Leadership Rhode Island Executive Director Mike Ritz stands in front of an "Imagine..." board from this year's retreat for current participants, which asks the question: "What could be done to make RI better?" Photo/Butch Adams
PROVIDENCE â€” The 60 participants in the 2012 class of Leadership Rhode Island have an ambitious assignment: effect positive change in the bankrupt city of Central Falls.
In its over 30 years of existence, the non-profit community leadership development organization has taken on many diverse projects under its core mission of helping Rhode Island to be a better place. Last year's class worked on strengthening Rhode Island relationships around the globe, and past projects have included water conservation and preservation, fostering of arts and cultural programs, developing a start-up kit for local businesses interested in the Chinese market, promoting the state's tourism, helping female prison inmates to re-enter the workforce, and fostering a relationship with an orphanage in Africa, just to name a few.
Leadership Rhode Island selects 50 to 60 people each year who are either recognized as business, community or civic leaders or who possess leadership potential. The participants are typically nominated or sponsored, and pay a $4,900 tuition fee to take part in the 10-month program.
Among the 60 participants in the 2012 Leadership Rhode Island class are James Diossa, of Central Falls, a middle school advisor for the College Crusade of Rhode Island and a Central Falls City Councilman; Herb Weiss, of Pawtucket, Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer for the City of Pawtucket's Department of Planning and Redevelopment; and Dean L. Patterson, of Cumberland, Vice President of Technology for AAA.
According to its website, each Leadership Rhode Island class will then be â€śchallenged by the critical issues facing our stateâ€ť and will gain â€śan in-depth, behind-the-scenes view of Rhode Island.â€ť Participants will go places where key issues are addressed and meet with state, community and business leaders. It's all done in the company of the class, which includes talented people from a wide range of industries, organizations, backgrounds and viewpoints, but each â€śsharing a commitment to making Rhode Island a community with the brightest of futures.â€ť
During the 10-months, the class is encouraged to pool its skills and talents and to work toward a common goal, which changes from year to year. This year's goal of taking on a whole cityâ€”even one measuring just one square mileâ€”is admittedly a big challenge, but one that leadership Rhode Island Executive Director Mike Ritz believes the 2012 class is up to tackling.
This year's theme uses the acronym IDEAS, which stands for Imagine, Discuss, Engage, Act, Solve. The class kicked off the program with an orientation retreat at the University of Rhode Island's Whispering Pines Conference Center on the Alton Jones Campus. Among the guest speakers was Gayle Corrigan, chief of staff for State Receiver Robert G. Flanders, who spoke on the topic of the Central Falls bankruptcy and â€śLessons in Leadership.â€ť Jane Nugent, a 1995 graduate of Leadership Rhode Island, followed up with a talk entitled â€śLeadership in Action--Community Reconnaissance,â€ť while other speakers provided insight on Rhode Island's history and group leadership development and tactics.
Ritz said that Leadership Rhode Island does not just choose its projects lightly. An advisory council made of past LRI graduates does an extensive collection and analyzing of data on important issues involving Rhode Island. â€śWhen we looked at all of this data, it made a lot of sense to choose Central Falls because of the way it is struggling,â€ť Ritz said. Through leveraging the ideas of people acknowledged for their leadership skills and talents, it is likely that the group can make some inroads on improving the community, he added.
Ritz said he had met with Central Falls Receiver Robert J. Flanders to discuss Leadership Rhode Island's goal. He said that while Flanders â€śgave his blessingâ€ť to the project, he stressed that Leadership Rhode Island doesn't delve into the area of politics or lobbying at all. â€śThe receiver is there for fixing the city's fiscal problems. We're there to help a community to revive itself,â€ť he stated.
As part of the effort, Ritz and Leadership Rhode Island are launching a fundraiser that involves selling chocolate candy bars as a nod to Central Falls' history as a candy maker. Beginning Feb. 7, all Whole Foods markets will be selling â€śSave Chocolatevilleâ€ť dark chocolate candy bars, produced by Garrison Confections in Central Falls, for $5 each. All proceeds will go to a fund to benefit the children of Central Falls in some capacity (yet to be decided).
Ritz, who came up with the idea, said that back in Colonial times, Central Falls had been known for its innovation as a chocolate maker, so much so that it had earned the name â€śChocolateville.â€ť He noted that the small city had once been a thriving community that combined the best of entrepreneurship, employment and productivity. Yet, years of financial and social struggle have led to the current bankruptcy, which makes Central Falls, Ritz said, â€śthe epitome of the failing American industrial city.â€ť
The â€śSave Chocolatevilleâ€ť initiative, along with other ideas that the 2012 Leadership Rhode Island class are likely to generate can be compared to a â€śmodern day barn raising,â€ť Ritz stated. â€śIt's a collaborative inside-outside effort to resurrect the spirit of ingenuity and community... to instill a renewed sense of pride and place,â€ť he said.
Ritz noted that the 2012 Leadership Rhode Island class will begin meeting regularly, where they will break up into small groups and discuss a variety of topics that include the economy, education, government, crime, health, the arts, and history. He acts as a facilitator at these meetings, but does not lead them...the participants themselves take the meetings in the direction that they want them to go,â€ť he said. He is optimistic that the class can make a positive difference to Central Falls. â€śIf we go in smart and engage the community, then perhaps we're created a model that can be taken to the next failing community,â€ť he said.
In addition to James Diossa, Herb Weiss and Dean L. Patterson, the other members of the 2012 Leadership Rhode Island Class are: Robert E. Baute, Pauline A. Bellavance, Brydie C. Bernardo, Marie F. Bernardo-Sousa, Thomas E. Bertrand, Kenneth J. Block, Dana M. Borrelli-Murray, James B. Hall, Tracey A. Conlon, Elizabeth C. Cunha, Marnie S. Dacko, Dikran L. Dakessian, Joanne M. Daly, Lisa M. DeCubellis, Claudia Demick, Maureen A. Donnelly, Stephen A. Duvel, Ellyn R. Goldberg, Michelle Y. Gonzalez, Rebekah S. Greenwald Speck, Adam J. Gwaltney, James A. Hall, Lisa S. Holley, Steven P. Hughes, Melissa M. Husband, Matthew Jerzyk, Anna R. Johnson, Sharon R. Kennedy, Clarice L. Thompson, Theodore E. Larson III, Jennifer S. Lepre Kelshaw, Scott Lessard, Jennifer C. LoPiccolo, Christine Lopes, Mary E. Marran, Michael S. McCarthy, Corey McCarty, Cynthia McDermott, Amanda McMullen, Jody A. Miguel, Rob Monnes, Alix R. Ogden, Scott Ostrowski, Andrew J. Palan, Nina Pande, Elizabeth A. Pasqualini, Jason M. Pezzullo, Jason Pina, James G. Salmo, Luis F. San Lucas, Marissa E. Silva, Elizabeth Slader, Katherine C. Trimble, Matthew R. Trimble, William K. White, Meaghan Wims, Christopher P. Yalanis, and Jason S. Won Yoon.