Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance
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NORA Leadership Academy seeking applications

Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Community leaders and volunteers wanting to maximize efforts to build a strong community can partner with an organization that promotes 14 counties of Oklahoma through collaborating, networking and educational opportunities.
Northeastern Oklahoma Regional Alliance, NORA, is the go to for business saavy when it comes to eastern Oklahoma. Not only do they impact the regions through sharing economic development expertise, now they also offer an annual Leadership Academy to help people better identify ways to make a difference.
Today’s regional challenges require a new problem-solving capacity and the ability to work across political, geographical and institutional boundaries. Through the NORA Leadership Academy, leaders develop a broader awareness of the region, acquire a greater knowledge of the interdependence of the diverse communities that constitute the Northeastern Oklahoma and are able to sharpen leadership skills while networking with decisions makers and professionals statewide.
"We started this program two years ago with regionalism in mind," said Darla Heller, Executive Director of NORA. "We need our up and coming leaders to be able to speak from a regional voice, look at issues through the lens of northeast Oklahoma. When we work together on the common goal of creating a stronger region by pooling our talents and sharing our knowledge base we all win, our region wins."
The 2019 class begins in February.
"We are looking forward to a new class starting in February and will ask those special 20 people to jump into learning about our region and being ambassadors for Northeast Oklahoma," said Heller.
An annual conference is held in the fall hosted by Northeastern State University in Tahlequah with national and area experts as speakers. This year one of the workshops included recent Leadership Academy graduates presenting ideas for a Shark Tank type program. Attendees to the workshop voted on the ideas they liked best and three were selected, including Geri Gilstrap, Superintendent of Stilwell Public Schools.
"I think the most beneficial part of the NORA Leadership Acadeny was the overall networking it promoted," said Gilstrap. "I made so many awesome connections that have proven to help with several different initiatives that are important to my school district and my overall community and region. It also allowed me the benefit of gathering statistics from the region to compare and network with people who share the same issues. We really learned from one other!"
Gilstrap recommends it to others because, "you learn so much about the surrounding counties and what is going on in other places around you - you also learn that together you can have a bigger voice to be able to influence issues that are affecting not only your community but the region as a whole."
"You may find that your counties have a lot in common and you can tackle those common issues together to promote a better region and a better Oklahoma," said Gilstrap.
Their Shark Tank idea is Birthday Baskets/Boxes for foster children in Adair county.
"For  twenty dollars you can sponsor a foster child’s birthday. We place items in the basket or box such as a cake mix, icing, candles, and then small items age and gender appropriate for that child," she said. "Every child’s birthday should be special. Every child should feel loved and valued on their day!"
They have partnered with the Department of Human Services and already have a list of birthdays from them.
"We have five birthday baskets/boxes to fill this month of December and we are  purchasing items for those basket’s now DHS workers will deliver to the individual children. We have met twice now to work out logistics," she said.
The NORA Leadership Class was overall a wonderful experience to learn about our region of the state and what it has to offer and also the ways in which we can work together to improve our communities and market this great area in which we live, she said.
"I also had the opportunity to visit and learn about places in other counties that I was unaware of which was fantastic! Beautiful places with lots of educational opportunities for our students!" said Gilstrap.
For Alan Parnell, Extension EducatorAg/4H Youth Development and Wagoner county economic development Chair, the NORA Leadership Academy was great experience and oppornity to get to know the people in other communities and agencies.
"The networking with community leaders around northeast Oklahoma, and learning the differences of each community, seeing even how close in distance we are but yet how far apart we may be when it comes to development differences," were what impressed Parnell.
His Shark Tank idea is for a pilot program to teach job skills to Porter school students, "and provide opportunities to youth to learn differences of job skills," said Parnell.
The third winner of the NORA Shark Tank, Danette Floyd, Empowerment Educator, Safenet Services -Domestic Violence Shelter and Outreach for Rogers and Mayes counties.
"The Leadership Academy had a wonderful introduction session. We not only learned about each other but ourselves by doing a doing our strengths," said Floyd.
It is great to get out of our silos that we work in," Floyd said, "we can gain so much insight and understanding about our communities and region by spending time with others. NORA Leadership Acadeny is a great networking tool, building relationships over the year that will last a lifetime!"
Her Shark Tank idea was creating long-term safety and security for survivors of domestic violence through financial empowerment.  She asked for $1,000 for I.D.’s, Drivers License and Birth Certificates.
"Often our clients have had to flee their homes leaving behind important documents. Other times the abuser will destroy the documents themselves out of vengeance.," Floyd said. "A job is impossible to get without a form of ID or birth certificate. Also, children need birth certificates to enroll in a new school system or to get public services offered to low income families."
Success has already started for Floyds idea.
"We work with our clients to meet their goals. I have gotten seven birth certificates, one ID, and one drivers license in just the first month of this program. That is $175 of savings for my clients so that they can move on with other goals for themselves and their children," said Floyd.
Floyd said, "I enjoyed this class so much. I have learned so many things and gained valuable friendships in the process."
The goal of identifying areas of need in their communities led these Academy participants to projects which didn't receive funding but some are seeking other sponsorships to proceed: Larry Daugherty and Matt Lamont have a goal of bringing laughter as medicine to northeast Oklahoma seniors living in assisted living and nursing homes; MikeBoyer - a project to create a new campaign to inform Bartlesville people about projects going on in their community; Issac Barnoski, working with local business people to come up with a plan since the Vian Chamber has not been functioning in a while; and Becki Farley established a group to advance economic development efforts in Jay.
NORAs Leadership Academy focuses on topics relevant to current trends and issues. The curriculum provides a framework for understanding organizational and institutional processes and responsibilities for regional planning, problem-solving and community building, particularly in Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Mayes, McIntosh, Muskogee, Notawa, Okmulgee, Ottawa, Rogers,  Sequoyah, Wagoner  and Washington counties. Local and regional experts address diverse topics, including ingredients of a successful region, community collaboration, education, economic and social trends.
NORA gives a regional voice to northeast Oklahoma. If you have a passion for regional progress, a commitment to northeast Oklahoma and want to take your leadership skills to the next level then the NORA Leadership Avacemy is for you, said Heller.
To sign-up for the Leadership Academy do to the NORA website, contact Darla Heller at P.O. Box 945, Tahlequah, OK 74464, (918) 772-8334 or