One group of local businesspeople is taking off work this week-to go to prison.A visit to the Berks County Prison, Leesport, and talk with Warden George Wagner is one of the many educational experiences this year's Leadership Tri-County class will have.

In addition to the lessons learned on their trips, this group of 12 will be taking on projects that help three area nonprofit organizations in some way.

Begun in 1992, Leadership Tri-County is an intensive, nine-month program conducted by the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce. Eileen Dautrich, the chamber's vice president of administration, is director of the program, which runs every other year.

"Our hope with this program is always to create a new group of leaders to serve on area nonprofits' boards," Dautrich said.

Since graduating its first class in 1993, the program has helped to match dozens of graduates with local nonprofits that were seeking board members.

Currently enrolled in the class are Wendy David, United Way of Southeastern PA; Shellie Feola, Pottsgrove School District; Janet Flack, Keller Williams Realty Group; Peter Gardner and Dave Peterson of Exelon Nuclear's Limerick Generating Station; Jennifer Isett of Barry Isett & Associates Inc.; Tim Knapp of Cabot Supermetals; Terri Lampe, economic development director, Borough of

Pottstown; Alana Mauger, Montgomery County Community College; Pamela McGinley, National Penn Bank; Jamie V. Ottaviano Esq. of O'Donnell, Weiss & Mattei, P.C.; and Kitty Papp, special events coordinator, TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce.

The group meets once a month, visiting sites in the area that pertain to the justice system, government, health and human services, education, communications, arts and culture, economic infrastructure and business. Planned trips this year include touring a county courthouse and visiting Exelon Nuclear's Limerick Generating station.

"The class has multiple pieces through which the class members gain knowledge that will help them serve a nonprofit," Dautrich said. "They build that knowledge though our various sessions that help to create leadership potential."

Lampe, who already serves on at least one board, said her goal for the class is networking.

"In addition to developing board leadership, this pro gram is also an incredible way to get into the heart of the community," said Lampe, who began working for the borough in January. She noted that no taxpayer money was used to pay her tuition: She received a scholarship from PECO Energy.

Mauger said she sees the class as an opportunity to learn.

"I have been involved in community service at my church in Gilbertsville," she said. "But through Leadership, I just am really excited to learn more about the opportunities to serve nonprofits and my direct environment."

Though the class meets as a group just once a month, their projects with the nonprofits can take many additional hours over several months.

According to Dautrich, 10 area nonprofits submitted projects for consideration for this year's Leadership class. Three projects were ultimately selected ' based on the number of people they serve and the long-lasting impact their project will have on the community, Dautrich said.

Working in groups of four, this year's Leadership class will work on tasks for Pottstown Parks & Recreation (developing a "bark park"), the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania (planning a summit for/attracting investors for an early education program) and Meals on Wheels (preparing a disaster plan).

"We're kind of running the whole gamut of the population with these projects," Dautrich said.

At the end of the extended workshop, graduates have the tools they need to serve on the boards of local nonprofits as well as experiences which make them desirable as such, she said.

On June 12, 2008, at the monthly meeting of the chamber membership, the Leadership class will present their projects and officially "graduate" from the program.

From there, presumably, they will be snatched up by organizations in need of fresh blood on their boards of directors ' if they haven't been already.

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