The Russellville Regional Leadership Academy has been a program of the Russellville Chamber of Commerce since 1986. Previously known as Leadership Russellville, in the past year the name was changed in an effort to include participants from surrounding areas.
The 10 month program offers participants a chance to learn leadership skills and provides them with an opportunity to serve the community. Every class meets monthly with a different topic to discuss. The curriculum covers subjects that every community leader needs to know including tourism, economic development, and emergency services. With more than 500 graduates over 33 years, the program has successfully completed several projects. Some of these projects include two solar benches installed on El Paso that serve as wifi hotspots and cell phone charging stations, bike racks in various locations throughout Russellville, and three “Welcome to Russellville” signs around the city. These and the several other completed projects benefit and shape our community each year.
The goal of the Russellville Regional Leadership Academy is to teach potential leaders the right skills in order to provide guidance for their community. “The criteria that we use for selecting candidates is that they have to have a real passion about the community,” says Angela Bonds, director of government affairs and leadership development at the Russellville Chamber of Commerce. “We want them to have a desire to serve their community, whether that be on the school board, city council, or the several non-profits in our area. We hope that what we provide for them in the leadership program will help them serve on those boards and serve in those roles.”
Kara Johnson is an alum of the program, and that experience has helped with her position as coordinator of civic engagement and campus Life at Arkansas Tech University. “I met a lot of people and learned more about what goes into local government as well as just learning how to get out and network and fundraise which is not a strength of mine,” Kara says.
At her position, Kara is tasked with community service as well as political education. She helps students become informed citizens and voters, and teaches them the importance of local politics at a time when most people are focused on politics at the federal level.
Volunteering with nonprofits and other groups from the community, and encouraging students to do the same is also a large part of her responsibility. Although she was born a natural leader, the Russellville Regional Leadership Academy has helped Kara harness those characteristics and implement those skills into her community.
Kara’s employers asked her to participate in the Russellville Regional Leadership Academy to benefit her at her new position. “I did it thinking it was just going to be this thing that was required of me,” Kara says. “I ended up having a lot of fun.” Kara says that the people she met and the connections she made have helped her excel at her position at Tech.
Little did Kara know that completing the program was a bit of a family legacy. Both her grandmother and father were members of the RCC, and her father was a graduate of the program. But Kara wasn’t aware of that until after she had already enrolled. Kara’s grandmother, Carol J. Johnson, was the first female chairman of the board for the RCC. Kara’s father, Rusty Johnson, was part of the program during its second year. He has remained involved in the community as a member of the Russellville Chamber of Commerce (RCC) Red Coats. An RCC action team, the Red Coats recruit new RCC members and help retain current members. Red Coats also serve as official representatives of the RCC at ribbon cuttings and ground breakings. Kara has also been a Red Coat. “I’m following in dad’s footsteps for sure,” Kara says. It is safe to say that community service is deeply ingrained in Kara’s family.
Kara went through the program in 2016. Her class kicked things off with a retreat to get to know each other, as each class does. Then they immediately began discussing ideas for what their project might be. They decided to fundraise and buy the Russellville Police Department new bulletproof vests. This gave Kara an opportunity to work on her fundraising skills, which as she mentioned, weren’t the greatest.
Russellville is a college town, and we need programs like these to keep the community thriving and to keep current and future citizens involved and satisfied. Growing towns need leaders to guide them into the future, and that is what Russellville Regional Leadership Academy is providing for our community.