LGR 'Champions' Set Tone

May 12, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The West Michigan community has its share of strong leaders in business, education, government and nonprofits. During the last 20 years, many of those leaders have been trained, tweaked and refined through a nine-month crash course in community stewardship: Leadership Grand Rapids.

This week, LGR honors four individuals who graduated from the program and went on to exemplify the qualities that it strives to instill in its participants. The winners of the 2006 Leadership Grand Rapids Champion Awards each embody one of the “four platforms” upon which LGR is built. These individuals will be recognized as part of this week’s first-ever LGR Community Leadership Conference.

Lisa Wurst, a senior vice president with financial services firm JP Morgan, will be recognized for her strength in community connections. According to LGR staff, Wurst “constantly identifies potential partnerships and opportunities for organizations and individuals to work together for the betterment of the community.”

LGR Executive Director Kevin Stotts would like all LGR alumni to follow Wurst’s example and continue their community engagement well beyond their active participation in the program.

“As a part of our closing retreat, we focus on community trusteeship and getting them ready: ‘You’ve seen all the systemic parts of the community. Hopefully we’ve excited a passion for community trusteeship in one area of the community or another during this nine-month process,’” said Stotts. “We’re kind of saying, ‘What are you going to do when you graduate?’”

Displaying leadership skills is another long-term goal for LGR graduates. Bob Herr, managing partner of accounting and consulting firm Crowe Chizek, will be recognized as a Champion Award winner for his strength in leadership skills. Not only do his “strong convictions and passion for the work he does” serve Herr well, but he has also been recognized for his willingness to encourage young people to get involved in their communities.

LGR often uses the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle to show how the many disparate parts of life and work in West Michigan are intricately linked. Sharon Smith, director of career and counseling services at Aquinas College, will be recognized by LGR because of her strength in promoting the diversity of the community. She is described as “a voice for the under-represented” who “utilizes her sphere of influence to educate herself and those around her.”

When the diverse groups of people in West Michigan work together, they form interrelated systems. For his strength in “systems thinking,” F. Norman Christopher will be acknowledged as the final Champion Award winner. As director of sustainability at Grand Valley State University, Christopher is working with the local governmental, business and educational community to strengthen West Michigan’s position as a leader in sustainable practices.

“In addition to the triple bottom line of sustainability (social responsibility, the environment and economic growth), Norman is exploring opportunities to bring systems together to better Grand Rapids neighborhoods, the city and region,” wrote LGR staff.

The four community leaders will accept their awards at the daylong event at DeVos Place Convention Center, Thursday, May 18. In accepting their awards, they will also challenge other conference attendees to reach out and become more actively involved in determining the future of the community.

One of the initial goals of the Leadership Grand Rapids program was to train subsequent generations of community leaders to show the same kind of generosity as the benefactors whose names grace many buildings throughout the community. Although the level of wealth may differ, LGR leaders believe that the desire to give back to the community will continue to grow.

“We don’t all have to just look to the wealthiest of wealthy families in our community. We all have a responsibility, no matter what our resources,” Dorothy Johnson, philanthropy advocate and namesake of GVSU’s center for philanthropy, recently told the Business Journal. She said that programs like Leadership Grand Rapids help individuals learn how to best utilize their time and talents.

Stotts hopes that the Champion Award winners, as well as the rest of the day’s program, will inspire attendees to reinvest themselves in community service.

“Philanthropy is going to change in this community. The generations we’ve been blessed to have in this community are passing on. There’s an awful lot of talk going on about how that’s going to change,” he said. “It will take more individuals — you and I and everyone else — to make up what has been set as an example by key community leaders over the past 30 years. So I think that people need to understand that there is a role we all need to play to sustain what has already been done in this community.”    

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