Growing up as a self-proclaimed "Army brat," Michelle Outerbridge had the opportunity to experience life in many communities. However, Outerbridge, an account manager for an Ellicott City-based accounting firm, has never seen a place quite like Howard County.
"People are amazingly active and constantly looking to the future," she said.
For this reason, the Arundel County resident is excited to participate in the inaugural class of Leadership Essentials, a program of Leadership Howard County that targets emerging young professional leaders between the ages of 25 and 35. The six-month program consists of three parts: skill building, coaching and community service.
More than 100 people attended the kickoff reception last month.
Ed Ely, co-chairman of the steering committee of Leadership Essentials, described his enthusiasm about the kickoff and the future of the program.
"You can feel the excitement in the air," Ely said. "I'm so happy that this program is finally getting off the ground."
The 23 participants will improve their leadership skills and learn about building relationships and conflict resolution.
Leadership Howard County has spent the past two years researching and developing the program. A national trend, leadership programs for young professionals have popped up around the country during the past few years.
Laurie Remer, associate director of Leadership Howard County, first came across the trend when she attended a presentation by Bridge Builders in Cleveland at the 2005 Community Leadership Association conference.
"I was so excited," Remer said. "I knew right away that this program was perfect for Howard County. It was great that when I got home and talked about it, people overwhelmingly agreed."
Ellicott City resident Robyn Parker, a Leadership Essentials participant, was recently promoted to assistant manager at Howard Bank. She hopes that the skills she learns in the program will help her at work on a daily basis.
"I want to learn how to motivate others and turn seemingly negative situations into positive ones," Parker said. "That's what being a leader is about. It's great to live in a community that cares so much about us."
Like Parker, Matthew Lautzenheiser, senior financial analyst at Howard County General Hospital, is excited to participate in the program.
"Leadership Essentials will help open the door for me to make an investment in my community," Lautzenheiser said. "I'm ready to make that investment and get involved with leadership and service activities in Howard County."
Outerbridge, Parker, Lautzenheiser and the other participants will be matched with an established professional who will serve as their coach throughout the program. This provides the participants with a one-on-one relationship with an experienced community leader.
Peggy Alexander, a certified life coach, said she is thrilled to be Outerbridge's coach.
"I love working with young leaders in the community," Alexander said. "I think coaching is a great complement to leadership skill development because it allows them to get ahead."
Joseph Hines, president and chief executive officer of Success Behavior Institute, will join Alexander as a coach.
"I want to give back to the community," Hines said. "I hope I'm able to teach others about self-awareness and confidence."
All members of the Leadership Essentials Class of 2008 will have the opportunity to work on one of six community service projects. Pat Heineman, a community service project host, said she hopes her group can help develop effective marketing strategies to encourage young professionals to participate in Neighbor Ride, an organization that provides transportation for the elderly.
"This is a great opportunity for [participants] to have hands-on leadership opportunities," Heineman said. "I can't wait to see what they come up with. After all, they are trying to market to themselves."
Ely summed up the energy and drive behind the program as a whole.
"[The participants] don't know what can't be done and go about proving that it can be done," he said.