Leadership Chattanooga is a thriving community of emerging local leaders exploring community issues and developing skills for successful leadership. Directed by Toya Moore, Leadership Development Director, Chattanooga Chamber, and run by the Chattanooga Chamber Foundation, the 10-month program offers comprehensive training. This includes interaction with community leaders, service projects at local schools, and a police ride-along and a Nashville trip to meet with state lawmakers.

The 2023 cohort began their journey in August 2022, culminating in a graduation ceremony at the Austin Hatcher Foundation in May.

 Here, Leadership Chattanooga 2023 graduates share their experiences.

Lisa Atkins, Instructor, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Center for Professional Education

Lisa Atkins, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Center for Professional Education

Tell us about yourself and what led you to participate in Leadership Chattanooga?

I have been a resident of Chattanooga for over 20 years. I initially moved here to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) for two years. After a break in my education, I completed my degree in 2015 through Bryan College’s Adult and Graduate Studies program.

Following my graduation, I joined a nonprofit organization in Cleveland, Tennessee, as an office manager. This position eventually led me to an HR manager role. In 2019, I earned the SHRM credential from the Society for Human Resource Management and became involved with the local SHRM chapter, serving as secretary and later as communications director.

Working remotely for the past year made me realize the need to reconnect with the real world. While I was involved with the SHRM board, I believed that joining Leadership Chattanooga would expand my perspective and network.

Was there a specific highlight during the program that left an impression on you?

One of my favorite experiences was attending Grateful Chattanooga for Thanksgiving. I purposely chose not to sit with anyone from Leadership Chattanooga and instead found an empty seat among individuals who seemed to be from the more underprivileged part of the community.

On that cold day, I brought hand warmers for everyone in Leadership Chattanooga and struck up conversations with those around me. The following month, during a visit to Chatt Foundation, I was surprised to see one of the guys from Grateful standing there. It was a powerful moment to see him again after our initial connection. To me, this exemplified the essence of the program—forming meaningful connections. That experience brightened my entire day.

JP Evans, Leasing Agent, Urban Story Ventures

JP Evans, Urban Story Ventures

What was a highlight for you?

The visit to Nashville, where we delved into the legislative process and how state government operates. We had the opportunity to hear from the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, who discussed the third grade reading law. And in the next session, we witnessed state senators debating the pros and cons of the legislation.

Reading about these topics in the news is one thing, but engaging with subject matter experts and understanding the implications of these laws on the community is an entirely different experience. It broadened my understanding and brought a new perspective.

John Hawbaker, Director, Corporate Communications, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

John Hawbaker, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

What are some takeaways from your Leadership Chattanooga experience?

Leadership Chattanooga provided invaluable insights into how the city, county, school system, and state operate. We gained a deeper understanding of the day-to-day work of our elected officials and learned about the many remarkable nonprofits operating within the city.

Discovering the diverse populations within Hamilton County, and witnessing the county’s changing demographics and evolving needs over the past decade or more, has been encouraging. The program showcased the extent of collaboration among different people working together to overcome challenges. It has been a fantastic learning opportunity for me personally.

Tell us about your group’s community project?

We did a volunteer workday with the Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence. They’re opening a high school in what used to be Franklin Middle School in Alton Park. We spent a day working out there, putting classroom desks together and doing some landscaping cleanup. One thing we learned is that sometimes an organization just needs people to show up, take directions, and get to work. Our volunteer coordinator from BlueCross BlueShield is now connected with that school for future opportunities.

Volunteering is a big thing for us here at BlueCross, we’re always looking at new places to go. One of the ways we’re going to amplify the work of that volunteer day and service project is by connecting our own companies so that we’re more educated about the school and can be advocates for them in the community.

Calandra Jones, Manager, Fleet Performance, Tennessee Valley Authority

Calandra Jones, Tennessee Valley Authority

What inspired you to apply for Leadership Chattanooga?

Jones: I was motivated to learn more about how our city operates and understand its impact on my family. As a parent of three young children, staying informed, connected, and actively contributing to our community is crucial to me. I also had the opportunity to hear positive feedback about the program from colleagues at TVA, which further encouraged me to take a chance and apply.

