Worcester Telegram & Gazette | April 21, 2018
By Paula J. Owen

WORCESTER - After a brief hiatus, Leadership Worcester is back, creating a pipeline of professionals invested in the future of Worcester through education programs to help them gain a different perspective of problems facing the city while gaining a network of colleagues.

Ann T. Lisi, president and CEO of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation that co-sponsors Leadership Worcester with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said participants meet with community leaders to gain a firsthand understanding of critical issues facing Worcester while also building professional skills that contribute to civic advancement.

“They meet with leaders and discuss current dilemmas that face our community and visit places from behind the scenes,” Ms. Lisi said.

It was a thriving program of the chamber for years, she said, that was re-established as a partnership between the two organizations in 2014.

“The foundation is interested in community development and we're here to support the people and organizations to continuously build up the strengths of the community,” Ms. Lisi said. “The chamber is committed to fostering long-term business development and attracting and retaining private businesses. Together we have this shared goal.”

Leadership Worcester is accepting applications for the 2018-19 class, which will meet for full-day sessions each month to dive into an issue important to the community, and also hear about challenges and successes in other cities, she said. The application deadline is May 21.

The nine-month program begins in September with an overnight retreat. Daylong sessions are held monthly from October to May, with each session exploring a regional topic to help participants develop an understanding of the critical issues impacting the Central Massachusetts economy, government and quality of life.

The application process is competitive, Ms. Lisi said, and participants are typically employer-nominated with their employer paying most of the cost of the $2,500 tuition. Participants represent all sectors of the community — business, nonprofit, education and government, she said.

A selection panel considers several factors including leadership potential, the level of commitment the applicant has to the community and an indication of wanting to remain in the city long-term.

Karen L. Pelletier, vice president of operations and director of education and workforce development at the chamber, said the panel identifies promising new professionals who aspire to take an active leadership role in the Worcester community and are interested in learning and honing new leadership skills for the long-term benefit of the community.

“We are hoping to get a good cross-section of industries with participants who are representative of the community,” Ms. Pelletier said. “My goal is to have as many applicants as possible.”

Only about 25 slots are available, however.

At graduation, each participant reads a declaration statement, Ms. Pelletier said.

“It is so inspiring, what they are doing moving forward to help the community,” she said. “It is very powerful, to see them make that switch to see themselves as a contributor and someone who has a role to play here.”

The goal, she added, is for participants who are in leadership roles in the city to get more involved and become more invested and to think more broadly about challenges so they can be part of the solution.

Patrick T. Maloney, president of the Nativity School of Worcester, participated in Leadership Worcester in 2016-2017 with the support of the school, after he was encouraged to apply, he said.

Some of the most memorable sessions, he said, were on education, health, local government, economic development and law.

“For me, it was an opportunity to learn more about my hometown and the city that I love, while also building relationships with other amazing young professionals from all walks of life,” Mr. Maloney said. “It's these relationships that have helped to foster the collaborative spirit that has permeated Worcester for years. I made many new friends who I've been proud to partner with to make this city a better place for my family.”

Marco Estrella, business operations manager at Unum, said the class made a difference with his “executive presence” and his ability to ask the right questions.

“My employer paid a portion,” he said. “I applied to the program to galvanize my leadership acumen, contribute ideas, and learn from the experiences of expert leaders from a variety of sectors in Worcester.”