Leading Edge Program Develops Lasting Connections

The Grand Rapids Chamber’s suite of leadership programs works to intentionally curate groups of cross-sector and cross-community individuals to learn and grow together. Participants work on their individual leadership skills and how to become better leaders within their organizations, but also, how to work together to be better leaders for our community as a whole.

Among these programs is Leading Edge. This leadership cohort is designed specifically for women and works to foster growth and connections that will go beyond the class.

Leading Edge Program Develops Lasting Connections 2Our 2021 Leading Edge Cohort 1 faced unique challenges as they completed the program virtually. That didn’t stop thirteen incredible women from having an impactful experience, however.

Norina Cadili, Assistant General Manager at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids previously participated in Emerging Leaders before signing on to participate in this cohort. With the struggles brought on by the pandemic, especially within the hospitality industry, she was missing connections – and people. “The timing couldn’t have been more perfect,” Norina shared. “I felt ready to reengage and reconnect after a difficult year.”

Leading Edge Program Develops Lasting Connections 1“I know the virtual dynamics are different than in person, but it certainly did not impact the experience in a negative way,” Norina continued. “I really enjoyed the breakout conversations with this incredible group of women.”

For Paola Carlson, Owner of Pochi’s Sweet Designs, participating in the program meant stepping out of her comfort zone. A Colombia native and Spanish speaker, Paola has been in the Grand Rapids area for three years. In addition to making new connections and growing as a leader, Paola also saw the opportunity as a chance to expand her English skills.

In the program, Paola and the other participants found a unique support system. They were all rooting for each other’s success. They were able to open up, get vulnerable and share personal experiences with each other. Together, they each gained 12 new cheerleaders, advocates and allies.

Leading Edge Program Develops Lasting ConnectionsOut of this came an opportunity for Norina and Paola. They collaborated on a Mother’s Day package between JW Marriott and Pochi’s Sweet Designs. This partnership proved mutually beneficial for both parties – not only did it help create a unique, luxury experience for mothers at JW Marriott, but it also highlighted Paola’s business as a women-owned company, exposing her to new opportunities.

Paola shared, “I’m so thankful I found the courage to put myself out there. This program was an excellent opportunity for me and my business. Even one connection can lead to many more.”

Program facilitator Barbara Rapaport often shares that the answers are in the room. Participating in leadership programs like Leading Edge make the room bigger. When there are more people involved, the answers are easier to find, and there’s an opportunity for greater impact in the community.

Congratulations to Leading Edge Cohort 1: Melissa Boman, Norina Cadili, Paola Carlson, Sonia Dolmia, Robin Fox, Gabriella Garcia, Lindsay Kronemeyer, Elise Kutt, Kiran Patel, Melissa Peraino, Melanie Swiftney, Allison VanLiere, Mary Winn.


Applications are now open for Cohorts 2 & 3! Learn more here.


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