Those who complete the Leadership Howard County (LHC) program often make deep and lasting connections with classmates. After they graduate, many seek to maintain those connections while learning new ways to serve the community.

With more than 1,000 graduates who have made a commitment to be actively involved in the community, the goal of LHC’s membership program is to educate its graduates on the critical issues of the day and to offer opportunities to stay connected through social and networking events.

In September, in keeping with this year’s theme of exploring the redevelopment of downtown Columbia, LHC launched its program year with a breakfast featuring Milton Matthews, the new president and CEO of Columbia Association. Matthews gave an overview of his vision of new partnerships and initiatives that will enhance the quality of life in Columbia.

In November, LHC commemorated Veteran’s Day by welcoming Medal of Honor recipient Brian Thacker as a speaker. In honor of his service and the service of many of LHC’s members, donations for Operation Welcome Home Maryland, which supports military personnel who travel through BWI Airport, were collected as the recipient of LHC’s annual gift drive.

In January, LHC’s membership luncheon featured guest speaker Darryl Hill, founder of KidsPlay USA Foundation and the first African-American to break the color barrier in the Atlantic Coast Conference when he played football at the University of Maryland.

Members turned out in large numbers for the March breakfast forum with Maryland’s new Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a longtime resident of Howard County.

Members also continued to explore “hot topics” through a roundtable forum, “This Just In.” In October, they met Todd Olson, the new executive director of the Columbia Festival of the Arts. In December, members learned about the scope of human trafficking in Howard County, along with recommended solutions, from the county’s task force chair Vernon Gray and Amanda Rodriguez, from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. Members also learned about the community impact of the growing cyber workforce at Ft. Meade and the construction of a Resource Center for the homeless in the Route 1 area.

LHC’s seventh annual Iron Chef Cookoff Challenge, in February, is a popular event that benefits Leadership U and the Howard County Food Bank. Six teams competed for the title of best appetizer, entrée, dessert and overall Iron Chef. The competition was intense, but the creativity of themes, costumes and recipes kept the audience entertained as more than 1,000 pounds of food was collected for the Howard County Food Bank and funds for Leadership U were raised.

LHC’s annual summer Community Service Day took place at the Howard County Conservancy as members helped beautify the gardens and landscape, and even tackled invasive plants. While many members pursue their own work in service to the community, LHC believes that bringing members together in community service strengthens their bonds as friends and as a network of leaders who make a difference for those who live and work in our community.

Leadership Howard County continues to meet the challenge of empowering and inspiring community leaders to take their place. As the community continues to grow, these programs help to fulfill its core purpose: keeping its members connected and informed so they can make a difference.

Dottie Paxton, vice president and branch manager for The Columbia Bank, serves as general membership chair and is a member of the Leadership Premier Class of 2010. She can be reached at [email protected].