Sunday, February 7, 2016

New leaders graduate from Elkhart Chamber of Commerce program

Posted on May 13, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 13, 2013 at 3:27 p.m.

ELKHART — A remodeled kitchen, a marketing campaign for a parenting class and supplies for a women’s shelter were among the projects Elkhart Leadership Academy students took on this year.

The nine-month program put together by the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce graduated 17 students Wednesday, May 8, during the 27th graduation event at the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart.

The goal of the program is to encourage leadership and to develop new leaders specifically for the Elkhart area.

Each year’s class is divided into several groups and each group works on a community improvement project. C.J. Cunningham of The Troyer Group and some of his classmates decided to create a new kitchen for the Tolson Center, a non-profit after-school recreation center for youth located in Elkhart.

“We visited a number of not-for-profits in the area and discussed the needs we saw,” said Cunningham. “Our group saw a need for the Tolson Center kitchen to be remodeled — the staff was not able to make the appropriate snacks. The refrigerator was freezing food.”

The group was pleasantly surprised this week when a local business offered to donate new cabinets and countertops for the project. Another local company gave the group a steep discount on appliances.

Crystal Albert of Kem Krest in Elkhart said that being a part of the Elkhart Leadership Academy motivated her to join the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“I learned a lot about the Elkhart community and about helping the community out,” said Albert. “Also, I like to help kids and I was involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters a long time ago as a Big.”

She said that she would recommend Elkhart Leadership Academy to others in the area.

“I would tell people that it is a good opportunity to be a leader,” said Albert. “You learn a lot of diverse things from different people.”

One group collected supplies and donations for the Elkhart County Women’s Shelter and the Faith Mission of Elkhart. They did that by asking for donations from local businesses, setting up Toys for Tots donation boxes in offices and hosting a fundraising night at a restaurant.

Another group decided to create a marketing campaign for Child and Parent Services positive parenting classes. The classes weren’t well attended, but after the group created a Facebook page, redesigned the organization’s website, started online registration and made postcards to be distributed to new parents, attendance numbers jumped.

Dr. Pankaj Saksena, assistant dean at Indiana University South Bend, spoke to this class of graduates and others attending on being an effective leader. Good leaders should have five essential values: communication, integrity, stewardship, inspiration and charity.

Denise Polachek, class coordinator and chamber staff liaison, thanked the students for their hard work and dedication on the group projects.

“Every year, the students blow me away with what they do to help the community,” said Polachek. “This (program) is one of the best things we at the chamber do.”

To learn more about the Elkhart Leadership Academy, visit or call the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce at 574-293-1531.