. I would definitely consider taking the class again.”