LEADERSHIP SAN JUAN ISLANDS (LSJI) is a county-wide tuition-based program designed to educate and motivate community members interested in developing their professional leadership skills and to facilitate their learning about issues affecting San Juan County. On April 30, 2004, a handful of civic-minded islanders gathered to found a program that would increase our community’s ability to govern itself as it respond to 21st century opportunities and challenges. Modeling the course after leadership programs offered throughout the country, the founders established Leadership San Juan Islands with the ambitious goal of ensuring that the future of the islands will be decided in the islands.

Since that first meeting, LSJI has welcomed into the ranks of its alumni over 200 islanders who continue to contribute their time and energy to benefit the welfare of our community. Every fall a new cohort is chosen, and they spend the following winter and spring together with faculty, community leaders, and resource people to develop their leadership skills.

Community Sponsors Make LSJI Happen

Businesses, nonprofits, and public agencies across the county play a major part in the success of the program. Some businesses provide space for the cohort to meet and to enjoy overnight accommodations for the three overnight retreats. This year the class appreciated significant donations from Smuggler’s Villa on Orcas Island, Harrison House on San Juan Island, and Lopez Islander Bay Resort. Most participants were also sponsored in part or wholly by their employer or a local nonprofit. Sponsors for 2019 included San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, Lopez Island Prevention Coalition, the San Juan Islands Economic Development Council, San Juan Island Library, San Juan County Health and Community Services Department, San Juan Island Prevention Coalition, Orcas Power and Light Company (OPALCO), and several anonymous donors.

What Happens During the LSJI Course?

The LSJI curriculum is designed to build group process skills and to orient participants to the various systems operating in the county. Alumni of LSJI and graduates of other leadership courses refresh and recreate the curriculum annually.  Three skills-based overnight retreats take the class to the three main islands, while five other full days introduce participants to local leaders and the current challenges in the areas of government, environment, social, health and educational services, history and culture, and the economy of the islands.

How Do I Know If LSJI Is For Me?

Participants in LSJI come from all walks of life, are of all ages, and are rich in different experiences. In each cohort, LSJI strives to reflect the diversity of the islands, the wide spectrum of economic and social sectors found in the islands, and the variety of personal and professional endeavors of cohort members. Cohort VIII began with eighteen members but had several withdraw, mostly for economic reasons. The fourteen graduates are pictured on the front page, framed by the beauty of Watmough Bight. Eight of the Cohort VIII graduates were from San Juan Island, three were from Orcas Island, and three were from Lopez Island. Ages ranged from twenty-seven to sixty-four. In previous cohorts, the age of participants has ranged from twenty-two to eighty-two! Most participants, although not all, have college experience or degrees, and some have advanced degrees. Program participants are typically employed in some direct service or management occupations. LSJI seeks to balance the class by drawing participants involved in government, nonprofit, and business sectors.

Every participant and alumni of LSJI is involved in community activities, and many seek the skills training part of the program to become more effective in those endeavors. A requirement of the course is a “give-back” in some volunteer activity. Some alumni have dedicated these hours to joining a nonprofit board, starting new organizations, creating festivals or events, or staying involved with Leadership San Juan Islands by supporting the next cohort and growing the organization.

Alumni Experiences Speak to the Value of LSJI

“My LSJI experience increased my confidence and capacities to bridge (and otherwise deal with) conflict. Perhaps most importantly, it changed my outlook and feeling about how groups can, and do, work.” Sandy Thompson, Writer and Arts Activist, Orcas Island

“The LSJI experience gave me a deeper understanding of the community connections among our islands. It introduced me to effective leadership techniques and best of all got me in touch with people in the islands who work in different areas but who have the same concerns for creating a healthy community.” Marilyn O’Connor, Executive Director, Port of Friday Harbor

“I learned very practical models to understand better the groups I work within in the community and at my job. These tools and resources have opened my mind to amazing insights and successful solutions.” Sam Jacobson, Lodging Manager, Roche Harbor Resort

“Through LSJI I have learned how powerful it can be to believe in yourself and in your ability to affect change within our island community.  I have a better and more thorough understanding of the many systems within our community and how I can work with these systems to accomplish my own goals, both personal and professional.”  Kathleen Foley, Director of Education and Outreach, San Juan Preservation Trust

“My involvement in LSJI gave me greater confidence in my leadership capabilities. As a direct result, (my giveback), I am a newly appointed board member for the Lopez Island School District. Without this course, I would not have had the confidence to apply for this position.” Patsy Haber, Program Coordinator for Lopez Island Family Resource Center