It’s been 50 years since the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce launched its intensive training program for community and business leaders. Leadership St. Pete is now the second-oldest program of its type in the country; it has turned out – and this is a conservative estimate – 1,500 graduates well-tuned to the issues and opportunities present in our community, and ready (and willing) to face them.
Among the program’s distinguished alumni: Former Florida governor (and current state representative) Charlie Crist, former St. Pete mayor Rick Baker, Florida senator Jeff Brandes and the city’s deputy mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin.
The goal for every year’s LSP, according to 50th anniversary chair Tee Grizzard, is “to enhance community involvement, community understanding and leadership skills.”
Grizzard and the LSP board are currently accepting applicants for the 2019 class, the all-important 50th Leadership St. Pete group. They’ll accept 40 to 50 new classmates, the “best of the best,” from a cross-section of profession, age, sex, race and political persuasion. Diversity is key for every grouping.
“We’re looking for somebody that’s going to be committed to moving the needle forward,” says Grizzard. “And that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Because inherently, you’re going to have differing opinions, which is a good thing. And one of the things that LSP fosters is speaking candidly – to share ideas, and differing opinions, to understand the other side.
“There’s no better way to get plugged into a community.”
Learn about the program, fees, and how to apply, here.
The six-month program introduces students, through a series of teaching seminars, to the various components that make St. Petersburg work. They’ll hear from state and local government, education, healthcare, social services, environmental groups, cultural movers and shakers, criminal justice experts and more, as part of a curriculum that’s updated annually.
Grizzard, a commercial property and casualty broker, was in the Class of 2013. Each year since, he’s been on the planning committee, and he says he’s honored – and only a little bit intimidated – to run the show for the 50th anniversary year.
“You get what you give,” he explains. “When I went through, I immediately saw the value in the connections I was making with St. Pete. And I’ve had my fingers in almost every facet of the program.
“The requirement for a chair is three years of service, so you have a good understanding of what the organization does, and a good baseline of how things work.”
One highlight, always, is the Class Project, which requires each year’s group to choose, raise funds for and implement a civic-engagement, physical facility improvement project.
Once the previous year’s class graduates, in June, the planning committee starts sending out requests for proposals (RFPs) to all local nonprofits, for a $20,000 “sticks and bricks” improvement.
The proposals are vetted and whittled down to three, and then the new class – at the annual Orientation Dinner in December – decides on the project to be tackled.
In 2016, Grizzard explains, the Boys & Girls Club, at the Royal Theater on 22nd Street South) asked to get the interior re-painted. The project took on a life of its own. “Now, the class is filled with 50 alpha personalities that have deep connections in the community,” he says, “and you don’t know where that relationship capital lays, so their fundraising efforts far surpassed ‘yes, we can do the painting.’
“We did electrical, we did lighting, we did some stuff outside … we basically re-modeled that entire facility for them.” The Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete then built a full kitchen, and another group put in a playground. “So you never know what’s going to happen.”
Other projects in recent years have included the construction of a functional, wheelchair-accessible garden for PARC, a playground and more for Society of St. Vincent de Paul, at the former Mercy Hospital, and a total remodel and renovation of the archaic interior courtyard at the Alpha House of Pinellas County.
The class itself is required to schedule, book, plan and execute one of the seminars. And this, Grizzard stresses, is where “community connectivity” comes into play. “It’s hard to get things done if you don’t know who the players are,” he says. “And it’s more difficult to get things done if you don’t have a relationship with that player.
“So as the class goes through the seminars, not only do they get a deeper understanding of that subject matter, but what’s inherently different with LSP versus other leadership program is that it’s an active program – meaning the class is called upon to come up with a seminar that makes sense in the context of the others.”
There’s fun stuff, too – the class has taken field trips to the state capital and MacDill Air Force Base, among others. And at the end of the six months, participants have not only developed insights into their community and made invaluable connections, they’ve made in-the-trenches friends.
Diversity, Grizzard insists, is what keeps things spirited and moving forward. “That creates a very interesting dynamic,” he says. “If everybody in the class was in the financial sector, they’re not growing outside of their own bubble.
Potential students have to be open to new ideas, new thought processes. “Any given subject matter, everybody views it through their own lens,” points out Grizzard. “The beautiful thing about having a diverse cross-section – age, race, sex, political orientation – the more flavor we have in the soup, the more robust the soup is. And it’s more enjoyable for everybody.”
Next: Looking back on 50 years of LSP.