Born and raised in southwest Georgia, Wolfskin resident Jesse Johnson had never traveled outside of the U.S. in his life until he participated in an agricultural leadership program a few years. That experience allowed him to not only visit numerous locations around the country, including Washington, DC and New York, but he also spent 15 days in India.
Now, Johnson is an integral part in starting a new leadership program in Oglethorpe County that he hopes will be as impactful and beneficial to future leaders as his previous experiences have been to him. He is helping spearhead the development of the Leadership Oglethorpe program, which will begin its inaugural series of sessions on January 19, 2018.
Johnson moved to the Athens area to attend UGA, where he graduated from the forestry department. He works for Southern Land Exchange and continues to do forestry work as well.
He moved to Oglethorpe County in 2007 and is a member of the Oglethorpe County Chamber of Commerce board, along with the Oglethorpe County Rotary Club and the county’s Tax Assessor’s Board. Several years ago, he participated in a two-year agricultural development program through UGA’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
In addition, he also participated in Leadership Oconee in Oconee County. It is a similar program to what he and others are starting up in Oglethorpe.
“Leadership is sort of like any muscle, you have to work it out to keep it in good shape,” Johnson said. “Through those programs I did, I was able to learn more about myself and how to work and communicate with others, and it was really eye-opening for me.”
Looking at Oglethorpe County specifically, Johnson stated that he believed one of the county’s challenges is figuring out “what are we going to continue to be going forward? We all have a lot in common here, even if we approach things a little differently.”
In determining those future goals and ideas, he noted that the “up-and-coming” leaders of the county needed to be involved and engaged in the process. “I think Leadership Oglethorpe is going to be the place to do that,” Johnson said.
He emphasized that the program needed input and participation from a diverse, wide-ranging group of individuals to represent the county as a whole. “We need everyone to come together and talk about all of the different issues that are important to people in Oglethorpe County,” he added.
Growth and development, agriculture, rural health care, and transportation were just a few of the issues that Johnson mentioned that would be discussed during the upcoming Leadership Oglethorpe sessions. He said, “I get excited about it, because I think this will be a place where we can get people together and work on a lot of this stuff on the front-end, instead of in a packed house at a board meeting when emotions are high.”
Johnson continued, “I think Oglethorpe is often viewed as just a bunch of country folks, and we are to a degree, and proud of it, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot of opportunities ahead of us, and these are issues we need to think about now instead of being reactionary 10-20 years from now.”
With Leadership Oglethorpe, his goal is to see the participants “become more informed about county government and business so then maybe they’ll get involved in the various boards and organizations in the future. The county is so spread out that a lot of people don’t know each other and don’t realize all of the resources we have here, so this is all about bringing people together, planning for our potential future, and developing our future leaders,” Johnson said.
Leadership Oglethorpe is a joint project of the Rotary Club, the Chamber, and the Fanning Institute at the University of Georgia. It will consist of eight monthly sessions examining unique issues in the community.
Johnson is helping spearhead the program with Amy Stone, the county’s planning and development director. They are working with Louise Hill and Terence Johnson of the Fanning Institute, as well as former school superintendent Dr. Jeff Welch and former economic development director Cary Fordyce, to bring the experience to the county.
The Chamber received a $5,000 grant from the Georgia Rural Development Council to be put towards the new program. The Rotary Club received a $2,300 grant from Rotary International Foundation as well.
Because of those grants, along with local matching funds and in-kind contributions, the individual tuition for Leadership Oglethorpe is $300. A limited number of partial scholarships may be available in amounts of up to half of the tuition.
The deadline for applications to participate and any nominations for potential class members has been extended through Wednesday, November 8th. For further information, contact
Cary Fordyce at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amy Stone at email@example.com
Jesse Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.