The nonprofit organization began in 1981 after a group of city leaders felt civic involvement had skipped a generation. To fix that, a 30-person class was born to train community members to be effective volunteer leaders who use their skills to better their surroundings.
“Being a servant leader to the community is putting a lot of things ahead of yourself for the greater good,” said charter class member Hershel Lamirand.
Over the years, the association has grown to having five classes at a time.
right, Leadership Oklahoma City graduates get an update from the OKC Planning Department on downtown renovations.
“Mostly, the intent hasn’t changed as the organization has gotten bigger, but we have applied it to more groups of people,” Shortt said.
Added to the program roster was a class for younger professional adults, and three programs devoted to turning teenagers into community leaders, including a class that teaches about city government.
“One of the things we’re celebrating is the diversity in programs that we have,” said Randy Roper, Leadership Oklahoma City president.
Now, the alliance has roughly 108 adults and 108 teens participating in programs each year, and more than double that number apply.
The group prides itself on getting people to think about entering volunteer services in Central Oklahoma.
“It absolutely kicked off my commitment to nonprofits here in the city,” Lamirand said. “Without having gone through that program, I don’t think I would have been anywhere near the volunteer that I’ve been, maybe not even a volunteer.”
Leadership Oklahoma City also prides itself on creating lasting connections between members.
“One of our goals — really, for all of our programs — is to help create connections that enhance somebody’s quality of life to the point that it could be a decision factor in whether or not they stay in Oklahoma City,” Shortt said.
More than half of the first two Youth Leadership Exchange classes have finished their schooling and are still in Oklahoma nearly 10 years later, she said.
“I think a lot of the talent and the brains, if you will, that have historically migrated out of Oklahoma City in the past 15 or 20 years have chosen to remain in Oklahoma City because of the engagements we have helped them to develop,” Roper said.
The nonprofit group plans to enact a new group this year specifically for people who have just moved into the area.
“It was one of, if not the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life,” Lamirand said of his time there. “They almost had to throw me out kicking and screaming.”
Photo by Mark Hancock