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Leadership has been fostering growth in Roswell for 35 years

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Of the 35 years Leadership Roswell has existed, Rick Kraft has been its executive director for over 25. Kraft, shown here, teaches a Leadership class on the last Friday of each month from September through May. The Roswell Chamber of Commerce started Leadership. Leadership classes are encouraged for anyone in the Roswell area who is or may be in a leadership position in the community. (Submitted Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Are you the same person you were three months ago? How about six months ago, or even nine months ago? If you are, and if you want to change that, Leadership Roswell may be able to help you.

Rick Kraft has been teaching Leadership Roswell for more than a quarter century.
“I graduated in 1991,” Kraft said. “My classmates elected me president. In 1992, they asked me to do leadership training and then Fred McDonald, the executive director, stepped aside and they approached me to take his place. I said, ‘I’m going to pray about it and I’m going to talk to my wife about it.’ I came back and told them I would do it for one year. That was in 1992. I’ve been involved with the program 26 years.”
Leadership Roswell is the oldest program of its kind in the state.
“Leadership Roswell is 35 years old,” Kraft said. “The Roswell Chamber of Commerce board created the program in 1982. Its only affiliation is with the Roswell Chamber of Commerce.”
There are three main goals for each class, according to Kraft.
“They develop three areas,” Kraft said. “They’ll be educated about what’s going on in our community. They’ll learn how the city, county and state are run as well as how businesses interact. They also grow a strong network to build upon, starting with their fellow students. We have about 30 students per class. Finally, my passion, we do leadership training.
“On our first class day in September, I look in the students’ eyes. I tell them, ‘If you don’t have more tools in your tool belt when this is through, I’ve failed you. I want you to be better equipped to make a difference in our community.’”
Toward that end they use feedback from each class to design the next class.
“We get evaluations each class date,” Kraft said. “The students give us input on what is working and what isn’t. Then the next graduating class plans the program for the following year. Each year we try to move it up a rung. I work with different people each year. It’s an excellent program because we change it every year.”
Each class starts the same, but quickly becomes unique.
“We usually start each day with two hours of leadership training,” Kraft said. “Then we move into the theme for the day.”
The general themes take the class all over Roswell, Chaves County and the state.
“We do city day first,” he said. “The second day is the ropes course at the Assurance Home. The third class is county day. The fourth day is youth panel, where we learn from people who work with teens and younger children about how to better reach out to them. January is health and human services day. We go to Santa Fe in January also. February is education day at ENMU-R and NMMI. In March, we go to FLETC. April is agriculture day, we visit Leprino, a dairy and more. May is manufacturing day.
“We have a welcome reception before the first class. We do a Christmas party. Then the class does a class project — something for the community, and then we do graduation the day after last class, first Saturday in May.”

Over the years, they’ve added field trips and speakers to the program.
“Some of the bigger things we’ve done include the trip to FLETC,” Kraft said. “We’ve added the Santa Fe trip. We’ve added talks like one on diversity, one on volunteerism, we do a lot of leadership training. We’ve had up to 34 presenters in one day.
“We do panels. On law enforcement day, for example, we have a judicial panel. We’ll have a federal judge, a district judge, a magistrate judge; we’ll have the state police, the sheriff and the chief of police. By the time the day is through, if we’re not exhausted, we haven’t done well.”
Finally, at the end of the class year, they want to know how they’ve done, so that they can do better for the next class.
“At the last class, in May,” Kraft said, “we do an exit survey. One of those questions is, ‘Have we exceeded, met or not met your expectations?’ In the 26 classes that I’ve been involved with, we’ve never had a ‘not met.’ Typically, 90 percent of them will be ‘exceeded.'”
It appears that Kraft has found a piece of his calling in this work.
“I enjoy it with a passion,” he said. “I don’t get paid to do this work. It’s exciting to me to watch the students through the year as we have good discussions. I get excited when I see graduates move into leadership roles. We have 864 graduates.”
The months between that last class in May and the first one the following September are busy.
“We did alumni awards about a month ago,” Kraft said. “I had all the graduates stand up and I said, ‘Those of you who haven’t gone through leadership, talk with one of these people and ask if it was worth their nine months.’
“July is our recruitment time. The applications are cut off on July 31 at 5 p.m. and all the applications get turned in to the Chamber. Last year’s students nominate people for the next class. We do that in April. But you don’t have to be nominated by a graduate, you can nominate yourself.
“We’ll sit down with the students from last year’s class next month and plan the first day. We’ll say, ‘Here’s the agenda from last year and here are the scores that you gave it; how do we improve? You do that 25 times and you get a pretty good product. Most of our improvements are adjustments to the individual days.”
Once recruitment time has passed, they have to make some tough decisions.
“We maintain about 30 students a class,” Kraft said. “It’s always hard because we turn people away. I always call them and encourage them to keep trying. If you try again that gives extra weight to your application because it shows dedication. One lady got in on her third try.”
The program isn’t cheap, but for those who do not have the resources, there are options, and in the end, it’s an investment in self and in community.
“The cost is $550, but we don’t want anybody to not go because of cost,” Kraft said. “We have scholarships.”
Kraft wants to be clear that this is a combined effort, and that nobody could do it alone.
“This is a Roswell Chamber of Commerce program,” he said. “They give us good support. It’s a team effort. We have Candace Lewis from the Chamber. We have Margaret Kennard. We have last year’s president plus the community. It works because the community steps up and helps us.”
Kraft knows that growth means there is no resting on one’s laurels. The work never ends, and neither does the dedication.
“When I graduated law school,” he said, “the dean of our law school said to our class, ‘This law school is only going to be as strong as its most recent class.’ I always remember that and I tell the students that every year. I tell them, ‘This program is strong, we’re blessed because we continue to have very strong classes.’”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.