Leadership Greater Topeka has been a mainstay in Topeka for more than three decades. Over the course of the program, hundreds upon hundreds of individuals have graduated and now call themselves LGT Alumni. It’s a little daunting to be selected to join 35 other professionals at the beginning of a new year to join the Leadership family. But now, reflecting on our experiences as the program has drawn to a close, the members of the 2017 class have found that LGT has changed us in innumerable ways.

As two Topeka transplants, it felt a little strange at first to be selected to join a Topeka-centric tradition like LGT. But we both—Alice, who came to Topeka in 2001 when her husband took a promotion with his organization and Lisa, who came to Topeka in 2009 to attend law school at Washburn—quickly learned that the makeup of each Leadership class is carefully cultivated and put together for a reason.

Lisa Brown & Alice Weingartner, leadership greater topeka

We were all relative strangers when we first walked into the LGT “retreat” in January 2017. From law enforcement to health care to education and a dozen other fields, we were a diverse group with seemingly little more in common than working in Topeka. However, as we shared our “strengths” test results and raced around Lake Shawnee in a miniature “DART” relay race over our two-day initiation session, we suddenly discovered that we weren’t strangers at all and that our shared passion for Topeka and desire to grow ourselves as leaders was all we needed to develop instant and deep friendships.

After the two-day retreat, LGT class sessions were held every two weeks from January through to the beginning of May. Each session brought the class members closer together as friends and showed us different aspects of Topeka:

We learned about the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library’s amazing accomplishments and undertakings, which earned it national recognition as the Library of the Year for 2016. The class visited the Topeka Housing Authority. Then, we traveled to learn about the power of education in shaping a community through a visit to Pine Ridge Preschool. We encouraged each other to push past our fears as we climbed 296 steps to the top of the Capitol Dome. We learned about “raising the heat” and how to make a change in the community by facilitating discussion. We were vulnerable with our small groups when we presented personal and professional challenges to discuss and get perspective on.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of everything we experienced in our 4 months in the class of 2017. We learned things about our city that we hadn’t even known were occurring, and we left every session amazed that this much could be happening in our town. But even as Topeka was revealed to be bursting at the seams with variety and diversity, this little city started to feel a little smaller and friendlier with each passing class.

About 4 weeks into the LGT experience, we were both taking a leisurely hike through the woods at Kaw River State Park. As we walked along—Alice with her husband and Lisa with her iPhone—we each spotted someone approaching. We quickly recognized each other and stopped, made introductions, talked about hiking and how we needed to plan a time to hike together. We also mentioned how much we enjoyed LGT and then we went our separate ways. Afterward, we were both struck with the realization that, if it weren’t for LGT, we would have simply been strangers on the trail, and we’d have simply nodded hello and passed each other without further conversation.

Because of LGT, Topeka was suddenly smaller and friendlier. Since our meeting that Sunday morning, we’ve met up an evening after work for a hike on those same trails, and we hope to get more members of our class to join us for a hike sometime again soon. Walking into the first session of LGT is a little unnerving, kind of like hiking a trail for the first time. You might not be sure what direction this trail is going to take you, but like we realized that Sunday morning, we all had 35 other people on this hike with us. Some are adept with directions, some are more adventurous and willing to take risks, while others who are comfortable staying on the trail and seeing where they end up.

LGT is the best way to learn how the “trails” that comprise our local city and county government bodies, businesses, non-profit organizations, healthcare, safety and education systems, etc. are often inter-connected. Because of LGT, we now have a class of 36 individuals with a lasting bond. We can reach out to any of them for just about anything, and they will do whatever they can to help, even if it is as simple as helping us read our “map” and sending us in the right direction.

Participating in Leadership Greater Topeka was an impactful experience for each of us, and we highly recommend applying for the program. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t selected the first or second time you apply. For some, the third time is the charm, and upon reflection, it seems that each person is selected to LGT when the time is right for them.

In short, it has been an honor to be a part of the Leadership Greater Topeka Class of 2017. There can be no doubt that we were the “Best Class Infinity.”

Matt Lara

Matt Lara

Matt is the resident social media guru and website guy, working on the marketing and communications team. He supports GO Topeka, the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneurial & Minority Business Development, Forge and Heartland Visioning.
Matt Lara