In one word, how would you describe your experience?

Transformational.” This process has been just amazing, and the program raises the bar. I’ve learned so much and met some amazing people. It was interesting to see how all the different stems connect across the city through different companies and local businesses. Learning about where we’re going and the future of the state of Tennessee has just been amazing.

What lessons will you apply in your career?

The power of working in teams and the attributes of empathy and humbleness are key takeaways for me. I want to stay involved in the community, learn about local government, and be an advocate for positive change. I want to ensure that my kids absorb a little bit of that passion, and I also want to take that back to my TVA team.

Stacey Keating, Vice President, Corporate Communications, CBL Properties

Stacey Keating, CBL Properties

What is the benefit of joining Leadership Chattanooga?

The biggest benefit of joining Leadership Chattanooga is the people you meet. The passionate and caring individuals doing incredible work in their own pockets of the community make Chattanooga a better place. The relationships formed in the program are spectacular.

Tell us about the impact of your community project

Our community project focused on creating community connections. We partnered with United Way to increase awareness and utilization of their 211 services among 18-29-year-olds. East Ridge High School’s Future Ready Institute students designed the campaign, and we distributed the materials directly to students in that age population. It was a positive common purpose that operationalized our community connections.

Gabe Kurtz, Transmission Operations Compliance Enforcement Manager, Tennessee Valley Authority

Gabe Kurtz, Tennessee Valley Authority

Tell us about yourself and what led you to participate in Leadership Chattanooga?

I strive to push myself in every aspect of life, including staying fit through CrossFit classes. Having diverse groups of friends, I am passionate about supporting community goals.  Participating in Leadership Chattanooga aligns with my personal goal of making a positive impact on the world, one step at a time. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to live their best life, and we are all interconnected in this world. I discovered the Leadership Chattanooga program through a TVA article that caught my interest. After hearing glowing reviews from other TVA employees, I was convinced to apply. For me, it all boils down to service. Volunteering is what I love to do. It allows me to help others while growing as an individual.

What are some of your takeaways?

I hope to maintain the valuable friendships and connections I’ve made through the program. It has significantly expanded my network and understanding. I am eager to stay involved with Leadership Chattanooga Alumni, continuing to learn and contribute to the betterment of our community. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to learn from top leaders whom I may not have had access to otherwise. I am excited about Chattanooga’s future and grateful for the chance to deepen our understanding of critical issues and how we can make a difference going forward.

What advice do you have for future Leadership candidates?

My advice is simple: “Sign up now.”* This program has been the most exceptional community-based leadership program I have ever encountered. If you are seeking something that nourishes your soul through serving others, fosters teamwork and collaboration, exposes you to a diverse group of peers and top leaders, and helps you build a strong community, then you should seriously consider joining this program.

Stacy Martin, Founder, Chief Amazement Officer, Seahorse Snacks

Stacy Martin, Seahorse Snacks

What stood out to you about your experience?

The program exposed me to a wealth of new knowledge and often left me with more questions than answers. It revealed the underlying realities of various issues, and as a leader, it became my responsibility to determine the impact I wanted to make and the challenges I wanted to address.

Sometimes, I left class feeling exhausted and frustrated, realizing the need for change. This program allowed me to reflect on myself and identify how I could leverage my strengths to contribute to positive change. The conversations and learning continued beyond the program, as I engaged with people who were either knowledgeable or unfamiliar with the topics we discussed.

Why should others apply?

By joining you gain access to an entire community of peers that you may not have been aware of before. This diverse group comprises individuals from various sectors and walks of life. Through this program, you acquire a deeper understanding of how things work in our town, enabling you to navigate challenging situations more effectively. It also provides an avenue for accessing abundant resources and expanding your professional network.

As a business owner, I have personally experienced the benefits of this program, which has not only offered valuable resources but also facilitated the growth of my business. You can also support other entrepreneurs and professionals in their growth journeys because we all thrive through mutual support. The exponential sharing of networks ultimately benefits everyone involved.

Learn more at ChattanoogaChamber.com/Leadership-Development.

*Nomination and application processes typically open in February.

Watch Leadership Graduates share more insights, below: