ABOVE: Ernie Reynolds, Leadership Franklin class of ’16-17, Eric Stuckey, ’09-10, Paula Harris, ’10-11, Mark Hilty, ’17-18, Robert Blair, ’99-00.
By DEB ENRIGHT
“Serving the community in which you live has been foundational to me since childhood. It is essential to the health of any community that those within it take responsibility to make it better. Service comes in many forms because the needs of a community are vast and different. Yet it is because of the many diverse needs within our community that each of us can find our own way to serve. Franklin is blessed to have a large number of servant leaders and volunteers who collaborate in many ways to make our community a better place. For over 20 years, Leadership Franklin has been a driving force to bring those leaders together for the benefit of all.” — Founding Leadership Franklin Board member Julian Bibb
The impact of the Leadership Franklin program is storied and far reaching.
Jewels of the Franklin landscape including the brand-new Pocket Park, Bicentennial Park, the McLemore House Historic Audio Tour, and the Driving Tour from the Carter House to the Carnton Plantation. all are program projects of Leadership Franklin classes. An award-winning children’s book, Where Are Bucky and Bonnie? was published and Mimi’s Room – a space of comfort for little ones – at the Williamson County Juvenile Court – was renovated showing the bandwidth of the program’s impact.
Graduates of the Leadership Franklin program humbly continue to serve the community. They are a
network of servant leaders lending their expertise and sweat equity throughout Franklin and Williamson County including the areas of historic preservation, elected government positions, non-profit boards, in churches, in schools, and answering emerging quality of life issues such as affordable housing.
And while the impact of the program is deep and wide in its reach, the more than 400 graduates of the program relate to each other as though family, seeking each other out for advice, help, or simply to check in with each other. This group is a force of folks leaning in on their talents to keep Franklin great.
A friendly family of over 400 members. That’s a big family tree with an exponential amount of
connections brought together by a calling to serve.
The community of Franklin is sought after, internationally, as a place to live and to work. Growth in
residents and businesses relocating to Franklin is exponential. With each new family that arrives,
each corporation that changes their address to a Franklin zip code, or everny new small business putting out its shingle there, is a sense of belonging as they stroll past Franklin Theatre on their way to Puckett’s for a meal or descend on Cool Springs to shop.
But how does someone begin to bring their talents and expertise to help meet the needs of the
community? How can someone get involved in service to have an impact on the Franklin community if you are in a career or life stage transition? What does it take? Who do I need to know? When can I begin to help my neighbor?
As a Leadership Franklin alum myself (Class of ’13-14), I knew reaching out to the program’s Executive Director Paula Harris ’10-11 and Associate Executive Director Debbie Henry, ’10-11 would help answer these questions. We invited members of this Leadership Franklin “family” to talk about their experiences in the program and how to get engaged in opportunities of community impact.
Meeting at City Hall in downtown Franklin, I had the pleasure of talking with City Administrator Eric
Stuckey ,’09-10, Ernie Reynolds, ’16-17, CEO of Outdoor Classic Structures and a native of this area, Robert
Blair, ‘’99-00, born and raised in Franklin consummate community leader whose service includes over 15
years on the Franklin Special School District School Board, Mark Hilty, ’17-18, Franklin assistant city administrator, and Paula Harris, ’10-11, current Leadership Franklin Executive Director whose Franklin roots reach back to the Pioneer days.
The room was buzzing as soon as we assembled. I realized that I would not have met these folks were it not for the program. We began by talking about how their favorite program day influenced their choices of service.
I am ahead of myself just a bit. Some important background information is necessary to fully understand the value of this program and the ease with which anyone can begin to serve in this community.
For more than 20 years, Leadership Franklin has provided for a cohort of 20 members an almost year-long program aimed to provide class members with knowledge, network connections, and resources to bring forth new ideas to serve the citizens of Franklin and Williamson County. Created by a team of Franklin community leaders including long-time resident and first program Executive Director Caroline Cross, the program seeks to grow a citizenry of service-oriented people.
