Ellis, Kan., program helps develop leadership skills

Cheryl Lyn Higgins, Neighborhood Initiatives coordinator for the Sisters of St. Joseph, talks to participants in the Ellis, Kan., Leadership Program Wednesday, March 28.

Much of the morning Wednesday may have looked more like a engineering project than a leadership class, but it was actually both — two weeks ago the community members attending the first “Leadership in Rural Communities” session formed teams to design and build small balsa bridges. In the second session, each team tested its bridge for strength and stability.


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There was no clear winner in terms of bridge building — the class ran out of bricks, rocks and copy paper packages to stack on each bridge — but facilitator Cheryl Lyn Higgins said everyone won with the creativity and team work they demonstrated.

Higgins, who works for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia as coordinator of the Neighborhood Initiatives office, is leading the class as part of the congregation’s outreach to communities where sisters serve. Sister Doris Marie Flax has served as pastoral minister at St. Mary’s Church in Ellis since 1994

Higgins has been visiting Ellis since last September, when she led a “community roundtable discussion” to help community members identify challenges in the city of about 2,000 just west of Hays. One of the major issues she found was that like many small cities, there are a relative handful of people who fill virtually all the leadership positions — and there are few, if any, people poised to step up to help or take over.

“Those ‘front line’ people have been doing it for years, and they’re tired,” Higgins said. “Communities have to find ways to widen the circle, to bring new people in so they too can learn to be leaders.”

So, working with the Ellis Alliance, Higgins scheduled the six-session “Leadership for Rural Communities,” which was developed by the Kansas Health Foundation and adapted by Neighborhood Initiatives. The first session was March 14, and the program continues until May 16.

Participants include a city council member, the principal of the local Catholic school and the editor of the city’s weekly newspaper.

“This is about survival,” said Nikole Byers of the Ellis Review. “Leadership is such a crucial need, and so far this has been really great. It’s going to spur communication, and allow these people to work together instead of each of us working in our own direction.”

One thought on “Ellis, Kan., program helps develop leadership skills

  • March 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks for the sharing. The activity was definitely a great way to demonstrate the many ways to arrive at solution; and, options available by working together.

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