BANGOR, Maine — It’s the only regionally focused, intensive leadership program around, it has graduated 318 professionals in the Greater Bangor community and it is now observing its 15th anniversary.
Yet even with the backing of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, its annual program is still flying well under the radar with most people.
It’s known as the Bangor Region Leadership Institute, and it’s designed to give potential or emerging regional leaders the skills, knowledge and continuing support they require to succeed in the greater Bangor community.
“It’s one of those hidden gems that not a lot of people really know about, and we’re working to change that by publicizing and promoting it better,” said John Canders, attorney and partner at Bangor’s Eaton Peabody law firm.
As a BRLI alumnus from the Class of 2007 and the current chairman of the BRLI’s steering committee, Canders knows the program inside and out, and he jumps at any chance to tell someone about the program’s benefits.
“I usually tell them it’s the best program with which I’ve been involved in the Bangor area,” said the 37-year-old Washburn native. “The opportunities you are given from participating in it really can’t be matched by any other program here in the Bangor area.”
Canders said there were three specific benefits he got from the program: Awareness of previously unknown opportunities, activities and groups or organizations in the Bangor area that would be of benefit to him; aid in networking and developing professional relationships; and development of lifelong friendships.
The BRLI targets outstanding individuals who want to sharpen their leadership skills and gain a better understanding of the region’s economy and community networks.
“While many fine national leadership development programs exist, we offer a regionally focused program — taught by local leaders for local leaders,” said Matthew McLaughlin, BRLI program coordinator. “And it’s not just people who have been around for a few years. Most of them are people who are very accomplished in their areas of expertise.”
The “school year” starts in October with two class days. After that, the BRLI’s syllabus is instituted in daylong classes the first Thursday of each month that conclude with a May graduation.
“It’s an eight-month curriculum where participants meet once a month with a different theme each time like transportation, arts, energy, the local economy, tourism and marketing with guest speakers and hands-on tours,” McLaughlin explained.
McLaughlin called it an out-of-classroom workshop. Class size is usually kept between 20 and 25.
Another unique aspect of the institute is its annual partnership with local nonprofit agencies as students divide up and complete “class projects” benefitting those agencies.
“It not only benefits the nonprofits, it also teaches participants about the nonprofit world in general and educates them about particular challenges they have,” McLaughlin said.
When Canders was a BRLI student, his class was divided into five groups of five and each group did a project concerning Bangor. His group conducted a downtown survey. Now, classes are divided in half and each group works on a project to promote and/or benefit local nonprofits.
Last year, BRLI partnered with Bangor Area Junior Achievement and Literacy Volunteers of Bangor.
“We invite proposals for partnerships with nonprofits each year and we want people to know we are still accepting proposals for this year’s class,” said Canders.
It’s that kind of outreach that attracted Chris Rudolph, whose “day job” is bartending at Paddy Murphy’s pub in downtown Bangor.
Rudolph, 35, is also director of marketing and community outreach for Bangor Greendrinks, as well as director of partnership and hospitality at KahBang Music & Arts Festival.
“Right off, I got a sense that I’m not alone in this in terms of generating buzz and excitement about Bangor and downtown,” said Rudolph, who graduated from last year’s class.
Canders said Rudolph’s varied interests made him an ideal candidate for the Institute.
“A friend approached me about doing it and I really didn’t even know what to expect,” said Rudolph, who moved here from Boston 12 years ago. “You’re thrust into this experience together and it’s just kind of an immersion approach and you’re hitting the ground running.”
“We all knew everybody’s names by the end of the first or second day.”
While it’s a networking program, the BRLI offers much more, even long after graduation.
“One of the most unique things about it is the people who graduate from it have pretty much stayed right in the area,” said McLaughlin.
It’s not just an expansion of participants’ professional networks. It also expands their networks of friends.
“I came away with some fantastic connections with people through the program and some of the best friends I have came from that program,” Canders explained. “I still regularly stay in contact with 15-20 of the 25 in our class.”
Both Canders and Rudolph said the connections BRLI students make give the program a special dynamic.
“I came away from the program with a number of things: The first is a much better idea of all the great things going on in the Bangor region,” Canders said. “There’s a lot of good stuff going on here right in their backyard and many of us don’t even know it.”
Rudolph said the BRLI provides its students with many different practical applications which they can utilize in all areas of life and business.
“I think it’s the perfect way for someone to better themselves, especially if they’re trying to become more involved in the Bangor region,” said Rudolph. “I think I am definitely better off professionally and personally for taking part in it.”
The BRLI is taking applications for the 2013 class. Tuition is $795 per person and scholarships are available. For information on the BRLI program, call the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce at 947-0307 or visit www.brliexperience.org.