They've done what no class before them has done. They've come together in a way like no other. They've shattered fundraising records. 

They are, indeed, a big deal. 

The Leadership Englewood Class of 2019 celebrated its graduation Thursday night with a ceremony at the Boca Royale Golf & Country Club. (Actually, I think they celebrated a bit more after that.) Like all the classes before them, they're to be congratulated for their accomplishments.

But this class is a little different from the others, at least the ones I've seen.

Just like the other classes, they first convened in the early autumn of 2018 for an ice-breaker and an intense, day-long social experiment designed to enhance their community awareness and stimulate team building.

It was quickly apparent that this class wasn't like others before it. Their day seemed more intense than others. The part about team building didn't come easy to this group. 

But over the course of the year, they gathered once a month to ride around on a bus and learn first-hand about an aspect of the broader Englewood community — just like other classes before them. 

During their travels, they visited an airport, a jail, a half-dozen schools, a few resorts, a hospital and some assisted living facilities, parks, businesses, many nonprofits, art galleries — and even saw the huge warehouse where they keep all the beer. A lot like the other classes.

They chose leaders: Shane Whitmore was picked as president, and Kathleen Jarosik was vice president. But unlike other classes, there were a lot of leaders in this one. During his speech at the ceremony, Whitmore said it was "a lot of alphas."

They faced adversity. During the year, we lost one of their class, the lovely Toni Steigerwald, who lost her battle with illness. A few class members had to drop out of the original 20 for different reasons. But the team stayed together.

Each year, the Leadership Class is charged with raising money, any way they choose, and contributing to the Englewood Community Services Fund, the nonprofit charitable arm of the Englewood Florida Chamber of Commerce. This is the part of the chamber that helped people who needed relief during last summer's red tide attack. It's a good deal.

It's also traditional for the Leadership Class to raise money above and beyond that for another nonprofit in the community, or maybe two. 

This class did that — in a big way — actually adopting three nonprofits. They raised money through a Hawaiian Luau that was a blast. And in the end, they raised more than any other Leadership Class, to the tune of $34,289, contributing to the Community Services Fund and their chosen nonprofits.

The three agencies, Project Phoenix, Meals on Wheels of Englewood and the Homeless Coalition, each received donations of $8,588.13. That's a huge amount for three nonprofits on shoestring budgets.

This Leadership Charlotte class started out like no others, but ended up raising the bar to a new height.

Chris Porter is editor of the Englewood Sun. You can reach him at or 941-681-3022.


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