Members of this year’s Leadership San Juan class learn about various sectors of local government during "Government Day" earlier this
Members of this year's Leadership San Juan class learn about various sectors of local government during "Government Day" earlier this month. (Courtesy photo)
More info:

What: Leadership San Juan

When: Deadline to apply is May 15, the program starts in September.

Where: Information and an application can be found at here, or call 505-566-3264

FARMINGTON — Leadership San Juan is looking for potential members for next year's class, and is urging anyone interested in learning more about the county to apply.

The program, which is geared toward educating current and future leaders so they can make informed decisions about their communities, has graduated more than 500 participants since its creation 24 years ago.

Class members attend nine day-long sessions on the second Friday of each month, learning about various sectors of the community such as business, education, criminal justice, the media and government.

The sessions run from September through May.

Throughout the year, the class breaks down into three groups to complete different community-improvement projects, working together to choose, plan and implement the projects.

One such project completed by this year's class was the construction of a greenhouse for Totah Behavioral Health.

Those who have gone through the program state that it has not only helped them to make valuable contacts in the community, but has allowed them to gain confidence in dealing with people.

"(Leadership San Juan) has been great for me, and it actually changed my life," said Wayne Mangum, owner of Silver Oak Mortgage. "I met a lot of people, and it really helped me grow my business."

Mangum said that although his business requires much public interaction, prior to participating in Leadership he was, socially-speaking, "in a shell."

"Since Leadership, I've gotten involved in many things in the community I wouldn't have otherwise gotten involved in," he said. "I know the idea of the program is to help (current and future leaders) so that we can help others, but I feel like I'm the one who got the most out of it. I enjoyed the program, and found myself really looking forward to the Friday classes."

Former San Juan County Commissioner Tony Atkinson graduated from Leadership San Juan in 1999, and said the experience was so positive he participated in a similar statewide program called Leadership New Mexico in 2004.

That program used Leadership San Juan as a model, and this Friday in Albuquerque Atkinson will be named Leadership New Mexico's Alumnus of the Year.

"Leadership opened my eyes to many different areas I wouldn't otherwise have experienced," said Atkinson. "And I think it helped me in more ways than I can fully realize."

Atkins said that that Leadership San Juan helps dispel traditional "clique" models of networking because it includes diverse individuals from all sectors of society.

"A lot of people talk about politics and how there's a good ole boy' system here, and that you have to play games (to get ahead)," he said. "Being a part of Leadership diffuses that system in a way. It replaces the good ole boy' system with an honest network. You don't have to be connected in any other way, and you don't have to be involved in politics. You can apply what you learn here to whatever you're involved in."

Nancy Shepherd, San Juan College's presidential adviser for community relations, said the deadline to apply for next year's Leadership class has been extended to May 15, and she hopes people who wouldn't otherwise think of applying for such a program will consider submitting an application.

"Networking is one of the biggest benefits, and participants really come away understanding the inner workings of our county," she said.

The program cost is $750, but Shepherd said many participants' employers help defray the cost, and there are also partial scholarships available.

Those chosen for Leadership San Juan attend a weekend retreat in addition to the nine monthly classes.

Leigh Black Irvin can be reached at lirvin@daily-times.com; 505-564-4610. Follow her on Twitter @irvindailytimes.