Three attorneys took a step toward becoming people of impact in their community when they graduated from Leadership Chattanooga in May.
Janie Varnell of Davis & Hoss, Jeffrey Maddux of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, and Jeremy Cothern of Berke, Berke & Berke completed the 10-month leadership development program last month.
Sponsored by the Chattanooga Chamber Foundation, Leadership Chattanooga identifies promising local professionals early in their career and uses the exploration of community issues to develop skills that prepare graduates to succeed in prominent business, cultural, and political roles.
Each month, the class met to explore different aspects of leadership and various challenges facing the community. Topics included economic development, quality of life, media and communication, healthcare, education, local and state government, and justice and law enforcement. Learning opportunities included joining Chattanooga police on patrol and meeting with state leaders in Nashville.
Varnell, who grew up in Chattanooga, said she saw areas of the city she’d never experienced, all of which gave her a greater appreciation for her hometown. “Going forward, when I think of Chattanooga, I’ll think about the family that struggled in poverty for years but just bought their first house, I’ll think about the artist on Main Street who makes works of art out of recycled metal, and I’ll think about the students at East Lake Elementary who want to become teachers when they grow up because their teacher inspired them,” she said. “All of these things made me love my city even more.”
Maddux said the class challenged him in ways he didn’t expect. “We have real issues we need to address to continue moving forward in a positive way,” he said. “Poverty Day was eye-opening, as was Education Day, and hearing leaders in both areas talk about the struggles they’re facing. These things made me more aware of the areas in this community where I can serve.”
Like Maddux, Cothern said Leadership Chattanooga was enlightening. “The experience provided concrete examples of seemingly abstract issues facing our community,” he said. “It drew those issues into sharper focus by humanizing the dearth of educational and financial opportunities plaguing the disenfranchised while also providing hope that things can get better if we band together.”
Maddux was equally optimistic after graduating from the class. “Chattanooga is an amazing city with extremely talented people who will help this city to continue moving forward in a positive way,” he said.
All three attorneys said the friendships they formed was the most meaningful aspect of Leadership Chattanooga. “While the experience is designed to expose the class to challenges and opportunities facing every part of our community, it would not have been as enjoyable, or as impacting, had my classmates not been exceptionally intelligent, caring, and fun people with unique perspectives and personalities,” Cothern said. “Learning about and wrestling with the lessons from each class alongside my colleagues was a pleasure.”
Maddux said the relationships the class members formed have already produced good fruit. “We’ve seen individuals in our class work with each other to achieve incredible results,” he said. “We’ve also had some class members take on critical roles in our community.”
Although the recent Leadership Chattanooga class has graduated, the experience of each participant will likely continue to echo throughout the community in the contributions they make.
“I hope that the lessons of living a purposeful life beyond my bubble, with the conscious objective of making our community a better place for all citizens, will persist in the years to come,” said Cothern.
More than 1,000 people have graduated from Leadership Chattanooga since the program’s inception in 1984. Former U.S. Representative Zach Wamp, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, and other elected officials and community leaders are alumni of the class.
For more information about Leadership Chattanooga, contact Program Director Diane Parks at email@example.com.