Lifelong race:What Leadership Erie County participants learn can shape the type of leaders they’ll be for years to come, director says

Working as its director for more than 10 years after serving on its board for several years before that, Joseph Hayberger actually goes back decades with Leadership Erie County, the organization formerly known as LEADS. 

“I graduated from the class of 1987, which, by the way, is the best class ever,” jokes Hayberger during an interview in September, shortly after a new class had begun its work. 

The nonprofit service-oriented organization seeks to shape future leaders and help those already in leadership positions to fine-tune what they have to offer.

Hayberger says a participant’s months-long journey as part of a class consists of three main aspects, starting with networking.

“They’re going to meet people that they’ve never met before and form (relationships) that can go on for years,” he says. “(In the future), if they need somebody to do something, they know who to call and ask.”

The Leadership Erie County Class of 2022 collected physical and monetary donations and filled more than 150 shoe boxes for Victory Kitchen's Shoebox Christmas Drive.“Number two: visiting places. Even though they’ve lived here in Sandusky, they may not have ever been inside so many places we go to,” he continues, noting the Castalia Fish Hatchery and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office as being among the myriad examples.

The third component, he says, is related to the second: listening to leaders of those companies and organizations to soak up their leadership qualities and learn more about what they do.

A new class gets going sometime around Labor Day, and after one calendar year gives way to another, the class – the sizes can vary a bit, with about 20 folks in this year’s – is broken into groups, with each then taking on a project to benefit the community to complete before graduation. 

Hayberger speaks with fondness of one group’s project that came after a visit to Victory Kitchen in Sandusky and listening to a pastor speak about the good they do there.

“After we left and got back, we’re still talking about (Victory). ‘You think that would be a great group project?’” Hayberger asked the class. “I was priming the pump – I knew the answer was going to be yes.”

The ambitious project, done in 2016, which consisted of converting garage space into showers and additional structural change, involved raising about $160,000, he says. 

“That’s the most expensive one I’ve ever seen come through,” he says. 

Hayberger sees participants grow quite a bit during the time he spends with them but says they will continue to evolve after graduation.

“Leadership is not a sprint; it’s a marathon,” says Hayberger, who’s in his upper 70s. “I’m still learning. When you stop learning is when you’re dead.”

Oh, and that bit about his class from back in the day being the best? That’s an idea that’s spread, with many alumni stating his or hers was tops when they speak to a class.

“What that shows is a sense of pride,” he says. “They’re very proud of what they did.”

To learn about participating with Leadership Erie County, call 419-357-5087 or visit its Facebook page.