Leadership Wilkes-Barre is an independent, non-profit organization with 501(c)(3) status whose mission is to develop informed and committed leaders from all segments of the community who will serve, strengthen and improve Northeastern Pennsylvania. Its original program, Leadership Wilkes-Barre, is a tuition-based community leadership development program for adults. It began in the summer of 1981 when the idea of such a program was presented to a group of community leaders by then Executive Director of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, John Sheehan.

At that time, five community leaders, Tom Bigler, John Conyngham, Tom Kiley, Bill Leandri and Ed Schechter, realized that the smooth operation of volunteer agencies and of local government depended on a steady supply of leaders who are familiar with the community, its problems and issues, and are also capable of organizing and directing the efforts of others. The need to have a mechanism for identifying new leaders and including them in the community structure had been a problem that had been addressed over the years with varying success. A leadership program appeared to be the solution. Its goals were to seek out the Wyoming Valley’s future leaders and provide them with the information, skills and training needed to be leaders.

Deciding that the community’s future was too critical to be left to chance, Bigler, Conyngham, Kiley, Leandri and Schechter formed a steering committee of community leaders to develop a leadership program for the Greater Wilkes-Barre area. This committee ultimately became the founding Board of Directors of Leadership Wilkes-Barre. Proceeding rapidly, the first program was introduced in the fall of 1981 with a class of 20 participants from a variety of businesses, industries, social service agencies, health and educational institutions, labor and non-profit organizations. With the advice and assistance of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, the organizing board chose to join the National Association of Community Leadership Organizations. They patterned the objectives and supporting program of Leadership Wilkes-Barre after the successful format operating in similar programs across the United States. Leadership Wilkes-Barre became an independent non-profit organization and the program content was customized to meet the needs of the Greater Wilkes-Barre area. In 2001, Penn State University began offering continuing education credits to students who have completed the Leadership Wilkes-Barre Program.

As of June 2015, thirty-four classes have completed the Leadership Wilkes-Barre program, and over 1,000 trained, caring and enthusiastic men and women have become available to assume leadership roles in the community. Class size over the past 34 years has varied from the beginning class of 20 and reached as high as 48 participants in 2015. Our current Class of 2016 has 52 members. Leadership Wilkes-Barre works with community boards, commissions, and projects to match graduates’ interests and leadership abilities with available opportunities. Leadership Wilkes-Barre graduates now serve on most major boards and commissions in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Leadership Wilkes-Barre Alumni Council was established in the fall of 1985. It promotes networking among all Leadership Wilkes-Barre graduates and sponsors educational and social programs. All graduates of all Leadership Wilkes-Barre programs are considered members. A directory of recent graduates is published every year and distributed to civic organizations, governmental bodies, and other agencies to inform them of the newly trained, available leadership.

Along with providing adult community leaders, Leadership Wilkes-Barre expanded its services to include a Junior Leadership program for high school students. This program began as a Leadership Wilkes-Barre class project. It is designed to familiarize young leaders with the various elements that form a strong and dynamic community and to help them develop leadership skills. Junior Leadership began in 1985 as a one-day program for students, but expanded in 1986 to a series of day-long seminars that incorporate community service projects. As of June 2009, over 1,100 students from 14 private, public and parochial schools have graduated from the program.

The Executive Leadership Wilkes-Barre program was also introduced in 1985. It is designed for senior business and nonprofit executives that are new in their position, new to Northeast Pennsylvania or executives who would like to get reacquainted with our community.

The primary objectives of the program are to integrate new executives and professionals into the community and challenge them to become involved in community activities. The new Executive Leadership Wilkes-Barre format consists of a series of evening meetings conducted on consecutive weeks in the fall. Meetings include speakers, panel presentations, dinner, and an opportunity to network with community leaders.

In 1987, Leadership Wilkes-Barre, in cooperation with Misericordia University, King’s College, Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes University and Luzerne County Community College, introduced the Intercollegiate Leadership Wilkes-Barre program. Keystone College joined the program in 1998. The Intercollegiate program includes a diverse group of student leaders from each of the six colleges in Northeastern Pennsylvania. These students become familiar with campus and community issues in Northeastern Pennsylvania while learning skills they can apply in their campus organizations. Six sessions held on the various campuses focus on such topics as team building, justice issues, diversity, social responsibility and media.

In 1996, Leadership Wilkes-Barre moved along with the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business & Industry to more modern and spacious headquarters at the Public Square Commons. As part of celebrating 15 years, the Greater Wyoming Valley Leadership Forum was launched. The goal of the breakfast forums is to provide a neutral setting for community members to discuss important community issues. To date, thirteen forums have been held with attendance at each ranging from 75-175 people.

Leadership Wilkes-Barre continues to work in cooperation with the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business & Industry and the National Association for Community Leadership. We have been instrumental in developing approximately 20 Pennsylvania Community Leadership programs in addition to Leadership Pennsylvania that was run out of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry for several years. There are now over 40 leadership programs in Pennsylvania and more than 1,000 in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia.

In 2006, Leadership Wilkes-Barre celebrated its 25th anniversary. This milestone was celebrated with an Academy Awards “Night with the Stars” themed gala at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. This celebration was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Leadership Wilkes-Barre alumni and friends and through the generosity of our sponsors.

In 2011, Leadership Wilkes-Barre celebrated its 30th Anniversary with and “all classes and all programs” reunion dance party at The Woodlands Inn. The event was well received and supported by alumni, sponsors and friends.

Leadership Wilkes-Barre Executive Directors

Ken Byrne
Sue K. Kluger
Lori A. Nocito

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