Leadership Orleans celebrates graduation of third class
75 have now completed program, equipped to be more engaged citizens, local leaders
LYNDONVILLE – The third group of the Leadership Orleans program completed the class last month, about five months later than usual.
The class was interrupted due to Covid-19. The group needed to take some time off from the monthly programs, but was able to double-up for the full array of sessions.
“We knew from the start we were on a unique journey,” said County Legislator Ken DeRoller of Kendall, one of the 26 graduates in the third class.
He was picked by the class to speak at their graduation on May 20 at the White Birch Golf Course.
DeRoller recalled the opening retreat in January 2020, before Covid, when the group got to know each other through ice-breaker activities. They completed personality profiles to better understand themselves and how they respond to others and challenges.
DeRoller urged the group to stay connected and to keep an open mind.
“You’re a treasure to your employer and the County of Orleans,” DeRoller told the group.
Class members included local government officials, business and agency leaders, and citizens. There are now about 75 people who have completed the program. The fourth class also started in April, and eight people have already expressed interest in being in the fifth class.
The third class built a strong network among each other in the year-plus, with retreats, Zoom calls and through what was to be a monthly focus on a different aspect of the county – government, arts and culture, volunteerism and non-profit organizations, community health, tourism and recreation, agribusiness, economic & workforce development, and education.
Skip Helfrith, the program’s executive director, said the class is already making a difference in the county. He noted Dean Bellack, one of the new grads, helped secure $750,000 in grants for the community in his role as United Way executive director. Jennifer Buondonno, another new graduate, won a write-in campaign and was elected to the Medina Board of Education.
He cited the examples of the program’s alumni of the year – Robert Batt of the Cornell Cooperative Extension and Melissa Blanar of the office for the Aging – who have spearheaded food distributions for several hundred people almost weekly since April 2020.
“People ask when will this program start to make a difference,” Helfrich said. “We’re making it.”
Helfrich said the program benefits from community support, including corporate sponsors, and $16,000 from the county budget. Tuition also covers part of the costs.
There have been 146 presenters for the program since 2018, with 23 new ones during the Covid pandemic. The group has also visited 78 sites around the county in the first three years, and many volunteers have organized the monthly sessions.
Charlie Nesbitt, the former state assemblyman, has helped get the program off the ground in Orleans County. He said he saw the fruits of Leadership Genesee, which has been helping develop leaders in that county for more than two decades.
Human capital is critical for a community’s success, Nesbitt said.
“We now have 75 people who are better informed, who know themselves better, who everyday are becoming a critical asset to Orleans County,” Nesbitt said. “In order to become effective leaders you have to invest in yourselves.”
The 2020 class includes:
- Dean Bellack, Executive Director, United Way of Orleans County
- Jennifer Buondonno, Teller Supervisor/CSR, Tompkins Bank of Castile
- Melissa Cotter, Director of Vocational Services, Arc of Genesee Orleans
- Kenneth DeRoller, County legislator and board member for the County of Orleans Industrial Development Agency
- Danielle Figura, Director of the Orleans County Mental Health Department
- Kristina Gabalski, 4-H Program Coordinator, Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension
- Jackie Gardner, Vice President of Client Relations, CRFS – Claims Recovery Financial Services
- Teresa Gaylard, Children’s Librarian, Hoag Library
- Julia Goheen, Global Compliance Engineer, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics
- Lionel Heydel, Chef, Bent’s Opera House
- Michelle Kingdollar, Controller, Western New York Energy
- Karen Krieger, Academic Advisor/Adjunct Faculty, GCC Medina Campus
- Alona Kuhns, Technical Trainer, Baxter Healthcare
- Lisa Levett, Office Manager, Kludt Brothers, Inc.
- Ronald Mannella, Director of Weights and Measures, Orleans County
- Matt Minor, Senior Loan Officer, Farm Credit East
- Taryn Moyle, Child Care Resource and Referral Program Director, Community Action of Orleans & Genesee, Inc.
- Tiffany Nesbitt, former ambassador, Bent’s Opera House
- Christopher Oakes, Production Manager/Vice President, LynOaken Farms, Inc.
- Allison Parry-Gurak, Director of Treatment, Albion Clinic, GCASA
- Scott Partyka, Farmer/Partner, Partyka Farms
- Cory Pawlaczyk, Buyer, Baxter Healthcare
- Nick Picardo, Executive Director of Student Services, Kendall Central School District
- Heather Smith, Executive Director, Orleans Community Health Foundation
- Nancy Traxler, Director, Orleans County Veterans Service Agency
- Nancy Westlund, Vice President of Operations, CRFS – Claims Recovery Financial Services
- Michael Weyrauch, Director of Career & Technical Education and Instructional Services, Orleans/Niagara BOCES
County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson also congratulated the class and urged them to continue to lead and serve with integrity.
“You are the leaders today and especially for tomorrow,” she said.
Jack Welch, the county’s chief administrative officer, said the class persevered and adapted during the challenges of a pandemic. Welch said there are numerous books about being an effective leader, and many of those make leadership sound “so neat and clean, almost like a cook book.”
But Welch said that doesn’t reflect real life, which is often messy, unscripted and hard.
“Leadership is about relationships, serving one another on their level with more questions than answers,” Welch said. “How do we respond to a challenge? How do we persevere? Do we bend or do we break?”
The Leadership Orleans Class gives the participants a team and support system for when times are tough, Welch said.
“Hopefully Leadership Orleans has been a conduit for you to increase the tools you have in your personal toolbox on this journey we call life,” he said.
Welch said naysayers are quick to complain but not offer much constructively in making the community better. He thanked the class for putting in the time and energy to learn more about the community and understand the complexities of the challenges and opportunities.
He quoted from Jon Gordon: “Will you buy into the doom and gloom? Or will you invest in faith, hope and love, and believe the best is yet to come.”
The keynote message was delivered by David Bellavia, a 1994 Lyndonville graduate who was awarded the Medal of Honor on June 25, 2019 during a ceremony at the White House. He received the nation’s highest military honor for risking his life on Nov. 10, 2004 – his 29thbirthday. Bellavia defended his fellow soldiers while serving in the second battle of Fallujah, Iraq.
As a squad leader in Operation Phantom Fury, a 2004 American offensive on the western Iraqi City of Fallujah, Bellavia saved his entire squad when he cleared a housing block of enemy combatants who had pinned down his unit. Once Bellavia secured the safety of his squad, he re-engaged with the enemy combatants, re-entered the house where enemy fire was located, proceeded to kill four enemy insurgents, and wounded a fifth.
Bellavia travels the country as an ambassador for the Army. He also hosts a radio show in Buffalo. People used to ask where he was from, and he’d say Buffalo or Western New York. Now, when he gives his speeches or is interviewed, he makes sure to tell people he is from Lyndonville, NY.
He sees a county on the upswing, and the trend can continue with more job opportunities for people in the community.
“Orleans County makes adults, men and women ready to shoulder the burdens of the world,” Bellavia said. “We are going to be the authors and finishers of our destiny in our backyard.”