Column: Helping hands mold homegrown leaders in Wilson

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Dynamic Leadership Wilson is all in the hands.

It started with the swatting and slapping of mosquitoes during a team-building retreat in the swampy Inner Banks. Then hearty handshakes were exchanged during monthly tours of the institutions that shape Wilson County.

We had our hands out to accept contributions for our class project during local fundraisers, then hands were extended in service — scrubbing and scouring, wrestling bathroom fixtures into place and deftly steering paint rollers.

We applauded for our classmates, our tireless facilitator and our generous sponsors, then we handed the torch to our successors, the Dynamic Leadership Wilson class of 2018.

For 10 months, I had the pleasure and privilege of watching a group of local businesspeople come together as a team, learn what makes our community tick and pitch in to make a difference.

When I signed up, I pictured passive leadership training straight off the TED Talk stage; motivational speeches, slideshows, corporate rah-rah jargon. Instead, Dynamic Leadership proved — not to strain the analogy here — much more hands-on.

The Wilson Chamber of Commerce designed it that way for a reason.

“The camaraderie that is built through this program is second to none,” Chamber President Ryan Simons told the incoming class. “You’re going to build lifelong friendships and colleagues for as long as your career is here in Wilson. I know the folks from 2017 will be able to count on one another from this point going forward through their work on the project, but also through the learning and interaction they’ve had with other community leaders throughout Wilson.”


The journey began in September when 16 Wilson County workers piled into a van on a Thursday morning and departed the Chamber office for the Eastern 4-H Environmental Education Center on the outskirts of Tyrell County on the Albemarle Sound.

Most of us had met briefly, but this was the introduction we’d remember. We represented various agencies and businesses — Wilson County Schools, Wilson Community College, Barton College, Bridgestone, Purdue Pharma, Wilson Family YMCA, Boyette Brothers Produce, BB&T, Cornerstone Bank, Wilson Medical Center, Chick-fil-A of Wilson, Avanté at Wilson and The Wilson Times.

In the day and a half that followed, we’d learn about each other and build trust through a battery of quirky, challenging and fun activities relying on teamwork. One exercise involved balancing our collective weight on a wooden board suspended a few inches off the ground, shifting people to all sides to steady the wobbling “ship.”

A word of advice to future classes: When DLW coordinator Lynne Medlin recommends bug spray, she means it. The skeeters were well-fed upon our departure.

For the grand finale on Friday, we attempted the 4-H center’s high ropes course — well, most of us did. My athletic prowess begins and ends with speed-reading, so after fumbling my way up Jacob’s ladder, I took a knee and cheered on my more sure-footed classmates.

The retreat’s an essential part of the Dynamic Leadership experience, forging bonds of trust and turning a group of strangers into fast friends.


Numerous local businesses and agencies hosted our class for tours, each one showcasing a cornerstone of Wilson County’s economic ecosystem. Highlights included the Smithfield Packing Co., which provided bacon samples and then showed us how pork bellies are processed into crispy strips of hog heaven, the Wilson Police Department and Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, the Wilson County Courthouse and the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology.

We also took a day trip to Raleigh to gawk at the WRAL-TV studios and chat with veteran anchor and reporter David Crabtree before touring the General Assembly and meeting with Wilson County’s legislative delegation. Policy set in committee rooms and cemented on the House and Senate floor affect our lives here in Wilson every day.

Amidst the tours, we began fundraising for our class project — a renovation of the restroom facilities at the Wesley Shelter’s safe house. We struggled to find a service project that would have a lasting impact on the community, but when we learned of the shelter’s need, we unanimously threw our support behind the $10,000 remodel.

“The Wesley Shelter does an important ministry for this community, and the safe house that they have is an unfortunate necessity for this community to provide safe refuge to battered women and children,” Simons said. “Until the day we don’t need a safe house anymore, the fact that there is a clean, livable place for them to go is very important.”

Sponsorship letters were sent to local businesses, and fundraisers were held at the Wilson Spring Expo, Chick-fil-A and Pizza Inn, culminating in a drive-thru spaghetti plate sale at West Nash United Methodist Church with Pizza Inn providing the pasta and sides.


We owe a debt of gratitude to class president Shanara Dublin of Purdue Pharma, who organized committees, spearheaded the Wesley Shelter project and made sure the proverbial trains ran on time. At the June 15 torch-passing ceremony, which served as the class of 2017’s graduation and the class of 2018’s orientation, she reflected on the 10-month whirlwind.

“The before and after is unbelievable,” she said. “As a team, we all came in just like you guys — didn’t know each other from a can of paint. Now, some of us, we talk regularly. I know there are going to be relationships that last for a lifetime. So enjoy the program. It’s phenomenal. It’s something that you never, ever forget. It’s a great experience.”

We recognized David Caudle of the YMCA for the leading role he took in coordinating donations and shepherding the Wesley Shelter restroom renovation, marking the first time in Dynamic Leadership’s history that the class has chosen an MVP.

“This person is phenomenal in so many different ways,” Dublin said. “I don’t know how he did everything he did. I don’t know how he found the time to do it.”

The class of 2017 also honored Tammy Storms of Purdue Pharma, Tracy Wood of BB&T and Melanie Raynor of Wilson Medical Center for their exceptional efforts.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank Lynne Medlin for serving as our long-suffering DLW coordinator. When a few of us wavered, she was always there with encouragement and support.


We’d like to thank each participating employer who provided class member tuition for Dynamic Leadership and loaned us to the Chamber to invest in our development as engaged, connected members of the community.

Thanks also to everyone who contributed to the class project, whether you wrote a hefty check or just enjoyed dinner at Chick-fil-A or Pizza Inn for a good cause. When a community pools its resources, small individual donations can have a big cumulative impact.

Finally, we extend a sincere thank you to the following sponsors of the Wesley Shelter renovations:

• Hill Building Contractors, Inc.

• Carolina Tile Co.

• Climate Control Heating, Cooling & Plumbing

• BB&T Lighthouse Project

• Avanté at Wilson

• Boyette Brothers Produce

• Bridgestone

• Chick-fil-A of Wilson

• Cornerstone Bank

County Line Raceway

• County of Wilson

• Forest Hills Presbyterian Church

• Purdue Pharma

• Joyner’s Funeral Home

• Pizza Inn

• West Insurance

• Stephenson Millwork

• William Adams Realty

• Wilson Medical Center

Next year, the class of 2018 will unveil its service project, making another small or not-so-small improvement to the place where we live, work and play.

It was an honor to be part of DLW’s class of 2017. For those interested in the program, I couldn’t give it a higher recommendation.

Just be ready to get your hands dirty.

Corey Friedman is editor of The Wilson Times. Reach him at 252-265-7813 and cfriedman@wilsontimes.com.