After 10 months of exploring the Prince William area, learning about critical issues and collaborating with other leaders, Didlake COO Joe Diaz graduated June 9 from Leadership Prince William’s Signature Program. In September, Diaz and his 29 classmates started their Leadership Prince William (LPW) journey with a Send-Off celebration and a two-day Opening Retreat. They concluded the program with a daylong closing session and evening commencement ceremony, held in the Lakeside Theater at Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge, Va.
LPW is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to engage and inspire individuals, organizations and alumni to enrich the community through collaborative leadership. The Class of 2022 was the 15th class to graduate from LPW’s Signature Program. In between the Send-Off and graduation celebrations, LPW participants met for monthly sessions held throughout Prince William county and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. Sessions covered a variety of topics, such as history and government, environment, education, public safety, and health and human services.
“I learned about our community, the leaders that serve it, and what areas I could possibly impact in the future. We had a great, diverse group from a variety of backgrounds — doctors, police officers, emergency management, nonprofit reps and others. I made a lot of connections and learned a lot about organizations that support the community like the Prince William Chapter of Habitat for Humanity and Carried to Full Term,” Diaz said.
Each year, the LPW class completes a community service project. This year’s project was in support of Carried to Full Term of Haymarket, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization providing long-term housing to pregnant and homeless women. In May, Diaz and his classmates spent a day doing home improvement projects at the organization’s resident house, providing comfortable new furnishings in living areas, organizing donated items, enhancing privacy and improving the yard.
“We spent three to four months planning, getting donations from partners and collaborating with the community. It was really cool to see how the whole team came together to fix that home and really make a nice yard and house for the women who are there,” Diaz said.
Another class exercise also aimed to increase awareness of poverty.
“Recently, I was given $3 and was supposed to buy a healthy lunch. That is the amount of money that someone who is living below the poverty line may have for lunch. I don’t eat carbs or sugar so I don’t eat fast food. The only thing I could think of that I could buy was sugar-free yogurt. It makes you really think about how there are people out there who can’t afford healthy food; most of what is out there that is cheap is unhealthy. It was an eye-opening experience,” Diaz said.
Collaboration was the theme of the year. In fact, a chance happening at the Opening Retreat in the Shenandoah Mountains set the tone for the entire LPW experience. When one of the participants accidentally put out the fire, the whole team came together to get it back. From then on, the class became known as “Reclaim the Flame.”
In addition to learning to impact change through collaborative efforts, LPW participants gained a comprehensive view of the community. During a session on local law enforcement, they visited a jail, and met all the local police and fire chiefs. Another day featured presentations by Sentara Hospital leaders, who explained the complicated nature of healthcare and the amount of work that goes into just getting paid for a simple procedure through Medicare, Medicaid and insurance. Another session included presentations by educational leaders in the community and school tours. Of particular interest to Diaz was learning about early intervention for children with autism and other disabilities.
“I highly recommend Leadership Prince William for anyone. People who are newer to the county, you’re going to meet all the elected officials and a lot of people who can assist you and your organization. Even if you’ve been here awhile, there is still plenty you can learn. I’ve been here for 16 years and go to see and learn a lot about the county I live in. There is so much history here — a lot of Civil War and some Revolutionary War. I also learned about the original county seat.”
LPW is not only beneficial to the individual, but also to employers like Didlake.
“As Didlake thinks about further diversification, having all these new contacts and a better understanding of the breadth of the needs of the entire county will help us make decisions about which areas to get into. It also increases our brand awareness. We have all these people going back to their companies with knowledge about employment and people with disabilities, and maybe consider supporting our mission,” Diaz said.