Leadership Midland: Over 30 years of building the network of leaders

In 1986, four organizations recognized that there was a need in the Midland community – A need for more individuals with strong leadership skills. Could any town have too many informed, engaged and kind-hearted individuals that worked together to achieve results? The Midland Area Chamber of Commerce, Northwood University, Midland Daily News and the Midland Rotary Club decided the answer was no, and created what is now known as Leadership Midland. Other communities across the United States were also creating leadership programs during this time, many of which are still running and inspiring new leadership to this day.

Since then, over 1,145 participants have graduated from the Leadership Midland program. Many graduates are ones you would recognize: names often seen in media, key decisions makers, civil service workers, officers of the peace, emergency services personnel, and directors in organizations and corporations that hold strong roots in the foundation of Midland. Many others are the people who make Midland run, from non-profit workers to city and county employees. Every person who goes through Leadership Midland is integral to the community and the people served within it.

Learning about some of Midland's history.

Diane Middleton, executive director for the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce stressed the valuable impact that Leadership Midland has had on the community.

“Look at any roster of community leaders, any elected body of officials, any non-profit board, the list goes on... You’ll see graduates of Leadership Midland volunteering their time, expertise, and talent to make those ventures successful,” says Middleton. “Class members are required to come together to complete a class project, and you see these completed volunteer projects all over the community, as well.”

The class project is part of the program, and is often the hallmark of a year of planning and hard work. Each class plans and executes the project from start to finish, and while the program is only an initial three days in length, you can see the lasting benefits throughout the community for far longer.

“The classes broadly impact several organizations and efforts in Midland,” says Middleton. “Past classes have helped to sponsor sections of the Chippewa Nature Center’s nature trail, provided dollars for home heating assistance, provided physical upgrades for Shelterhouse, helped clean up Camp Neyati, organized winter coat and boot drives, provided volunteers for the Midland County Juvenile Care Center, established a library inside of Windover High School and helped raise awareness of mental health issues.”

Over 1,100 people have completed Leadership Midland since 1986.

Before selecting a project, the class takes a moment to ask, How is this going to positively impact lives here in Midland County?

“You can see how these projects really do touch lives, and make Midland a better place to work, live, and play,” says Middleton.

Each year, the class is selected from a pool of applicants containing the best and brightest individuals, and is then led by the year’s selected chairperson, with next year’s leader serving as vice-chair.

Diane Middleton executive director for the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce

The program itself takes place over three days and two nights of intensive field trips, speakers and team-building exercises. Some communities choose to stretch their program out over several months, and sometimes years. Leadership Midland is unique in that you are required to attend the entire three days of programming, however this ensures that no one misses vital opportunities.

The Class of 2018 on their field trip to Whiting Forest.

The Class of 2018 was chaired by Scott MacNellis, owner of LaLonde’s Market. “Chairing the Class of 2018 was extremely rewarding. I felt like I was a part of the class, which was special because I hadn’t felt that since I went through the program in 2014. This year’s class really embraced me as one of their own.” MacNellis said.

Scott Scott MacNellis, owner of LaLonde’s Market chaired the Class of 2018.

With so many graduates, each year’s class chooses a phrase that represents them and helps distinguish the class from previous years. The Class of 2017 was the “Fruit Ninjas” and the Class of 2018 was “Pens and Jackets”. When asked about the reasoning behind creating a tagline, MacNellis commented that it’s one thing that everyone in the class can identify with. “It is always something that stands out for them, it generates a positive feeling for the class and it serves as a reminder of the fun they’ve had. It’s like that one lyric in a song that brings up a memory.”

While the Leadership Midland program is filled with fun and games, it also requires an incredible amount of hard work, long hours and dedication. Tyler Porter, program director at The Rock Center for Youth Development, and graduate of the Leadership Midland Class of 2018 discussed his experiences during the action-packed weekend. “It was exhausting and fulfilling. As tiring as it was, it was so worthwhile. It was everything I wanted out of the experience and more. The things I learned and saw, the relationships I developed… you cannot put a price tag on that. The experience was amazing,” says Porter.

Tyler Porter, program director at The Rock Center for Youth Development and Class of 2018 graduate.

Applying to the program is something that many people work towards as a goal to further their development, and for Porter that was no exception. “I really wanted to meet other leaders in my community. Especially working for a non-profit, it’s important to build your network. The other reason I wanted to participate was to build my leadership skills. I think that leadership is extremely important and it’s a character strength that really matters. Every single lesson we do at The Rock is somehow related to leadership. The more involved leaders we have, the better off our community will be as a whole,” says Porter.

For other graduates of the program, the lasting effects of making an impact through leadership can be felt for years to come. “I think the connections from the alumni whom I graduated with, those are connections that I keep coming back to routinely in my work, especially now at the Midland Area Community Foundation,” says Emily Schafer, Class of 2011 graduate and chair of the 2016 program. “I can email and connect the dots through all of the contacts I made because I was able to continue those relationships.”

Emily Schafer of the Midland Area Community Foundation was a Leadership Midland Class of 2011 and chaired the 2016 program.

In her work as the development officer at the Midland Area Community Foundation, Schafer has found that these connections can help serve others. “It’s been a great way to engage people in my work with philanthropy, but also a great way for me to help others engage with non-profits. For example, I’m terming off of the North Midland Family Center’s board, and I was able to reach out to the class I chaired in 2016 and because I knew them so well and get them connected with the North Midland Family Center’s board opportunities.”

The program itself takes place over three days and two nights of team building, field trips and speakers.

She urges anyone considering applying for Leadership Midland to take the opportunity. “It gives you the perspective to look at things in a whole different light and allows you to engage with people you may not get the chance to otherwise,” says Schafer. “We need more of that in the community, and more of that in the world. With Leadership Midland you’re stepping outside your comfort zone and gaining new perspectives. It’s a great crash course in getting to learn more about the people who surround you.”

For more information on Leadership Midland, visit the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce’s website at www.macc.org, or contact Diane Middleton at the Midland Business Alliance, dmiddleton@macc.org.
Signup for Email Alerts