Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Leadership Kittitas County brings together leaders from all sectors of the community in order to make connections and to learn about the systems and history that make Kittitas County what it is.

LKC is a seven-month program in which about 16 participants tour a specific aspect of Kittitas County once a month. For instance, one month is based around the health care system, another education, another the county legal system. Participants meet Central Washington University officials, county lawmakers, business owners, and so on.

Monica Miller, director of Gallery One, attended LKC’s 2015 session, and said that she greatly benefited from her experience in the program.

“It gave me a really great sense of the various systems in place that it takes to serve and take care of a community of people from health, to education, to the land we’re walking on, to the economy,” Miller said. “Since then I feel like I’ve been able to call people in those fields directly and create partnerships.”

In 1995, Judy Love was Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. According to her, she saw tensions between CWU and the residents and leaders of the city of Ellensburg. She said that a fellow board member, Russ Schultz who was then chair of the CWU music department, brought up the idea of creating a program similar to one he saw in a similar-sized Texas town.

“He said it was a really good way of bridging that gap and getting people to know each other just as people, sitting down and having meals together,” Love said.

The two started reaching out to leaders and officials around the community, both to participate in the program, and to help teach participants about their fields of expertise. Leadership programs like this exist all over the county, as Love can attest to.

“There’s nothing unique about this program,” Love said. “This program is replicated all over the country in communities large and small. Seattle has probably one of the premier programs in the country, it’s a two-year program, very intense, very expensive. I think they’ve been five grand or something. It’s sort of the gold standard of what leadership programs are.”

SMALLER BUT VALUABLE

The LKC program is smaller of course, however, many of the those who have attended can attest to its value. The list of alumni who have attended the session range, including current Ellensburg Mayor Bruce Tabb, CWU Director of Student Involvement Andre Dickerson and Cannabis Central owner Rob Hendrix, who was in the fourth LKC session in 1998.

“I found it to be really valuable and I really, really appreciated the opportunity to have been tabbed to participate,” Hendrix said. “There’s some community service stuff that’s like ‘OK I’ll do my part,’ you know, chores. This was not, I always viewed this as a terrific opportunity and really an honor, to be honest.”

According to Hendrix, one of the most valuable things he got from the experience was the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and see aspects of Kittitas County from different perspectives.

“It’s not just knowledge,” said Hendrix. “Some of these were really gut wrenching, emotional connections with people. I’ve never really been on public assistance, right? I had never been a battered wife with a child, I’d never been hungry. So what do I know? How do I know what people are really going through and how they’re dealing with things? It made me more compassionate, empathetic. I appreciated someone shining a kind of light on some things that I hadn’t thought about.”

Steve Townsend, currently building the Hotel Windrow in downtown Ellensburg, said that his favorite experience was visiting the Roslyn cemetery on a cold November day in 2018 when it started snowing. According to him, the whole program gave him a better sense of community connectedness, easing the process of building the hotel.

“A lot of people feel that the city is hard to work with as far as development, it’s really not,” Townsend said. “You just have to recognize that everybody has a job to do with their own goals and that you need to work with them.”

Love has retired from her position at the Chamber of Commerce, but still works as volunteer for LKC with alumni from nearly every year attesting to how hard she has worked to put it together and overcome the challenges such a task comes with.

Leadership Kittitas County is currently accepting applications for the 2019-20 class year, with applications and schedules available on the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce website.

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