The Fountain Hills Leadership Academy sprang to life quickly in mid-2016, but its impact and longevity are proving our community’s need for this kind of program.
In early 2016, the Vision Fountain Hills committee conducted a community survey. They wanted to know what residents valued and what they saw as challenges in our town. Just a few months later, they hosted a workshop event and invited survey respondents to spend an entire Saturday drilling down on more complex topics related to the quality of life in Fountain Hills.
Following that event, Dori Wittrig, who helped organize it, got to thinking about the people serving on non-profit boards across town and how they were getting older and experiencing “volunteer fatigue.” She had recently met several dynamic young people who were newer in the community and wondered how to get them involved.
And that’s when the Fountain Hills Leadership Academy idea was born.
Wittrig reached out to other community leaders who helped organize a powerful 8-week program to introduce participants to the town’s inner workings, including various non-profit organizations. Within weeks, applications had come in, and participants were selected for the first class that kicked off in September 2016.
The 8-week program immerses participants in several areas that are vital for a healthy community and turns them into informed citizens who are prepared for leadership within the community. The areas covered include:
- The Sanitary District and Environmental Stewardship- this includes learning about our local preserves
- Know Your Town Government- participants spend the day with the mayor, town council, and various town staff to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the town operates
- Fountain Hills Schools, which includes a tour of each school
- Public Safety, specifically with the sheriff’s department and fire department
- Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation- getting to know our nearest neighbors
- Business Development & the Fountain Hills Times
- Local Non-profits and Youth & Senior Services
- Cultural & Civic Engagement
Through these sessions, participants meet the leaders of these organizations and town entities, ask questions, and better understand what it takes for everything to operate within a community.
The program culminates with individuals or small groups undertaking a project related to something they learned during these eight weeks. For example, one group worked on a project to address wrong-way drivers, particularly on Palisades Blvd. After meetings with town staff, new paint lines were added for traffic coming out of side streets to help guide them past the frontage road and into the appropriate lane to reduce wrong-way drivers.
Another project encouraged the Town Council to recognize local students’ academic achievements. Within months, the Town Council started the Stellar Students program. The program recognizes students who demonstrate good citizenship through compassion and consideration for others, complying with the rules, encouraging empathy, anti-bullying, and being responsible for their actions in the classroom. Students are recognized during Town Council meetings.
These are just a couple of examples of dozens of remarkable projects resulting from the Leadership Academy.
Once the 8-week program wraps, participants are invited to continue working together and stepping up to serve in the community. New graduates spearhead the Poinsettia Tree display on the Avenue of the Fountains during the holiday season and work together to organize the next Leadership Academy class.
Graduates also come together for alum events, whether social, educational, or service-oriented.
The benefits of the Leadership Academy are two-fold: the participant has a valuable experience, and the Town is the recipient of new ideas, new volunteers, and new leaders.
Rory Wilson is a graduate of the most recent class in 2022. She wrote this review on Facebook:
“As a graduate, I was able to connect with like-minded individuals who are passionate about making positive and impactful changes to our beautiful town. If you’re interested in learning how to get more involved in Fountain Hills, this is an excellent opportunity to gain a deeper insight into what challenges our community faces and join the discussion of how to solve them!”
Vicky Derksen is a graduate of the first class in 2016. Her Facebook review says:
“When I signed up for the Leadership Academy, I knew little about the town. Those eight weeks for pivotal for me. In the six years since then, I’ve served on several boards and helped with many community-building efforts. I feel connected to my community in ways I could never have imagined.”
Patricia Day-Ryan is the president of the Leadership Academy board of directors. When asked what makes FHLA so valuable to the community, she says, “Since its founding over fifty years ago, Fountain Hills has been unique in terms of the level of community involvement, willingness to give back, and desire to work together for the common good. In line with those traditions, the FHLA program is dedicated to fostering a positive sense of community and building the next generation of knowledgeable leaders, contributors, and volunteers who are willing to serve and continue to build our community.”
Graduates have served in dozens of entities and organizations, including the Sanitary District, Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, and Town commissions. They can be found on non-profit boards such as the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association, International Dark Sky Discovery Center, River of Time Museum & Exploration Center, Fountain Hills Community Foundation, the Fountain Hills Cultural & Civic Association, service clubs, and more.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Applications are being accepted for Class 7, which starts with a reception on September 13. The first session is on September 14 and runs every Thursday until November 2. Graduation will be held on the evening of November 8.
When asked who should apply, Day-Ryan says, “The Leadership Academy is designed to engage emerging leaders and dedicated volunteers who are committed to serving our community and positively impacting change within Fountain Hills.”
After applying online, candidates will be invited to participate in an interview. Both the online application and interview are required for program consideration. The Selection Committee then chooses the slate of participants. The program is gaining popularity, but there are limited spaces each year.
To apply, please visit https://ilovefountainhills.org/leadership-academy/#open .
The deadline for submitting applications is May 7, 2023.
The Fountain Hills Leadership Academy is a program under the umbrella of the Fountain Hills Cultural & Civic Association.