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Leadership Orleans nears conclusion of busy first year

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 November 2018 at 10:12 am

File photo by Tom Rivers: Skip Helfrich, program director for the new Leadership Orleans program, leads the opening retreat for the class on Jan. 18 at Tillman’s Village Inn. The retreat was for two days. The class of 25 has met monthly throughout the year.

A new leadership program that started in January with 25 people is nearing the conclusion for its first year, with a new class of about 25 to start in two months.

Leadership Orleans was years in the making. Orleans had been one of the few counties without a leadership program.

The debut class has 25 members and is led by director Skip Helfrich, a graduate of the program in Niagara County.

The class members come from a cross section of the community, including law enforcement, government department heads, farm owners, agency directors and other business leaders.

“In building a class we wanted to have a nice mix,” Helfrich told the County Legislature recently. “We are hoping the participants will volunteer, and step up and serve on boards or run for office – whatever it takes to make Orleans County better.”

The new Leadership Orleans became a reality in 2018 after the County Legislature set aside $33,000 in 2017 to get the program off the ground. The county contribution was reduced to $22,000 in 2018 and is slated for $16,000 in 2019.

Three county employees are also in the class: James DeFilipps, deputy for Orleans County Sheriff’s Office; Nadine Hanlon, clerk of Orleans County Legislature; and Eddie Moss, director of computer services for Orleans County.

Hanlon, a lifelong resident, said the program has proven to be an eye-opener about the resources and opportunities in the county.

“I think it’s been a wonderful thing,” she told county legislators on Oct. 24. “I grew up in this community and I’ve been involved, but I’m still learning the wonderful things this community has to offer.”

Charlie Nesbitt, a retired state assemblyman, has been instrumental in securing sponsors and support for the program.

He pushed for Leadership Orleans so key people in the community could better understand how local government, businesses and other sectors work. The class draws on a cross section of the community. The program picked residents who have demonstrated leadership abilities, interest in community affairs, and a commitment to Orleans County’s future.


‘We are hoping the participants will volunteer, and step up and serve on boards or run for office – whatever it takes to make Orleans County better.’ – Skip Helfrich, director of Leadership Orleans


The participants also pay $1,950 for tuition. The program requires enrolled individuals to commit to a two-day opening retreat, one full day per month of program participation over a ten-month period, and a two-day closing retreat/graduation ceremony.

Each month the group learned about a different sector of the community, including government, arts and culture, volunteerism and non-profit organizations, community health, tourism and recreation, agribusiness, economic & workforce development, and education.

Helfrich said 130 people have been impacted so far from the program and that includes 79 community presenters, 25 class participants, 11 people on the steering committee, 12 different design teams and 17 other community friends. The group has visited 56 sites in the county.

The participants already have forged a strong bond and network, he said. The graduates of the program will become a Leadership Orleans Alumni Association, who can continue to support each other and be a resource to the future program participants.

The new class will start in January. There was more interest than available spots so there is now a waiting list. Helfrich said that’s a good indication the community is finding value in the program.

Helfrich works part-time as the director out of an office at Community Action of Orleans & Genesee in Albion. Helfrich is the president/owner of Human Energies, a human resources and organizational development consulting firm. He leads many retreats for other leadership programs.

“My focus was to get this first year going and create something that will last,” he told the Legislature.

For more information on Leadership Orleans, click here.

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