Winchester Minority Leadership Initiative graduates inaugural class

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

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At the Clark County Extension Office on Thursday, Jan. 18th, many gathered for a ceremony the likes of which, quite literally, had not been seen before.

The Winchester Minority Leadership Initiative graduated its inaugural class of students, with people coming from as far away as the Philippines to celebrate the occasion.

“Today, we had our graduation celebration for our participants in our pilot year of the Winchester Minority Leadership Initiative, which is a program that was started [to] focus on the next generation of diverse learners for Winchester [and] Clark County,” said Halee Cunningham, who serves as general counsel and director of planned giving at Blue Grass Community Foundation and is also an administrator with the Clark County Community Foundation.

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The Winchester Minority Leadership Initiative, developed in 2022, began with a goal to make the Winchester and Clark County area a more equitable and inclusive place overall.

A section of its website at describes the development in further detail.

“A collaboration was formed between the Blue Grass Community Foundation, Clark County Community Foundation, the Greater Clark Foundation and the Clark County benefactor,” it states. “The initial cohort…[participated] in a 13-month facilitated group program, with the additional opportunity to receive one-on-one personal development coaching.”

When meeting once a month, topics for classes included public speaking, personal branding, networking, community engagement, team building and more.

Colene Elridge, who served as the program facilitator and provided individual coaching, spoke at the event.

“Today really marks not just the completion of an intensive learning journey, but also the transition to a new chapter in the lives of our graduates,” Elridge said, adding that it could lead them to create positive change. “Our graduates have delved deep into the intricacies of leadership…but also, it’s been a journey of continuously leading one’s self. Our graduates have shown remarkable progress in developing these skills.”

She emphasized that factors such as emotional intelligence, communication, and the ability to inspire others are essential.

“You carry with you not just the certificate of completion, but a responsibility to lead with integrity, empathy, and vision,” Elridge said. “To the family and friends of the graduates, your unwavering support has been the bedrock upon which they build their success. This day is as much your celebration as it is theirs.”

Graduates of the program are Aleisha Hampton Allen, Courtney Blair, Latreese Blair, Austina Bruton, Marquita Hampton, William “Bo” Harris, Amy Hayden, Ra’Londa Miller, Ilena Renee Mitchell, Kelly Ruff, Ronda Simmons, Lejani Stanley and Cedric Tate.

Hayden, mentioning that she started the program amidst a career change that sometimes felt challenging, showed gratitude.

“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and worked with them, and I learned some new skills,” she said. “Most importantly, I think it was an encouragement to show up as my best self.”

Another participant, Austina Bruton, and Greater Clark Foundation Program Officer Beth Jones also highlighted the program’s many advantages.

As stated on its website, following the completion of the program, graduates now have an opportunity to draw from a pool of $100,000 in funding for needs and opportunities throughout Clark County and Winchester.

Looking forward to year two, Cunningham asserts that hope is already strong.

“We hope that we can do something like this again next year. This was our pilot program, so we’re still working through what that looks like,” Cunningham said. “We’re just really excited!”