FISHERSVILLE — Like a puzzle, the pieces came together for the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Greater Augusta Program Class of 2019 as 15 strangers became friends and confidants while acquiring leadership skills.

The class accepted their diplomas on May 2, and now the chamber is looking for as many as 25 community members ready to participate in the LGAP Class of 2020, the program’s 36th class.

The nine-month program begins in August. The deadline to apply is July 12.

“I found that it was a great way to learn about all of the aspects that make our Valley great,” said Lindsey Walsh, assistant director of employee relations for Mary Baldwin University’s Office for Personal and Professional Development.

LGAP gave Walsh an opportunity to get to know other leaders in the area, and she saw their enthusiasm for the work they do in the community.

Walsh, a Fort Defiance High School graduate who obtained a degree from Christopher Newport University, said that despite having grown up with family members involved the agriculture, she was surprised to learn even more about the business through LGAP.

“I didn’t realize the variety of growers and scales of products [in the Valley],” Walsh said.

In her role at MBU, Walsh works in a learning environment, but LGAP gave her the perspective of taking what she learned outside the classroom when she and her classmates visited local businesses and attended seminars on a monthly basis.

“It was nice to have a complement to my personal development with my professional growth,” she said of starting LGAP in August 2018 just as she began her newly created position at MBU.

Walsh participated in LGAP because she was ready to educate herself and wanted to find ways to engage with the community. She was recommended for the program by several of her supervisors, including Aimee Rose, vice president of integrated communications and chief strategy officer for Mary Baldwin University.

“[LGAP] reaffirmed my knowledge that relationships are really what make the Valley special,” Walsh said of the bonds she formed with her classmates in the Class of 2019.

She said she appreciated the content of the class, but she also came to appreciate the characters of her classmates.

Daniel Hansen, an associate with Balzer and Associates in Staunton and a land surveyor, said he was encouraged by a co-worker who participated in the LGAP Class of 2018. Hansen also had just taken on “more of a leadership role in the company, and wanted to learn more about the county.”

Hansen grew up in Virginia Beach and has lived in Staunton for 15 years, but LGAP showed him what the area has to offer, local businesses and how businesses interact with each other. His class’s monthly trips to local businesses showed him the pieces that come together in the Valley.

“You could start to see how all the different pieces interact together,” Hansen said.

The biggest takeaway from LGAP for Hansen, he said, was learning that as a leader he has different ways to communicate with others.

“Oftentimes, we know how to communicate with people who are like us,” Hansen said. But LGAP taught him how to learn to communicate differently for someone who is different from him.

He also learned that despite the fact the 15 members of his LGAP class came from different backgrounds with different work experiences, they all had something in common: they live and work in Augusta County. No matter what the challenge, their challenges were essentially similar, and learning to communicate with each other was powerful.

“I would recommend [LGAP] for anybody who’s interested in learning more about leadership and learning more about our county and what it offers,” Hansen said.

James Saunders of Crozet participated in LGAP Class of 2019 after encouragement from past participants. He wanted to learn how to come up with solutions to counteract “some of the challenges that our community faces.”

Saunders, portfolio manager at First Bank & Trust in Staunton, recently took on the role of branch operations manager. He said that participating in LGAP enabled him to tackle conflicts in his new leadership role. He knows how to effectively communicate, listen to others and also offer praise when appropriate.

“It opened my ears, and really made me listen to everything that was going on,” said Saunders of his participation in the program.

He learned in LGAP that listening is an important leadership quality, as well as for members of the community.

“It’s an excellent program. I’d recommend it to anybody,” Saunders said.

To submit an application for LGAP Class of 2020, visit www.augustava.com/leadershipgreateraugusta.

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