Emerging Leaders 2012



The ELS Experience

It’s been almost a year since I completed the Emerging Leaders Series 2012, a professional development program under the Center for Community Leadership within the Grand Rapids Are Chamber of Commerce.  The ELS program is designed for the up and coming young professional who wants to grow professionally and develop a grassroots sense of leadership and community involvement. Now believe me when I say that I never would have expected myself to enjoy a program such as this. As much as I do not particularly love responsibility (but who really does), I seem to do my best work when the heat is turned up and I am just about as uncomfortable as humanly possible.

That being said, I continue to reference experiences and lessons learned from the ELS program in my professional world as well as on a more personal level.  Here are some reasons why YOU should join the Emerging Leaders.

Professional Development

Because of the way the ELS program is designed, the city of Grand Rapids becomes the classroom and you are never in the same place twice. Places we traveled to include the Grand Rapids Public Museum to learn about the history of the city of Grand Rapids and how it has developed into what it is today, to Steelcase to learn about new and innovative ways organizations are designing a workplace culture that is beneficial to employee work habits. In addition to on-site learning, key community leaders visit and provide insight into how they achieved success. For me, I was able to relate most to Deb Bailey’s illustration of a career as something that is created rather than one that is decided.

I was the only member still in college, but by having these conversations with key community leaders I was able to relate to the experiences they’ve had and was able to apply them to my own situation.


When 30 driven, young professionals are placed in a room together for 12 weeks the only direction to go is up. On the very first session we were put through an icebreaker/team building session, but due to the outgoing and committed personalities of everyone in the room it was far from your typical icebreaker.  More importantly, these individuals represent some of the largest and most influential employers in the area so you never know who is going to end up where.

“It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, but it’s who knows you.”


One of the unique qualities of the ELS program is its emphasis on innovative community initiatives that help address of the city’s most pressing issues; child hunger, affordable housing, impoverished families etc. These programs would not be possible if it were not for the support of local leaders and the leaders of the future (shocking why we would be introduced to these).

I had the opportunity to meet with organizers from Kids Food Basket, Inner City Christian Federation, and United Way to learn about what they are doing in the community. Having grown up in Grand Rapids, it was a surprise to learn about these organizations and all that they are doing in the community. It helps provide some perspective on what it means to have a community responsibility.

Non-profit Certification

Philanthropy in Grand Rapids is like filmmaking in Hollywood. It’s the one thing that truly has made the city as successful and enjoyable as it is today – except maybe beer but that is for a different day. We have the privilege of being under the direction of many successful and outrageously wealthy individuals to want nothing more than to see their city succeed. One result of this philanthropic culture is the birth of a nonprofit sector that is among the most productive in the country.

The exposure to the nonprofit sector through the ELS program gave me the opportunity to experience the needs of my city. For someone who grew up in this community, it was not uncommon for members of my class to say “we have this need here?” The nonprofit board certification element of the ELS program gave me yet another avenue to focus my efforts on, and moving forward gave me an additional lens by which to see the world. It will be a skill that will prove to be useful as I grow to be a decision maker in my community.  


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