DeKalb LEADS participants

Participants in the inaugural cohort of the DeKalb LEADS program met this month at First United Methodist Church in Auburn. They are listed with the organizations they represent. In the top row, from left are: Tyler Cleverly (United Way of DeKalb County), Brandon Park (James Foundation), and Rudi Eidam (Team Quality Services). In the center row, from left, are Melissa Irk (Tempus Technologies), Larry Getts (Dana Corp.-retired) and April Dobson (Trin). In front is Nora Schwartz (Junior Achievement).

AUBURN — The DeKalb Chamber Partnership, in cooperation with the Community Foundation DeKalb County, has started an adult leadership development program, DeKalb LEADS.

The program comes as part of the seventh phase of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT VII) initiative. Community Foundation DeKalb County was awarded a total of $100,000, a portion of which will go to fund LEADS.

DeKalb LEADS aims to cultivate leaders who are well-informed, well-rounded and engaged through training, networking and real-world experience. This premier leadership opportunity will drive positive change and civic engagement in DeKalb County, the chamber said.

The nine-month program equips participants to lead, engage, activate, develop and serve (LEADS) the community. The program exposes emerging and existing community leaders to the issues that face the region while challenging and engaging participants to strengthen the community through service and leadership.

With the community as their classroom, participants develop long-lasting relationships with other leaders, discover the inner workings of the community and challenges facing it, and define their individual roles and responsibilities as leaders within the community.

The program is led by a steering committee representing a variety of industries and backgrounds including business, nonprofit and education. Steering committee members (with the organizations they represent) are: Brian Best (Ambassador Enterprises), Shannon Carpenter (DeKalb Chamber Partnership), Anton King (DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership), Kendra Klink (James Foundation), Sarah Payne (Parkview DeKalb), Jeremy Pfister (Tempus Technologies), Chris Straw (Team Quality Services), Jason Sweitzer (Tempus Technologies), Tonya Weaver (Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community School District) and Tanya Young (Community Foundation DeKalb County).

“This program was hand-crafted for DeKalb County by local, passionate community leaders. We hear from our businesses and agencies how important access to quality leadership development is for the success of our community,” said Carpenter, the chamber’s executive director. “The chamber is proud to offer such a quality program and honored to have the community foundation as our partner.”

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the steering committee already has been hard at work, launching a pilot year of the LEADS program in August of this year.

The 2020 cohort was hand-selected to work closely with the steering committee to fine-tune the program. Members of the 2020 pilot cohort were (with their organizations): Tyler Cleverly (United Way DeKalb County), Jake Clifford (Garrett High School), April Dobson (Trin), Rudi Eidam (Team Quality Services), Larry Getts (Dana Corp.-retired), Melissa Irk (Tempus Technologies), Brandon Park (James Foundation), and Nora Schwartz (Junior Achievement). “The cohort and steering committee were deeply saddened by the unexpected, tragic loss of Jake Clifford,” who died recently, the chamber said. “His excitement for LEADS was infectious. He will be sorely missed.”

Cohort participants dove into the program with a three-day retreat utilizing the Dare to Lead curriculum, where they wrestled with personal barriers to leadership. Over the remainder of the program, the LEADS cohort will dive into nine different topics including; creating a welcoming community, the nonprofit landscape, civic leaders and public office, economy and business, community health, “next gen” leaders, quality of place and education.

Any individual or organization wishing to make a donation can do so by making checks payable to and mailing them to: Community Foundation DeKalb County (CFDC), PO Box 111, Auburn, IN 46706, or visit the website for an online donation at Donors should designate the gift to DeKalb County Leadership Fund in the memo line.

The steering committee will begin accepting applications for the 2021-22 cohort in June 2021. To learn more about DeKalb LEADS, people may contact the DeKalb Chamber Partnership at 260-925-2100 or send email to

The DeKalb Chamber Partnership said it is the dedicated champion for its more than 230 members and their employees. The chamber’s volunteer leadership and staff work to be a catalyst and convener, driving business and community growth in DeKalb County.

The Community Foundation DeKalb County promotes community philanthropy by offering local residents the opportunity to create charitable legacies that will sustain and improve life in DeKalb County. The foundation provides a way for people to invest in the community’s future by creating permanent support for the charitable program or organizations they care about. Their endowment gifts are never spent, but are invested for growth and income. Each year, part of the fund’s growth is returned to the community in grants for charitable projects and programs. A portion of the fund’s growth is reinvested annually in the fund to ensure that it grows with inflation.

Since the foundation’s creation in 1996, its donors have built more than $21 million in permanent endowment funds that grant more than $765,000 per year to local causes.

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