Leadership Polk has been educating community leaders on critical issues facing Polk County since 2007 by using a hands-on, face-to-face approach. Classes visit numerous sites across the county, engaging with people who work tirelessly to improve Polk year after year. Even through a global pandemic that shut down businesses, institutions, and organizations everywhere, Leadership Polk found ways to persevere and continue to facilitate experiential learning for the motivated individuals who took part in Class XIV over the last year.
M.J. Carnevale, director of Public Works for the City of Winter Haven, has been involved with Leadership Polk since Class IX and is currently acting as Incoming Leadership Polk Alumni Chair. Going through the program six years ago opened his eyes to new aspects of Polk County’s commerce. Carnevale learned even more by leading Class XIV as they explored the inner workings of Polk County’s economy.
“As the Chair of this class,” says Carnevale, “one of my roles is to make sure that good conversation is happening, to make sure that the class is asking good questions so they’ll really take something away from the experience. I didn’t have to do a lot of that – this was just a very engaged class, a really good group of people from all walks of life.”
The arrival of Nucor Steel Florida, Inc. in Frostproof is one example of activity that Carnevale and Class XIV learned about through Leadership Polk. The steel plant is helping to diversify the county’s economy and bringing in high-paying jobs. On the other end of the county, Carvana is bringing in even more jobs with a distribution facility in Haines City.
Normally, Leadership Polk classes meet monthly for a full day of exploring Polk County’s various institutions and officials. Classes begin in the fall and end in May, mirroring a traditional school year.
While other leadership groups throughout the nation were on hiatus due to COVID-19, Leadership Polk’s Class XIV soldiered on. Faced with numerous logistical challenges, coordinators had to get inventive in their approach to introducing participants to the various facets of Polk County’s economic scene. Instead of using a bus to visit the 10 to 15 locations the class might visit in one session, Class XIV utilized walking tours, trams, and other creative means of conveyance to get around.
Amazingly, Class XIV was able to complete the entire series of activities planned before COVID-19 hit. This is a testament to the organization’s flexibility when faced with a challenge. Only one meeting had to be canceled due to a spike in infections that month.