2020 Leadership McPherson Class Project

2020 Leadership McPherson Class Project

Leadership McPherson Class of 2020 graduates, sets goals for future
-By Jessie Wagoner

The McPherson Chamber of Commerce has led a Leadership McPherson class every year since 1982, and a pandemic wasn’t about to stop the tradition. While other leadership programs throughout the state put their programs on hold, McPherson forged ahead, implementing safety precautions and a smaller class size to ensure safety and success.

This year, nine McPherson professionals participated in Leadership McPherson; I was fortunate enough to be included in the group. Participants included myself, Mark Brinck, Hannah Huber, Tricia Bengston, Shanyn Boese, Marissa Edenstrom, Kylie Goering, Michael McGowan and Abby Trenkle. While there were only nine of us, we had a wide range of professions represented: law enforcement, banking, media, human resources and public services, to name a few.

The goal of Leadership McPherson is to develop effective leadership, open minds to perspectives that surround issues facing our community and enable participants to become more visionary leaders.

Over the course of six in-person sessions and two full days of leadership training through the Kansas Leadership Center, our group learned about different leadership styles, how to create a vision, different opportunities for community involvement and how to handle conflict.

“I really enjoyed learning more about the McPherson community and the opportunities to address the needs of the community,” Bengston said. “I also appreciated learning additional strategies for dealing with conflicts.”

One highlight of the program was the opportunity to learn from other community partners. Leadership McPherson alumni took the time to come and teach several of our sessions, sharing their experience and expertise with us. We also had visitors from community organizations come and share about issues critical to the McPherson community. Mental health, education, services for seniors, and housing were just a few of the topics.

One point that was driven home again and again was the idea that, “Leadership is an activity, not a position.” All of us have the ability to lead, regardless of the position or title we hold. We can all develop leadership skills, and we can display those leadership qualities in a variety of ways.

At the beginning of the class, we all chose a problem or situation we wanted to work on throughout the class time. For some of us, it was a professional goal; for others, it was a personal goal. Each week, as we learned new skills, we would move forward to meeting our goals. We developed the skills to push ourselves, handle disappointment, regroup and ultimately meet our goal.

“You can’t exercise leadership without experimenting,” McGowan says he learned during the class. “You need to develop the stomach to try something, fail, learn and experiment some more.”

Each Leadership McPherson class completes a class project. Projects are decided on by the group and must be something to benefit youth in McPherson. The chamber provides $1,000 to be used toward the group project. Deciding on a class project proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be. There are so many areas of need in our community, especially during COVID-19. We all had great ideas and had to narrow it down to one focus.

Ultimately, we chose to focus on school supplies. When I moved to McPherson almost two years ago, I went to enroll my son in school and was shocked when I was asked to pay enrollment fees. In my hometown, public education is completely free, since our tax dollars already cover educational costs. With a lump in my throat, I wrote a check for enrollment fees, hoping it wouldn’t bounce before I got my first paycheck. Then as I went to leave, they handed me a list with school supplies that needed to be purchased. Again, I was shocked. Back home, the area churches provided all school supplies for children. All parents did was pay taxes, buy a backpack and send their children off to school. This was a whole new world, an expensive world.

There are several benefits to having school supplies provided by the community. Not only is it a cost savings for families, but it ensures teachers have all the needed supplies. Teachers don’t have to worry about if some children bring supplies or if some don’t. They aren’t spending their own money filling gaps. It also removes the comparison issues of one child having nicer things than another student. If everyone has exactly the same thing in the amounts needed, it makes things a bit smoother for teachers.

Our class decided we wanted to provide school supplies for McPherson Elementary School students. Then we did the math. To provide school supplies for every elementary school student would have been more than $40,000. In the midst of COVID-19, we didn’t think trying to raise that much money would be feasible. We also talked with school administration and the McPherson School Supply Train and felt like we needed to reevaluate.

The McPherson School Supply Train was started 1994 by Shirley Adams. She was a teacher, and it was her belief that every child should have new school supplies to start the year off, regardless of ability to afford those supplies. Kindergarten through fifth grade children on the free and reduced lunch program within USD 418 became the target audience for the McPherson School Supply Train. The School Supply Train is currently managed by Shirley Adams’s daughter, Marsha Silver, and Melody Elder. They are doing a fabulous job providing for elementary school students but were wanting to expand to provide supplies for middle school students. Once we learned about the McPherson School Supply Train, we were able to develop our objective.

“Our objective is to provide McPherson families in financial need, with children entering McPherson Middle School, the majority of school supplies needed for the 2021 school year and beyond,” Brinck said. “Helping to reduce the stress and financial burden parents may experience as they prepare to send their children off to school.”

Roughly 40 percent of McPherson Middle School students qualify for free and reduced lunches. Providing supplies would cost approximately $7,000. Silver has donated $1,000 from the school supply train funds to help, and we have $1,000 so our group will soon begin fundraising efforts to raise the remaining $5,000.

“We also want to gain greater exposure for the School Supply Train in McPherson through social media, a website, and fundraising opportunities,” Edenstrom said.

Our Leadership McPherson Class participated in a graduation ceremony and luncheon Wednesday. Our class sessions are over, but we will continue to meet as a group to complete our class project.

Though our class was different from previous years due to the pandemic, we still learned from the experience and developed a better understanding of the needs of the community. For me, the class was a bright spot during a challenging time. For the most part, I work alone. The class time gave me a chance to connect with other professionals and brainstorm new ideas. I feel more at home in McPherson because of the class, and I look forward to moving forward in leadership to help our community.

If you would like to assist our class with fundraising to complete our project, email jessie@mcphersonweeklynews.com or call the McPherson Chamber of Commerce at 620-241-3303.  See more photos from the 2020 Leadership McPherson Class celebration on Facebook.