It's Leadership Walton's monthly meeting inside the Christian International church. David Goetsch, vice-president emeritus of Northwest Florida State College and author of more than 70 books on topics such as leadership and management is in front of the room.

He asks the group for their craziest/most creative solution to this problem: getting a flat tire on the way to work. Answers vary.

"Call everyone at work and make them come to you."

"Buy a new car."

"Call a spaceship."

The last one gets his attention.

"This is what I'm looking for," he said. "Exercises like this are a good way to get everyone involved and it helps those who are shy and reticent to share ideas."

It's tips like these that have sent business leaders from all over Walton County to apply for Leadership Walton since 2000.

"We've done everything from learning the fundamentals of business to putting skills to the test by playing different roles and touring businesses and organization throughout Walton County," said Lori Leath Smith, director of public relations and marketing for Seaside.

Tim Lamica, corporate services manager at CHELCO, said the classes have made him a better person and manager.

"Not only is it good networking with business leaders and future leaders, but I've learned more about myself and how to apply my personality traits into leadership roles," he said.  

However, in May, when the 2013-2014 Leadership Walton class graduates, they'll leave with more than business skills.

As part of the program, members choose a project that will benefit the local community. This year, members chose to represent both North and South Walton with two separate projects. The team of 15 have been busy patching and painting walls, replacing carpets and even purchased and installing a flat screen television at The Arc of Walton County in DeFuniak Springs. They also spruced up the South Walton Senior Center with new patio furniture and various small projects within the office space.

It was Camile Burlison, director of membership development at the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce, who presented the idea of working with The Arc of Walton County to her class. She surveyed the needs of non-profits within the chamber and came across Arc.

"I toured the facility and talked with Kim Lonas, the executive director who is an amazing woman," Burlison said. "It really touched me."

The Arc is a national organization that advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Their local office, in DeFuniak Springs, partners with the Chautauqua Learn and Serve Charter School to provide service to local individuals.

After several other class members visited Walton County's Arc, there was no convincing needed when choosing to support the organization.

"It has been fun working with the team members knowing that we're making a difference," said Katina Laird, assistant supervisor at Walton County Tax Collector. "We've had the chance to meet a few of the clients they serve, which was a great inspiration."

With a little more than a month until graduation, the service projects are not yet complete. The team is continuing to raise money to purchase supplies for each organization's projects. The goal is $5,000.

"The organizations are growing," Burlison said. "Especially Arc since they provide services to Bay and Okaloosa County as well. As the programs grow, they're going to need updates."

And after eight months of Leadership Walton, these 15 people aren't classmates anymore, they're friends.

"I'm so glad I did this," said Wilmer Stafford, director of Walton County Public Works. "When I started, I knew one guy. Now, they're all my friends. I know I can count on them."


WANT TO JOIN? If you're interested in joining Leadership Walton, contact the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce and visit



WANT TO HELP? Contact Camile Burlison by email or by phone at 267-0683.