The monthly day-long session topics are: history, government, business, law enforcement, media, education, quality of life and land resources. Land resources is a brand-new program day this year. This exposure to Franklin and the county help groups within the class create a project that supports or improves some aspect of the community.
“It’s a sun up to sun down proposition,” says Debbie Henry. “And worth every minute of it. Most participants are amazed at the ground we cover, literally, in a day and how much they learn. I often hear them say, ‘I had no idea.’ or “Who knew?’ at the end of a program day.”
The previous class creates the current classes program days. According to Paula Harris, this attribute of the program, “… keeps Leadership Franklin nimble in its response to current concerns as well as our beloved traditions and history. The Land Resources Day stemmed from a growing concern of the consequences of unchecked growth to the quality of life here in Franklin. If we can’t protect what we have, we will lose it. We can’t recreate the green spaces and historical integrity of this area.”
I asked those assembled what was their favorite day. The top-rated program days were Quality of Life, History, Education, and Government. Paula Harris sees Government Day as essential: “you’d be
surprised at how many people in our community have not attended a Commission meeting or any type of government meeting. And don’t get me started on the lack of voter participation. Increasing that number is passion of mine.”
Robert Blair cited Education Day as one of the most meaningful in part because he was a teacher, but that day he learned about all the educational opportunities offered in the area. And although he graduated years ago from the program, he joins the current class for program days such as Education to continue to stay current in his role on the FSSD School Board and as an active citizen.
Mark Hilty and Ernie Reynolds were most touched in the areas of serving Franklin’s children.
For the first time during a program day, Mark, a father of five, watched a Juvenile Court Session. “It blew me away what these kids go through on their own. I sat there knowing I had to help in some way. And I will.”
Ernie, who once served on the Board of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)
www.williamsoncountycasa.org/ resigned from it to become an actual advocate for one child, told me, “Seeing the experiences of these children caused me to want a deeper connection to create a better future for at least one child. If walking alongside them through the court system because their parents couldn’t is helpful, then it is the least I can do.”
Eric Stuckey participated in a variety of other leadership programs in other states some larger than
Leadership Franklin: “… [the program] showed me a depth in Franklin that I was not aware of before I moved here. It fascinates me that a city of 70-80,000 people has the reach Franklin has. It rivals
larger cities in the quality and range of its citizens’ impact.”
Moving to the topic of connecting to the community to serve, everyone at the table suggested
applying to Leadership Franklin by May 11, 2018 for next year’s class: www.leadershipfranklin.com/application/.
“I have lifelong friends because of Leadership Franklin’, Debbie Henry says. ‘If you live in Franklin or do business in this community, we would love to hear from you. And if you are a high school student who wants to learn about leadership in your community, we have the Youth Leadership Franklin program too: www.youthleadershipfranklin.org/.
Paula Harris adds, “The Leadership Franklin program helps people get involved if they are not already at the level of service they might want to be. This program embraces the good of what people bring to the community from their past communities to enrich Franklin.”
And if time doesn’t permit going through the Leadership Franklin program, what can someone do to get involved in the community?
“Oh goodness, says Robert Blair, just call me. I would be very happy to talk to you and introduce you to anyone in town that could be of help to you. I’ve done that for years. That’s what we all are supposed to do, welcome anyone in who says, “how can I help?”. All gathered suggested that before you commit to an organization spend some time learning about all the needs of the community and the organizations already providing services in those areas.
The Williamson Herald and Franklin Home Page were held up as great resources as well as the
programming of Franklin Tomorrow with its Breakfast with the Mayors and Frank Talks events for folks looking for connections to serve. Joining the Rotary was also seen as an option for people transitioning to retirement or a career change.
As we close, Paula Harris sums it up best, “Serving in Franklin is so much more than just writing a check. You can see the impact you are having as you work along those you are serving. There are hundreds of opportunities to serve at very different levels of intensity. And the Franklin Leadership alums would be happy to help you find your way to a fulfilling place of service. Think of us as family. Just ask us for help.”
To help you find your way to serving:
Deb Enright, Ed.D., Leadership Franklin class of 2013-14, is committed to helping folks find ways to bring their talents to nonprofit organizations just waiting to meet them.