By Rebecca Barnes and Emily Guerrero Photos by Kathy Strauss
Leadership Prince William (LPW) is like a pebble dropped into a still pond. While relatively small, the nonprofit sends ripples of positive change through the community, bettering the people who go through its programs and in turn, the lives that they each touch.
Leadership Prince William Executive Director Kathy Bentz speaks at a
LPW commencement ceremony.
participants learn about cornerstones of the community such as economic development, arts, public safety and workforce development. They also learn about themselves, and complete a hands-on community project that the class collectively selects.
For each class, Leadership selects a class of 35 from among dozens of applications. Applicants must have personal and professional recommendations, demonstrated community involvement and an essay. Sessions kick off in September, with a weekend retreat in Shenandoah National Park. This is followed by monthly meetings which often feature presentations and field trips.
“LPW provides an experiential learning environment. … with a different community focus topic and environment serving as a context for the experience [each month],” said Mark Shaaber, Leadership’s incoming chairman of the board. “It is virtually impossible not to come away with a very fulfilling and much greater understanding of yourself, others and the community.” “I think LPW provides three key opportunities,” said Bentz. “One, the chance to learn about your own community in a much deeper and more detailed way, two, the chance to connect with amazing people you probably would never meet otherwise and three, the chance to find your unique leadership role—at work, at home and in our community.”
Following graduation, alumni join a network of business and community leaders committed to the Prince William community. They are encouraged to remain active in Leadership through Leadership’s committees, Board of Regents and various community service projects.
Over time, LPW has expanded its offerings to include alumni events, service projects and recently-added youth leadership programs. The small organization, staffed only by Bentz and a program coordinator, has also given life to several wider community initiatives, such as the Prince William Food Council and Northern Virginia Veterans Association.
According to the group’s website, Leadership Prince William was the brainchild of business and community leaders who “recognized the need for an organization that could develop, nurture and inspire leaders from all areas of our community—corporate, government and non-profit; county, cities and towns; all ages and demographic backgrounds.” Founding partners include George Mason University, Micron Technology and Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
“LPW strives deliberately to represent the community it serves. People from all walks of life are welcome to apply and reapply for limited space each year,” said Shaaber.
Class of 2010 graduate Jim Aram described how becoming more familiar with people from outside of his regular social and business circles changed his perspective. “I was guilty of operating within my own silos,” said Aram. “Being in healthcare, I knew that world but was quick to criticize those working in other fields—i.e., the government should do this, the schools should do that…Having gone through [Leadership Prince William] I was able to expand my horizons and gain a deeper understanding of how our community operates as a whole.”
This greater understanding of the parts that make the whole, and the sense that “we’re all in this together,” is core to the program’s success. “LPW has the potential to be a bridge for leaders of otherwise separate organizations, interests and initiatives. The resulting collaborative leadership opportunity will allow the community to identify efficiencies and needs while eliminating duplication of effort resulting in a better quality of life,” said Shaaber.
Spurring New Initiatives
With a successful model for adults in place, Leadership Prince William turned its eye to the next generation of leaders. For its project, the Class of 2014 took on the development of youth programs.
“I remember the class being overwhelmed with the project,” said Leadership Chairman and 2011 graduate Jason Hickman, who gave guidance to the class. “However, by the end of year, the Class of 2014 had provided LPW with the Summer Youth Camp, the Youth Mentoring Program and the Youth Leadership Conference.”
Students get a taste of the Signature Leadership Class during the 10-day summer camp, which is based at Youth for Tomorrow in Bristow. Campers are introduced to community issues through presentations, hands-on activities and field-trips. During the school year, the mentoring program connects middle school students with Leadership alumni, who meet with them during a lunchtime program.
The youth programs “help nurture and engage the next generation of leaders,” said Bentz.
LPW has been the catalyst for other new community programs as well. “The Greater Prince William Food Council would not be in existence today if not for the connections made during my time with LPW,” Northern Virginia Family Services Director of Anti-Hunger Programs Pam Ryan, a 2014 Leadership graduate, said. “Many of [my classmates]were either working in a field that involved providing services to members of the PWC community facing food-insecurity, or, who were interested in the issue of hunger.”
The council held its first meeting in September 2014 and has already connected Manassas City and Manassas Park Public Schools to the Capital Area Food Bank, which will help provide after school meals to students. Council members are also creating a database of emergency food providers that Ryan said will “enable the sharing of best practices, resources, and funding opportunities.”
The Northern Virginia Veterans Association (previously the Prince William Veterans Council) also has its roots in Leadership Prince William, where Shaaber had an epiphany that led to its creation. Bentz recounted that a session “connected all of his passions—veterans issues, the cultural arts and community life.”
Growing Personally, And Beyond
“Our individual alumni have gone on to do incredible things, starting their own businesses, creating local nonprofits to serve community needs, holding elected office, serving on boards for community organizations,” said Bentz.
Attending the Class of 2010 changed her own career path. “I owned a successful local business for more than a dozen years and thought I would do that forever. … When the LPW job became available in 2013, I decided to follow my passion and apply for the executive director’s position. Now I have the great fortune to do the job of a lifetime for an incredible organization,” she said, adding that alumni often describe Leadership as “life-changing.”
“The relationships I have established … both personally and professionally … have had a great impact on my ability to be effective in both my ‘day job,’” said Ryan. “It is rare that I have a question that cannot be answered by one of my LPW colleagues, either directly, or by being referred to someone they know.”
“I’ve gained knowledge not only about my community but also about myself as a person and as a leader,” said Eric Williams, Class of 2014.
Looking Towards the Future
Much as it encourages growth in its students, Leadership Prince William itself is always evolving. Bentz noted that the Board recently approved a new mission statement: Engage and inspire individuals, organizations and alumni to enrich the community through collaborative leadership.
“The new words better describe the reason the organization exists and that is to bring the Prince William community together,” she explained.
Looking to the future, Hickman predicted, “LPW will continue to impact, inspire and influence children and adults in PWC and beyond in positive ways.”
LPW is accepting applications for its Signature Leadership Class of 2015 through June 15. To learn more, visit
leadershipprincewilliam.org, which also lists upcoming events and information on Leadership Prince William’s youth programs.
Prince William Living publisher Rebecca Barnes is a 2008 graduate and past chair of Leadership Prince William.
Lake Ridge resident Emily Guerrero is editor in chief of PWL and owner of Mightier Than Communications.