By: Joshua Lloyd, Morning News
FLORENCE, S.C. – Leadership Florence is a two-fold program. It develops strong community leaders and raises money for local organizations.
This year’s graduating class, composed of 36 community leaders from businesses in the community, raised nearly $32,000 for local charities in less than a year’s time.
On Wednesday evening, the graduates gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn in Florence for a graduation ceremony and check presentation for the benefiting charities – Help 4Kids, The Naomi Project and SNAC.
Les Echols, director of community and minority enterprise for the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, acts as the “principal” for each Leadership Florence class.
He said the 2017 class raised more money than any other class and affected him personally with a simple card during a tough season of life after back-to-back deaths in his family.
“During that time I didn’t smile much and they could see that,” Echols said. “It speaks to the character and comradery of this class that they would go out of their way to do that for me. At that point in my life, that card meant so much to me and it’s amazing to see that kindness in these community leaders.”
Leadership Florence is a nine-month program through the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, aimed at helping business leaders connect with the private sector, nonprofits, governmental and educational entities by way of hands-on activities, behind-the-scenes tours and deeper looks into this area’s industries, culture and municipal workings.
Monique Maxwell, a representative if Holiday Inn & Suites in Florence and a graduate, said seeing the diversity of business leadership in Florence was a big eye opener.
“We are a privileged group of people to have gone through this program and we all come from different backgrounds,” she said. “Leadership means being mindful of your team members, neighbors and all the random people you come across. You never know what other have gone through to get where they are and now I see that every day in our community.”
Pam Elliott, also a graduate and representative of McLeod Health, said this program showed her a side of the Florence community she’s never seen before.
“It’s truly been an eye-opening experience for me,” Elliott said. “After traveling the world and seeing what other places have to offer, I’ve finally become more involved in what this area has to offer.”
The chamber also has a Junior Leadership program, aimed toward high school sophomores and juniors to enable them to develop leadership skills while increasing awareness of their community.
For more information about Leadership Florence and how to apply for next year’s program, contact the Florence Chamber at 843-665-0515 or visit its website at flochamber.com.