Leadership Grand Rapids 2022: Opening Retreat

Leadership Grand Rapids 2022 Blog Series: Opening Retre|Leadership Grand Rapids 2022: Opening Retreat|Leadership Grand Rapids 2022: Opening Retreat 1

It was a power packed two days of the Opening Retreat of LGR 2022. We found out a new baby girl is on the way, celebrated proud graduates in the family, supported our art prize contestants, cheered on new homes, talked about family transitions, and heard amazing poetry. All this in addition to the impactful critical conversations.

If there is one thing in common between all 30 years of the LGR alumni is that each cohort unequivocally claim to be the best class ever. And so I say – ”Ready or not, here we come the best of LGR #Classof2022!!”

Becoming Part of a Longstanding Legacy

We started the first day with a heavy breakfast and warm welcome from Rick Baker, President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber.

Rick shared about the legacy of the LGR program. He reminded us of the privilege and power we hold as a group and as individuals in this community. I could not help but remember the words from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in Spider Man – “With great power comes greater responsibility.” This was actually first said by Voltaire. We were encouraged by Rick to lean in and engage more in the program as we transition from leaders to community trustees.

Leadership Grand Rapids 2022: Opening Retreat 1

Pushing Past the Famous LGR Name Game

The legacy of the name game, led by Dave Vermilye, put our grey cells to work. We did fairly well in remembering the adjective, the emotion and the name of our team members.

After spending close to 48 hours with the group, we surely are more comfortable now with names than when we first met. Following the name game, we worked on another exercise which asked us to meet with three people to answer random questions on a pack of cards. Some of the most impactful questions that we talked through as a group were:

  • If you were to be another ethnicity in this generation. What would that be?
  • What was the most important conversation you ever had?
  • What was an experience in the past that you would want to re-live without changing?

As we continued to get to know each other and build trust, we discussed couple of questions that spurred creativity and transparency. In small groups we shared our thoughts on the below questions and drew out pictures to represent our ideas and thoughts:

  • What do you need from this group so that you feel like you can step in?
  • What do you need from this group to recover from a misstep?

Each of us come from unique backgrounds and experiences. We talked about empathy, trust, transparency, listening to learn, having each other’s back when we fall, staying curious and building bridges.

Committing to Knowledge and Action

Our retreat would not be complete without a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We were joined by Marlene Kowalski Braun (LGR 2018) and Ken James (LGR 2021) to discuss – Committing to Knowledge and Action as a Community Trustee. The activity that required us to write down what people can and cannot perceive when they see us was eye opening for me.

We talked about safe space vs brave space, intersectionality, systemic oppression, and equity versus equality. We discussed how this was a journey for all of us. I loved a quote from Maya Angelo – “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Leadership Grand Rapids 2022: Opening Retreat

Fun-Fueled Learning

We ended the first day with another traditional activity of LGR, Jeopardy. We met few of the legends of LGR – Jim Williams (LGR 1993), Sharon Smith (LGR 1993) and Michelle Behrenwald (LGR 1997). It was great to participate (and win?!) in the game. We learned about our community, history, and trustees. Some of us also made valuable suggestions to improve that activity. We ended with impactful conversations, partying, dancing, and much more fun stuff!!

One of the main goals of the retreat was to discuss how we can have productive conflicts by understanding our own styles and the styles of the group. We did several activities that drew out key observations about ourselves as individuals and within a group. We got to know others from the group that had similar styles. We talked through ways we can challenge our thinking and build each other up by understanding and applying the concepts.

For me, the highlights were the two group activities: 1) Similar to the lava game where we each had to cross from our island to the one across ours. 2) Story telling of the same activity assuming a 8 year old audience. There were a lot of funny and creative reflections that we witnessed during these two activities!

Reflecting on Growth Amidst Greatness

The best was saved for the last. We were asked to think about how we would answer the question – “How would you describe LGR and what you did the two days at the LGR 2022 opening retreat?” There were so many moving and powerful reflections. It was one of the most emotional moments for me. I was standing amidst greatness; I now have a group of friends that are willing to fight along my side to remove barriers for our community towards an equitable and thriving future. It was a safe and amazing place where personal, professional and community circles came perfectly together. I cannot wait to ride along this lifetime journey with these wonderful community trustees!

I would like to end it with a quote from our very own Gary Wade, “The LGR experience is ‘game changer’. Forty strangers, over 48 hours, realizing they can empower each other and impact the Grand Rapids community… that’s priceless! The diversity of our group is our strength. We will wrestle to understand each other and develop potential resolutions to our community’s current struggles. The best is yet to come. #LGRStrong!”


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