Leadership Sandy Springs marked 30 years of producing local leaders at a June 2 gathering attended by many of its more than 700 alumni.

In 1986, LSS spun out of the Chamber of Commerce as a leadership, civics and networking program. It has grown into a go-to training ground for the likes of nonprofit directors and City Council members.

At the 30th anniversary gathering, held at Heritage Sandy Springs, Mayor Rusty Paul said he uses LSS as a kind of farm team for members of city boards and commissions.

“I get a lot of good appointees,” Paul said. “It gives you a real solid core of people who are actively engaged in the community.”

LSS Executive Director Jan Paul, who is the mayor’s spouse, only went through the program herself in 2013 after many years of community involvement. She recalls the late Mayor Eva Galambos saying, “I think you probably know everything about Sandy Springs,” but in fact, she had many eye-opening experiences, she said.

LSS is a demanding program with a significant cost. A “class” of 36 members is selected in an application process, with a “tuition” of about $2,500. Members go through nine months of meetings, field trips and a volunteer project, with several day-long sessions. They visit local organizations, City Hall, the State Capitol and many other institutions.

Chatting at the June 2 Leadership Sandy Springs alumni event were, from left, City Councilmember Ken Dishman; Terry Harth, a member of the original 1987 class; attorney Carol Clark; and Gene Jordan of the Sandy Springs Rotary Club. (Phil Mosier)

The nonprofit organization has had its up and downs. In 2001, it skipped a class due to organizing problems. But since then, it has produced two popular annual programs, the “Movies by Moonlight” outdoor film series and the “Better Sandy Springs” volunteerism day. In 2011, a youth version of LSS spun out of the main group.

Among Jan Paul’s memorable experiences with LSS is the annual “walk in my shoes” day with the Community Assistance Center and related organizations that help low-income and homeless people, where class members attempt to cope with a personal crisis actually faced by clients of the nonprofits.

Tamara Carrera, the CAC’s executive director, is an LSS graduate. “I’m not a political person,” she said, describing the value in LSS’s opportunity to meet one-on-one with all of the city’s leaders.

Carol Thompson, the executive director of Heritage Sandy Springs, said she was invited to join when she first took the job and was daunted by the time commitment. But, she said, she’s glad she did it. “It gave me a very quick immersion” in local issues and leaders, she said.

Terry Harth was a member of the first LSS class in 1987 and still volunteers with the group. She said the first class had only 17 members and did not have all of today’s features, such as the volunteer project. But she credits it with not only training members, but also helping to pull the city’s various nonprofits together.

“The same theme was there of connection and learning about your community and kind of inspiring you to want to be part of the fabric of the community,” Harth said. “Being the first class, everybody, including the ones leading it, were still trying to figure out how to make it work.”

She said she hoped for more immediate connections with classmates than developed, but over the years, the hundreds of LSS alumni have provided her with a large network.

“I think they’re probably doing a better job of continuing relationships than they had before,” Harth said.

Scott Busch, the general manager of the Steel Canyon Golf Club, is a graduate of this year’s class.

Scott Busch, a member of Leadership Sandy Springs’ class of 2017, talks with former Sandy Springs Conservancy Executive Director Linda Bain at the LSS alumni event June 2 at Heritage Sandy Springs. (Phil Mosier)

“The reason I joined it was, I’ve lived here now 14 years and I really had no idea what goes on in my city,” Busch said. “So I joined just to find out what makes the city tick.”

He said he was impressed by how much he learned and the connections he made.

“Now I feel connected to everyone,” he said. “It really brings the city down to a size that feels like a small town.”

In the golf business, Busch meets a lot of local people, including Jan and Rusty Paul, who suggested he join LSS after playing a round at Steel Canyon.

But, Busch said, that doesn’t compare to working with people on a volunteer project or going to the Gold Dome with the mayor to see how legislation is passed.

“That’s a much more personal interaction than him walking up to the golf counter,” Busch said.

Busch said he’s also impressed with LSS’s mission.

“Everybody … really is there because they want the city of Sandy Springs to be a better place,” he said.

For more information about LSS, see leadershipsandysprings.org.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.