Leadership Florence knits bonds


FLORENCE, S.C. – Leadership Florence celebrated the program’s 30 graduates with a ceremony on Tuesday evening at the Floyd Conference Center.

The nine-month leadership program helps build relationships among class members as well as connect participants to other leaders in the community, said Les Echols, director of community and minority enterprise at the chamber.

Stephen Harding, Leadership Florence graduate and HillSouth employee, said he has lived in Florence for 30 years, but Leadership Florence exposed him to many new individuals and opportunities in the community.

“It introduced me to so many new things that we have right here in our backyard that I just couldn’t believe I was blind to for that amount of time,” Harding said.

Each month of the program has a different theme such as health care or government.

Barbara Merrill, Leadership Florence graduate and Health Facilities Credit Union employee, said that for her Ride a Mile in my Shoes was the program’s most meaningful session. During the event, Leadership Florence participants rode public transportation. Merrill said she observed passengers who were riding a bus to stay warm or did not know if they had enough money for their next ride.

“We take for granted transportation, food that we know we’re going to eat, and they’ve got to figure out how they are going to get from point A to point B,” Merrill said.

Merrill and other graduates said that because of Leadership Florence they feel more aware of their community’s needs and empowered to invest in their community.

This year’s Leadership Florence class held a Great Gatsby-themed ball earlier this month to raise money for several local organizations.

During the Leadership Florence graduation, class officers made check presentations to House of Hope, Lighthouse Ministries, All 4 Autism and Junior Leadership Florence County.

Lauren Vause, Leadership Florence graduate and Junior League of Florence member, received the Outstanding Participant Award from this year’s Leadership Florence class. Each year, class members vote on who they think should receive the award.

To date, more than 1,000 people have completed the Leadership Florence program. Mike Miller, chamber president, said participants usually begin the program with hesitancy but end with lasting professional relationships.

Carl Humphries, CEO of HopeHealth, was the graduation speaker. Humphries participated in Leadership Florence during the 2002-03 program. He attributed much of the expansion of HopeHealth to the relationships he made through Leadership Florence.