Helena Homework – "I have learned more about Helena than I ever dreamed I would." through Leadership Helena

Tammy Cline is a customer service manager by trade. Most days, she’s at Watkins & Shepard Trucking, quoting rates to customers and supporting the company’s terminals throughout the country.

But one day a month, Cline gets a break from the routine, and spends the day touring various Helena agencies and businesses with 20-some people from other workplaces around town.

By JOHN HARRINGTON – IR Business Editor

Cline is taking part in Leadership Helena, a year-long series of classes offered by the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce designed to give participants an in-depth look at the inner workings of Helena, as well as provide something of an instant network of contacts across the community.

After starting the program with an overnight retreat to a north-country ranch in September, Cline and her classmates get together once a month through May, each time exploring a different aspect of community life here. It could be working on a home for Habitat for Humanity on Social and Community Services Day, a tour of the Montana Club on Historic Helena Day or, next month, a visit from Gov. Judy Martz on Government Day.

"I love it," Cline said last week, taking a break from preparing floorboards at Habitat’s current East Helena project. "I have learned more about Helena than I ever dreamed I would."

In a little over 20 years the Leadership Helena program has been in place, more than 600 members of the community have taken part. It takes great cooperation from employers to make the program work. It costs several hundred dollars per student, in addition to accommodating the monthly absences. But many area businesses feel the program is well worth it.

Terri Kunz, an assistant vice president at Valley Bank, had lived in Helena less than a year when she entered Leadership Helena in 2001.

"The bank recommended it as a good way to get to know people in the community," she said.

Kunz remains involved in the program today, in addition to its offshoot, Junior Leadership Helena.

"It was greatly valuable for me," said Kunz, who moved to Helena from Seattle. "It gave me an opportunity to get to know fellow business people and to learn more about Helena and how it works."

Valley Bank regularly sends employees through the program, as do Mountain West Bank, Northrop Grumman, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana and others.

Each monthly class day starts with an element of leadership training — maybe a brushup on labor laws, or a personality test, or problem-solving challenges involving co-workers.

In addition to helping create an instant network of contacts around town, the program digs deep into the heart and history of Helena. Even people who grew up here find themselves learning things about a town they thought they knew inside and out. Classes in years past have toured everything from the Capitol and federal building to the Law Enforcement Academy, the Leo Pocha Center, the airport and the Farm in the Dell.

"From a personal perspective, for me it was quite enlightening to learn more about Helena and the Helena community," said Dean Mack, a consultant in human resources and organizational development for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana. Despite growing up in Helena, Mack said he learned plenty about his hometown through the program.

"For example, Intermountain Children’s Home — I knew it was here, but I didn’t know exactly what they did until I got to tour it," he said. "The program enhances community involvement, and gives a greater understanding of the Helena community and environment."

Mack, who participated in the program a few years ago, now chairs the steering committee in charge of setting the agenda for each of the classes monthly sessions.

"Personally as well as professionally, there’s a great network you establish with the people you go through the program with," he said.

"It’s a chance to develop personal and professional friendships with folks and to give something back to the community," he said.

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