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‘Break out of my shell’Berks program teaches leadership and management skills, community involvement

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PHOTO COURTESY OF LEADERSHIP BERKS
Leadership Berks this year honored Lauer’s Park Elementary School principal Gordon Hoodak with an honorary alumni award and Maria Radwanski (right) of Health Calls Home Health Agency, who earned the Distinguished Alumni award. They are pictured with Toni Eckert, director of Leadership Berks.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LEADERSHIP BERKS Leadership Berks this year honored Lauer’s Park Elementary School principal Gordon Hoodak with an honorary alumni award and Maria Radwanski (right) of Health Calls Home Health Agency, who earned the Distinguished Alumni award. They are pictured with Toni Eckert, director of Leadership Berks.

It didn’t take long for Ambur Bernhard to benefit from Leadership Berks.

The June graduate said the program gave her leadership skills and the confidence to apply for a better job at her company.

“Thanks to [Leadership Berks], I was able to break out of my shell, learn how to be a leader and how to help the community,” said Bernhard, a program manager at Berks Community Television in Reading.

Bernhard is one of 25 graduates this year from Leadership Berks, a program of Alvernia University’s O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service in Reading. It is run by Toni Eckert, director of Leadership Berks and outreach programs at Alvernia.

Offered annually from September to June, the program is open to executives and others from for-profit and nonprofit organizations in Berks County. Its goal is to give student the tools to go into the workplace and community to make the county a better place to live, work and play.

“Leadership Berks strives to prepare students to hone leadership and management skills and provides instruction on best practices in organizational leadership and nonprofit board governance,” Eckert said.

PROJECTS, CLASSROOM TRAINING

More than 850 have graduated from Leadership Berks since its inception in 1985. Organizations integral in establishing the program include the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry, United Way of Berks County, United Labor Council and Junior League.

Students go through orientation, take part in a two-day overnight retreat, attend daylong class instruction once a month and participate in an annual campaign to benefit scholarships and alumni engagement.

Eckert said students are separated into teams of four to six, and each team coordinates projects that range from feasibility studies to marketing and communications initiatives to volunteer recruitment plans.

Tuition is $2,815 for businesses or for-profit organizations and $2,305 for nonprofits.

NEW TERRITORY

Jeff Laylon, a director and volunteer development coordinator at New Journey Community Outreach in Reading, was elected class president of 2017 Leadership Berks.

“I was in Berks County for five years, and it wasn’t until I went through Leadership Berks that I actually felt like I was part of its makeup,” Laylon said, noting the program instills confidence, a sense of accomplishment and a better understanding of the county.

“We were taken on a journey, so to speak, that led us out of our comfort zones and into new territory. In the end, all 25 classmates have agreed to be on boards of committees with nonprofits throughout Berks.”

Laylon said his team developed a program of professional development and education that Leadership Berks can use to engage alumni. Also, as president he headed the class campaign to raise $25,000 for alumni engagement and the annual Leadership Berks scholarship fund.

SPONSORED BY EMPLOYERS

Each year, Leadership Berks holds an event to celebrate new graduates, honor alumni and community leaders and award businesses for making significant contributions to Berks County.

Eckert said honorees included Maria Radwanski of the class of 1998, who received the Distinguished Alumni award, Lauer’s Park Elementary School, which received the Art of Leadership Legacy Award, and Lauer’s Park principal Gordon Hoodak, who received an honorary alumni award for contributions to education and Leadership Berks.

“Over 95 percent of [class members] are sponsored by their employer,” Eckert said. “Scholarships are available for consideration from those individuals who work for nonprofit organizations with budgets under $250,000 or who are self-sponsoring.

“The curriculum is designed with the adult learner in mind with a minimum of 20 but not more than 35 students.”

FRIENDS, CONNECTIONS

Laylon and Bernhard agreed that one the best things about Leadership Berks was meeting and befriending fellow classmates from diverse backgrounds who united with the common goal to become better leaders.

“I feel like I can call any of my classmates and say, ‘Hey, I need your help,’ and I would get it,” Laylon said.

Bernhard said she would highly recommend the program.

“You make lifelong friends, invaluable connections and learn that you can make a difference in your community just by using the talents you already have,” she said.

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