Helping the community, building relationships and cultivating a better Pensacola society is what every participant of the 60-member Leadership Pensacola (LeaP) class of 2023 wants to accomplish.

So, the class teamed up with C.A. Weis Elementary School to create a “Care Closet” for students to access basic need items at no cost including hygiene/personal care, clothing and nutritious, easy-to-take-home food.

The class is also partnering with Feeding the Gulf Coast to tackle food insecurity on a broader scale with the School Pantry Program. The program will provide children with easy access to nutritious, nonperishable and easily consumed food and other necessities through the Ebonwood, Brownsville and Wedgewood community centers.

Class member Lakeila Robinson, who by day works to improve the health of women and their babies at Escambia County Healthy Start Coalition, said she wants this project to be just a first step.

“I joined Leadership Pensacola to be a part of my community and learn more about my community and to actually … do something about the challenges we are facing and also to connect with other organizations and their leaders,” Robinson said. “Getting to know the people of our community and just to see how we all can get together and basically try to work together and solve some of the problems we are having or even bring in new initiatives.”

Leadership Pensacola, a program of the Pensacola Chamber Foundation, helps cultivate community leaders and teaches them about existing issues in Pensacola communities and about finding solutions. More than 1,900 people have completed the program since it was created in 1982.

Each class is presented with a choice of potential partner nonprofits with projects they are trying to accomplish within the community.

This year’s class decided on the Care Closet and pantry program as initiatives with hopes the projects will be sustained after the class ends. The two initiatives are projected to help over 800 households — 500 families at C.A. Weis and 300 through the School Pantry Program.

The LeaP projects collected more than 4,000 items to be used in their pantry and closet, including soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks, underwear, batteries, cleaning supplies, other toiletries and food items. The class also surpassed its overall goal of $60,000 in donations, collecting $67,000.

The 2023 projects are not intended as a one and done solution. Everyone in the program wants the initiatives to last for years to come. And while the projects are helping improve the community, the work also has lifelong benefits for class members.

“You get to overcome all the things that normally divide us. The thing is, it’s not about race, it’s not about politics or religion, it’s about community — what can we do as a group to make that happen,” said LeaP class member Craig Hindsman. “I think for me, that was the biggest eye opener, is all the things that would divide us, didn’t … this group is showing me, I don’t have to agree with you in all aspects. We don’t have to think alike, walk alike, talk alike or dress alike. You can get some stuff done in this community.”

Originally posted by Pensacola News Journal

By Kamal Morgan