The graduates of the first annual Community Health Leadership Academy heard lectures on such topics as diversity, borough government, ethics, fundraising, developing collaborations and leadership skills.

The event, held Wednesday at the Columbia Bar and Grille, was hosted by Louis Beccaria, PCHF president and CEO.

"The program will help boost their confidence as community leaders," said Beccaria. "We equip the graduates with leadership tools or skills to hopefully make them more successful and make their contribution to improve our community."

Phoenixville Community Health Foundation Board Chairman Dick Kunsch, president of Phoenixville Federal Bank and Trust, said that programs to train future community leaders have decreased over time.

"The Jaycees used to be a training ground for leadership in the community and has largely gone away," said Kunsch. "This replacement (program) is a chance for people to become active."

Graduates will be awarded a $500 stipend for work on a civic project of their choice courtesy of the program's co-sponsor, the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO).

The graduates have planned a wide range of projects.

Graduate Dorothea Blackwell hopes to promote true religious expression through literature, media and the visual arts.

David Castro will bring health and education programs to the local Latino/Hispanic community.

Pam Dunn hopes to put the stipend toward a crime prevention program, while Kathy Ford will use the money for the Healing Expressive Art (H.E.ART) program. She will also collaborate with other organizations for an after school program.

Class valedictorian Kurt Kunsch hopes that the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area will become an economic partner with Phoenixville and create a more economically viable downtown through natural historical resources.

Irene Lisinski hopes to institute a gun buy-back program, while Arlene Martin will install a kiosk at the lower end of the Schuylkill Canal that will make visitors aware of the canal's history.

Graduate Usha Nagandhi will collaborate with the Phoenixville Hospital to bring preventive health education information to non-English-speaking consumers.

Rosalyn Sheckleford will develop an Adult Life Skills Program for adults between the ages of 18 and 25, while Dolores Winston has a mission to help men develop self-sufficiency.

Emma Valenteen will use the stipend to promote awareness of Compassionate Friends, an organization that offers friendship and understanding to bereaved parents.

Lisinski said that class members learned much about one another. "Now we can collaborate and work together to be more effective community leaders by building on our collective strengths."

Phoenixville Community Health Foundation Vice Chair Jim Redding said that he was "impressed by the amount of graduates and the sophistication of the program."

Student Kurt Kunsch was happy to work as part of a team. "It was great meeting different people in the community and to build a stronger community."

Fifty-year Phoenixville resident and PCHF board member Gus Boova is "delighted" to be a part of the community. "Those in need will never go unnoticed," he said.

Board member Debbie Mitchell gave the invocation and lectured on diversity. "We want to look into people's hearts instead of their physical appearances," said Mitchell.

PCHF Chairman Dick Kunsch oversees the board comprising of Mitchell, Redding, Ed McDaniel, Boova and Dave Frees.

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