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Washington County program inspires leadership

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chris Buckley | The Valley Independent
Tanya Chaney, owner of Chaney’s Natural Health and Wellness in Monongahela, talks with store office manager Irma Hiller on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Chaney graduated from Leadership Washington County in May 2008.

Debbie Keefer was first introduced to Leadership Washington County when she was asked to serve on its board.

“I was in amazement of the quality of speakers for the sessions and the amount of volunteer time put in,” said the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce executive director.

“And I've been a fan ever since.”

Since 2004, the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce has provided scholarships for two participants to Leadership Washington County through proceeds from the Melvin B. Bassi Golf Tournament.

Tuition is $975 per participant. The chamber provides a scholarship of $825 per participant. The remaining $150 is paid by the participant or the participant's employer to demonstrate a commitment to the program.

Leadership Washington County is a year-long intensive program. Day-long classes are held each month for nine months, combining field trips and a class project.

Leadership Washington County is open to those residing in or working in Washington County.

Jeff Vitale, executive director of the Mon Valley YMCA, graduated from Leadership Washington County in May 2011.

He said Keefer recruited him for the program. He and Diann Bombara of NPS System were scholarship awardees from the regional chamber that year.

“It's a pretty good experience seeing aspects of the county you do not usually see,” Vitale said.

Vitale said he was particularly impressed with Canon-McMillan School District's “innovative use of technology and the things they are doing to reach children.”

The project his group was involved with continued a trick-or-treat tradition in the fall at the Children's Therapy Center, which has locations in Washington and Peters Township. In the spring, his group began an Easter Egg hunt for the children.

His positive experience led him to encourage Angel Gulick, program director at the Mon Valley YMCA, to attend the program two years later.

That is not uncommon for companies in the county. Many send representatives to the program in subsequent years after their first employee attends. Monongahela Valley Hospital has sent at least one employee to the program each year since its inception.

Class sizes average 20.

Tanya Chaney, owner of Chaney's Natural Health and Wellness in Monongahela, graduated from the program in May 2008. She, too, was a regional chamber scholarship awardee.

“I got out of it a better sense of community and leadership,” said Chaney, who now sits on the Leadership board and is a session planner.

Her project involved the Washington Area Humane Society.

“I would encourage anyone who is in a leadership role or aspires to a leadership role in their company to participate in the program,” Chaney said. “You learn about the county and meet a lot of important and influential people.

“I think even as a small business, it was rewarding. It helped me take my business to a higher level.”

For chamber members interested in participating in the program, forms will be accepted through 4 p.m. Thursday.

More information and a copy of the scholarship guidelines is available through the regional chamber at 724-483-3507 or at

Keefer believes the program is invaluable.

“We need to get new people on our nonprofit boards,” Keefer said. “We have a lot of need for a younger generation to begin participating on boards. This program is almost a prerequisite, the information so valuable.

“It really works. I've seen a lot of leaders emerge from it.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or