Program dedicated to leadership
Bergen LEADS aims to increase community involvement in the county
January 9, 2020
After Christine Pollinger finished her graduate degree in 2015, she said she was bored and wanted to do something new. Through an article in the newspaper, she was introduced to the Bergen LEADS program. Pollinger, Pascack Valley’s Assistant Principal, said since that point, the program was one of the “best things” she has ever participated in.
Bergen LEADS is a program run through the Bergen Volunteer Center, which was created in 2006 by its staff and board members. It aims to build the pipeline of locally knowledgeable people who are familiar with the issues and trends of the county, according to Lynne Algrant, the Chief Executive Officer of Bergen Volunteers and Leadership Seminar Director of Bergen LEADS.
“Leadership matters,” Algrant said. “The best way to develop local leaders is to make sure that people are knowledgeable about local issues, challenges, and opportunities.”
Adults who live or work in Bergen County can apply to the program, but only 25 to 30 individuals are accepted each year. Applicants must complete an interview and later pay a tuition fee of $2,000 if they make it into the program. The program is ten months long, beginning in September and ending in June. Participants meet for two days during the first month and for one day during the remaining nine.
“You get to see things and learn things about the county that you would never have any idea are happening,” Pollinger said.
Members learn about topics including education, law and safety, economic development, and healthcare in the county. They also take a “deep dive” into a specific topic, learning about the impact that it has on communities, according to Debbie Emery, the Head of the Strengthening Community Department at Bergen Volunteers and Manager of Bergen LEADS.
To further learn about a topic, participants are encouraged to visit different locations in groups of three or four. When Pollinger was a part of the program, she attended a session dedicated to healthcare. Pollinger was able to visit Hackensack Hospital and hear from their leaders.
“One of the things that I really liked was going to the Teaneck Creek Conservancy,” Pollinger said. “It’s off this really tiny road in Teaneck and it’s an environmental center that you can walk through. This is a place that is literally right down the street from me that I didn’t know existed.”
Members then make a presentation about the topic and present their findings in a public forum. The goal of the presentation is to educate and inspire citizens to make an impact in the community.
“It’s really interesting because you get to learn from the experts and you get to work on a problem that’s real,” Pollinger said.
Bergen LEADS makes an effort to create a diverse environment, consisting of members with different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. Pollinger said that she was only one of two educators in her graduating class, and there were also politicians, lawyers, and businessmen.
“We select a very diverse group of people in terms of age, in terms of expertise, and the town that they live in,” Algrant said.
Algrant said that she hopes Bergen LEADS continues to be a “very vibrant” program and that the people who have completed the program will continue to show principles of ethical leadership on a local level.
“We often think of ourselves as residents of the town we live in, but not necessarily of the county,” Algrant said. “We’re really trying to create a mindset where people are thinking and asking questions not just about their town or the town they work in, but also the county as a whole.”