By RENEE FITE
For the past 16 years, groups of Tahlequah citizens have participated in Leadership Tahlequah.
The Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce program is designed to encourage people to take an active role in the future of their town, discovering its history and beauty, how government works, and what makes it a desirable place to raise a family and retire.
Since the first class graduated in 1997, members have promoted a mission of establishing a shared vision committed to the common good. They’re from all walks of life, disciplines and backgrounds.
Leadership Tahlequah 16 class member Steven Wright said he participated because he wanted to better the community.
“In the class sessions [that span nine months], you learn about the community. It makes you know how to be better involved,” Wright said. “You learn what the community needs and how to affect it in a positive way.”
Wright has lived here all his life, yet didn’t know all the little things that make Tahlequah tick.
The 10 sessions begin in September and cover state, county and city government, history and tourism, health care and education, the Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, Northeastern State University and Talking Leaves Job Corps.
Jerrod Vanderheiden likes that the class is an example of strength in numbers.
“A group of people who care about the community can accomplish a lot more than one person,” he said. “We did several fundraisers: the duck race at the Red Fern Festival, sold ‘I Heart Tahlequah’ T-shirts at the festival and sold red ferns. We also worked concessions at Snowflake.”
Leadership Tahlequah Class 16 capped off the year by providing 287 pairs of shoes for needy public school students. The different fundraisers made more than $4,000, which they used to purchase the shoes.
Wright’s brother, Jasen, also a member of the leadership class, suggested the project. “His daughter is in elementary school. You notice kids who really need shoes,” he said.
The cases of shoes were dropped off at Cherokee Elementary on Tuesday, but they are for any student who needs them.
“They’ll distribute them out from here to the elementary schools,” said Wright. “Hopefully, because of our project, there will be some kids this winter whose feet won’t be cold.”