Have you ever heard someone utter the phrase "what is this world coming to"?
In some cases, this is intended as a disparaging comment on the up and coming generation's ability to lead and take responsibility. But I have a different perspective on where the next generation of leadership is headed.
United Way of Hall County recently began a Young Leaders Society with a mission of encouraging the next generation of leadership. The society was launched with a fun event where 20- to 40-year-olds were invited to learn more about United Way and how it benefits our community.
The chair of the Young Leaders Society for 2008 is Kelly Mathis Lee. Kelly said she doesn't remember a time in her life that United Way was not important to her family. Her paternal grandparents both played key roles in United Way with her grandfather, James Mathis, Sr. serving as the organization's board chair in 1960. In addition, her mother and father were and continue to be very active supporters.
For herself and her sister, Katie Dubnik, United Way was a natural path to giving back to the community they love.
"My grandparents and parents taught me that if you don't care for your community as a young leader, you won't have much of a community to live in when you get older," Lee said. "Like those that came before us who made Hall County into the wonderful place it is now, we have to take responsibility to shape its future for our children."
Sam Hulsey, a young bank executive and member of the YLS steering committee, says his generation grew up in a time of prosperity but understands that didn't happen simply by luck. He realizes that the life he enjoys today is the result of efforts from those who preceded him.
"We have been blessed to have generation after generation after generation of strong responsible leadership," he said. "And it doesn't take long to figure out what these leaders do to make Hall County special. They give back to the community."
Longtime community leader and United Way supporter Philip Wilheit Sr. told the young professional crowd "it is the little things that make the most difference. You don't have to look far to see those that benefit from United Way. That's because we all benefit from United Way. No where else can you find a single organization that can connect so many resources to so many people."
Wilheit proudly acknowledged that the third generation of Wilheits, son Philip Wilheit Jr. and daughter Hart Wilheit Payne, have become contributors to United Way and taken on leadership roles with the Young Leaders Society.
In addition to gaining financial support for United Way, the Young Leaders Society will provide a host of events through the "developing leaders series." Upcoming on Oct. 29, the YLS will offer an opportunity for conversation with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle on critical issues that face the state. The breakfast event will begin at 7:30 a.m. and will be held at Chattahoochee Bank of Georgia's new location at 643 E.E. Butler Parkway.
Other opportunities will expose YLS members to a variety of industries and corporate cultures in Hall County. Wrigley's and ZF Industries are the first two manufacturing companies to hold "luncheon with leaders" events.
But giving back to the community is not always about dollars and economics. The Young Leaders Society will encourage and provide ways for its members to make a contribution through volunteering. Members of the steering committee held a "back to school" picnic for clients of the Gateway Domestic Violence Center in August and have plans for volunteer projects in November and December.
Said Lee: "I think word is getting out that this isn't necessarily your father's United Way. There's something new and exciting going on. We have a lot of fun and we make a difference."
I take great pride in the fact that this group of energetic, ambitious and compassionate group of young adults will be willing and prepared to lead our community in the years ahead. For more information on how to join the Young Leaders Society, contact Tracy Whitmire at 678-989-5333, e-mail,
Jackie Wallace is president and chief professional officer for United Way of Hall County. For more information, visit the Web site or call 770-536-1121.