The Leadership Berks Class of 2019 drew working adults from local companies — and one stay-at-home dad - 6/10/2019
The 38 graduates of the Leadership Berks Class of 2019 filed one-by-one across the stage at the Crowne Plaza Reading in Wyomissing as their names, and the name of the company that sponsored each, poured through the loudspeaker.
The list of sponsors, each of whom laid out $2,920, read like a who's who of community-minded organizations.
The usual suspects were represented. East Penn Manufacturing, EnerSys, First Energy, Penske Truck Leasing, Reading Eagle Company, Customers Bank, Herbein + Company Inc., UGI Utilities, RKL and more were there.
Smaller, but no less dedicated companies like Freedom Toyota, Visions Federal Credit Union, R&R Auto Reconditioning, Fleetwood Bank, Reading Berks Association of Realtors, were represented as well.
And then a guy named Robert Metzgar walked across the stage, and the name of his sponsor was read aloud: “Self.”
Metzgar, a stay-at-home dad, husband, and, currently, a Sinking Spring councilman, was sponsored by none other than Robert Metzgar.
“I've been voluntarily unemployed for the past eight years now,” he said explaining his role as a stay-at-home parent to three kids.
Volunteerism at schools and in Sinking Spring, as well as his participation in Leadership Berks, fills a void created when Metzgar made the bold decision to trade his white collar for wet wipes.
Getting involved with Leadership Berks, Metzgar said, seemed like a good idea.
'Changes your mindset'
Counting the class of 2019, Leadership Berks, a nine-month program designed to develop leaders, has minted 961 ambitious, community-minded graduates since its inception in 1985.
The program is designed for working adults with a yearning for advancement and a passion for community service. It runs from September through June each year.
Participants learn the nuts and bolts of operating nonprofits during the 150-hour coursework portion of the program, and spend 100 more hours visiting and working with various nonprofit groups in the community.
Reading Eagle: Susan L. Angstadt | Leadership Berks Graduation Nathan Lenker, sponsored by Freedom Toyota, greets Toni Eckert, director of Leadership Berks, after receiving his diploma last week at the Crowne Plaza Reading in Wyomissing.
Nathan Lenker, 38, of Lower Pottsgrove Township is a mechanic for Freedom Toyota in Hamburg, and among the 38 graduates.
Lenker grew up in Pottstown, and later moved to Exeter Township for a dozen years. He admitted he has long felt drawn to giving back to the community of his youth. Encouraged by his boss, Eric Savage, and sponsored by Freedom Toyota, Lenker enrolled.
The experience was eye-opening, he said.
“Seeing programs that I didn't even know existed and seeing how they affect people really changes your mindset,” Lenker said.
Additionally, each graduate goes on to serve a minimum, one-year stint with a local nonprofit organization. Lenker will volunteer time with the automotive technology occupational advisory committee at Pottstown High School.
“Of all the institutions that I get a chance to interact with, the legacy and the profound long term impact (of Leadership Berks) is probably second to none,” said Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, which took over as the program's administrator in January.
The spirit of community engagement in Berks is strong, Peers said.
“I have no doubt that Leadership Berks has a very big hand in helping to create that community engagement ecosystem,” Peers added.
One program requirement is for the class to divide into groups, which are then assigned to work on a particular project with a selected nonprofit.
“I think the reality is for nonprofits you have a limited amount of resources and you most always have small staffs,” said Timothy J. Daley, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Berks County, one of six nonprofits served by the class of 2019.
The team that worked with Habitat for Humanity created, essentially, a marketing plan for the Buttonwood Gateway project in Reading. That work became part of the master plan for the project, Daley said.
“They did it very, very well and the product that they produced for us is something we never could have afforded to hire professionally,” he said.
Filling a void
“I was working full time at Aetna as a systems manager,” Metzgar said. “I was very successful and enjoyed it.”
But about 10 years ago, Metzgar's wife, Holly, opened an obstetrics and gynecology practice in Wyomissing, and the demands of that practice changed the parenting equation for the Metzgars.
“I decided to support her,” Metzgar said. “She went from a 9-to-5-type job to working 80 hours a week and being on call every other night, so I left my work and stayed at home with the kids.”
Metzgar has no regrets, but admitted that his new role took some adjusting.
“I found out shortly (after making the decision to stay home) that that's super awesome, but there's this void of intellectual stimulation, not that raising a child is not intellectually stimulating, but I found honestly that I missed the day-to-day adult interaction.”
Metzgar decided to fill that void through community involvement.
He got involved with the community parks and recreation program, began volunteering in schools, served on the Wilson School District board, and now serves as a borough councilman.
Metzgar's history of involvement led some to suggest that he consider Leadership Berks.
“It's clearly a well-known local program that deals a lot with promoting leadership within the county,” he said.
Freshly minted as a program graduate, Metzgar said the program was an excellent experience. He'll put his new talents to work in his role as a councilman and his work with BOSS 2020 (Borough of Sinking Spring 2020), a revitalization committee.
He will also do work on behalf of the Education and State of the Environment committees of Berks Nature, a nonprofit, Reading-based nature conservancy.
Metzgar said the program's instructional component proved very valuable. It included key areas such as board governance, ethics, organizational structuring, project management, team building and fundraising to name a few areas.
“I had never gone through formal academic training in, well, how do you look for conflicts of interest in your nonprofit or how do you understand what is required with year-end financial filings?” he said.
“I never had exposure to that. I'm just a guy, I've got a BA in English from Moravian (College), you know, and I worked for an insurance company, but I never took a nonprofit-management class.
“That was for me the meat and potatoes.” ¦