Have you ever woken up in a foreign place? The bed doesn’t feel quite right, the sheets are definitely not yours. You are not really sure of your surroundings so you slowly look around to get your bearings.
That was me last Saturday morning. When I finally wiped the sleep from eyes and remembered where I was, I smiled. I was at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. My mission: a leadership retreat.
An ordinary Saturday morning would not see me waking at 7:00 a.m. to don my sweats and sneaks in preparation for a 3-hour outdoor “ropes course” experience. But this week was different. Together with my seventeen Leadership Hilton Head Island-Bluffton classmates I enjoyed a two-day journey of leadership and fellowship.
Started by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in 1985, the Leadership program was designed to “cultivate leadership resources within the community by giving participants the opportunity to study and experience the Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Okatie and Daufuskie Island communities their history, government, economy, human services and culture.”
Our two-day retreat began on Friday afternoon. We all met at the Chamber Offices for the hour ride to The Penn Center. I made the mistake of sitting in the middle of the bus, and spent too much time turned around in my seat chatting. I was never so happy to reach solid ground … another few miles and my introduction to my classmates would not have been pretty (it would have been chunky – that was gross, I apologize).
Anyway, once at The Penn Center we had an hour to explore on our own. If you have never made the trek to this historical landmark you need to; it is the site of one of the country's first schools for freed slaves and one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today. “It sits at the heart of Gullah culture, on the 50 acres of the historical campus of Penn School. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974, it is a part of the Penn School Historic District which is comprised of nineteen buildings related to and used by Penn School--Brick Church, Darrah Hall, one of the oldest buildings on St. Helena Island, old burial grounds, Gantt Cottage where Martin Luther King Jr. lodged, a Nature Trail, Chowan Creek, acres of pines, native flora and fauna.”
Touring the Penn Center was a humbling experience and one I won’t soon forget.
After the tour, we re-grouped and participated in workshops on business ethics, leadership, management and Robert’s Rules of Order, working well into the night.
As I mentioned, Saturday morning we rose early ready to endure three hours in the woods – as a group we tackled tasks that tested our minds and our bodies. I think it is safe to say that we learned a lot about each other through that experience. It was exhilarating to participate and even more interesting to sit on the periphery and just watch the class in action.
My class of eighteen is as diverse as they come, but that is the beauty of the program. I’ll spend a year with my classmates meeting monthly for scheduled programs and based on the fun we had at the retreat I imagine that I will be seeing them all beyond the program requirements.
It is only appropriate that I give credit to the amazing group who will share this journey with me: Kim Abbott, USCB South Campus; Doug Barry, Hilton Head Orchestra; Maria Bell, Coastal Gastroenterology and Core Business Strategies; Barbara Conway, Hilton Head Regional Medical Center; Archer Crose, Coastal Mortgage Company of SC; Amanda English, Hilton Head Plantation POA; Michael Ethridge, Wood + Partners; Karen Golden, Dunes Marketing Group; Nicole Guy, Low Country Adventures; Andrew Jablonecki, SOS Marketing; Carolyn Kraus, Atlantic Community Bank; Trip LaCoste, First Citizens Bank; Angela Mullis, Charter I Realty & Marketing; Allyson Reaves, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry; Huntley Tarleton, Bank of America; Donnie Jo Thibault, Beach First National Bank and André White, Main Street Realty/Wallstar Development Co.
And to Laura Wolf, Special Events and Projects Manager for the Chamber, who will be our fearless leader for the next year.
Suffice it to say, the program is the perfect introduction for a newcomer. There is a one-year residency requirement and an application and interview process, but the results are beyond rewarding. For more information on Leadership Hilton Head Island-Bluffton call 843.341.8377.
P.S. A requirement of the program is a year-long Class Project. Stay tuned for more details as I am sure I will be rallying y’all for support of our initiative.
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