When you complete the Leadership Vermilion program, not only will you have a better sense of yourself, but you will also have a much better sense of what Vermilion Parish has to offer.

Leadership Vermilion, a program offered by the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce, is designed to create a better-informed citizen. However, it is not designed to encourage people to run for public office. Vermilion Chamber Executive Director Lynn Guillory said that never factored into the creation of the program.

Guillory, who spoke to the Rotary Club during its weekly meeting on Wednesday, said she would often come across VermiLion Parish residents who did not see the parish from certain viewpoints.

“Residents of Vermilion drop by the Chamber and are amazed that people actually come to visit Vermilion Parish,” Guillory said. “They would be surprised that visitors love us and come back. People from all over the United States and the world visit Vermilion. That’s when I realized something. We don’t realize how special Vermilion is because we have lived here all our lives.”

Guillory said the spark for the program came from people asking questions about things going on in the parish.

“I really thought it was important for people to take a look at our entire community,” Guillory said.

That’s when the idea of the Leadership Vermilion began to take shape. The 9-month program is set to kick off its eighth class in September. To this point, the program has 114 graduates.

“Leadership Vermilion participants have made many connections,” Guillory said. “Graduates have created lasting bonds with people who all feel the same way. A great leadership class is a mixture of the young and the mentors. A great leadership class is a group that matches all the faces in Vermilion Parish. These are some of the determining factors that the steering committee will look at when selecting applicants.”

Each session is limited to about 20 participants. Tuition for the program is $500 and covers all costs for the 9-month program. Anyone interested in participating should look at all the dates of the sessions to make sure they are able to attend since there are attendance requirements. The program is not limited to chamber members.

Participants will meet each month, with sessions that cover various topics, including education, healthcare, public safety, government and tourism.

“One of the highlights of the program is a charter bus around the parish,” Guillory said. “On our tour, the participants have a chance to see the parish as a tourist would see it. Some of our stops have included the Louisiana Military Museum, the Sam Guarino Blacksmith Shop, Palmetto Island State Park, Suire’s Grocery, Erath Museum, Kaplan Museum, Gueydan Museum, Vivian Alexander, White Lake, etc. The stops change each year.

“It’s fun to listen to the class say they didn’t know we had so much to do and see. I have lived here all my life and never knew this was in Vermilion.”

Indeed, the Leadership Vermilion has created a different view of Vermilion Parish for the 114 participants.

“I think the program has been a tremendous success,” she said. “I watch the class go from being extremely quiet in the first session to being very comfortable about sharing their views and asking questions of the facilitators. Members of the class feel at ease in asking tough questions on what is good about the parish and what are the challenges our community is facing.” Ultimately, these meetings build a network of friends that want to see Vermilion move forward.

“The graduates gain a firsthand knowledge of what Vermilion has to offer. In my mind, Leadership Vermilion spells progress in our community.”

Those who have taken part certainly share that sentiment.

“Leadership Vermilion has made a tremendous difference in the way I do business. By being a better educated business man, Leadership Vermilion has taught me how our parish works and what being a business leader means to our parish,” said Gerrod Brasseux, owner of Brasseux’s Hardware and a Class VI graduate of the program.

By Shaun Hearen, Originally published in the Abbeville Meridional September 5, 2021