VALDOSTA -- Currently celebrating its 15th year, the Leadership Lowndes organization has graduated nearly 450 community movers and shakers from the program.

"We identify emerging and existing leaders in the community to get them involved in our program and make them aware of other volunteer opportunities," said Kevin Griffin, president of the Class of 2003 and an alumnus of the program.

Leadership Lowndes sponsored its first class in 1989. Participants have to be willing and able to commit to one Thursday each month for nine months in order to graduate from the program.

Each year begins with an orientation weekend at Jekyll Island in January and ends with graduation in November. "We take off July, August and December," said Griffin.

Each month the class participates in a different theme day, from a legislative day at the state capitol to a tour of the Lowndes County jail.

"We have a defense day at Moody, an education day where we tour area schools and universities, and a public safety day where we study the judicial system," Griffin said. "Each day is planned by the previous year's class, who make all the contacts and arrangements."

Leadership Lowndes strives to ensure that the participants are exposed to as much of the community as possible, both good and bad, to showcase the needs and to foster a spirit of volunteerism.

"When I was selected, I was doing nothing in the community... now I've served on committees with the Chamber and am active in the United Way and the Boy Scouts," Griffin said.

Although the next class won't begin until 2004 and the present class won't graduate until November, preparations for next year are already underway. "We want to encourage anyone who is interested in the program to either nominate themselves or someone else they feel would benefit from this," he said. Each nominee then must submit a detailed application to be considered.

With a class size limited each year to only 30 participants, Griffin said it takes at least four to six weeks for the selection committee to process the applications to determine the best class mix.

"Some people, including me, have had to wait a year or two after being nominated to get in," he said.

However, Griffin doesn't want anyone to become discouraged, especially if they are truly interested in the program.

Leadership Lowndes is funded by alumni annual dues and by a $550 fee per participant, which covers all of the expenses, transportation costs, etc. for the year. Griffin said most companies bear the cost for their employees, although the program offers two scholarships each year, but added that occasionally, someone will opt to pay the amount themselves in order to participate.

Each year, Leadership Lowndes also sponsors a Youth Leadership program for juniors and seniors in area private and public schools each spring from January through April. "We want to promote the spirit of volunteerism early on before they graduate from high school," Griffin said.

Anyone interested in nominating someone for the program should fill out the nomination form or contact the Chamber of Commerce, the sponsor of the program, at 247-8100 for more information.

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris,

call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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