The following was submitted by the Chester County Intermediate Unit.
A handful of Phoenixville leaders gathered for lunch to discuss the value of non-profit careers and the characteristics of good leadership, but the dynamics of the meeting were rather unusual. That’s because Dr. Louis Beccaria, CEO of the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, was seated amongst select teenage student leaders at the Technical College High School (TCHS) Pickering Campus for its very first “Lunch with Leaders” session.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here to share lunch and thoughts on leadership with you,” Dr. Beccaria said to students. “If you remember nothing else from today, please try to remember that it’s very important when seeking out a career to do something you have a passion for.”
Seated around the lunch table were select student leaders from the TCHS Pickering community, including an officer in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC), an Eagle Scout, a few class presidents, one campus ambassador and various representatives from career and technical education organizations like SkillsUSA and Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). Together they discussed the 11 characteristics of leadership and reflected on their experiences “at the top.”
“Being a leader means you can guide people to do the right thing and motivate them to do things they would never believe they could do,” said Myra Sanchez, a senior in the Health Occupations program and president of the TCHS Pickering chapter of Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA). She went on to describe two new HOSA initiatives that have required this skill, including a volunteer partnership with the Southeastern Veterans Center in Spring City and a health and wellness program in local middle schools.
For all students, becoming a leader has changed them for the better.
“Before I came to this school, I was always the shy one,” said Tanya Curtis, a senior in the Carpentry program and current SkillsUSA parliamentarian. “But once I became a leader, I broke out of my shell. I realized I had an impact on people’s lives. It is a good feeling that you can make a difference in that way.”
Dr. Beccaria has over 40 years of leadership experience in the non-profit arena, including more than a decade as CEO of the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation. He described the foundation’s role as “more than just a corner ATM machine” where organizations submit grant requests and receive money. In addition to funding non-profits like The Clinic in Phoenixville and Community Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM) in West Chester, Dr. Beccaria said the foundation has partnered with other organizations to develop innovative new programs that promote community health.
In each case, Dr. Beccaria said he not only learned the importance of being well-organized and thinking outside the box, but also that leaders need to be team players. He related the concept to TCHS Pickering by identifying the principal, the assistant principal, teachers, students, kitchen employees and maintenance workers as members of a team.
“We have a tendency in our world today, regretfully, to not recognize everyone on the totem pole of an organization,” he said, offering the example of how building custodians rarely get a pat on the back for clean hallways and classrooms. “But they are important members of the team. If you don’t have a clean building that functions well, the rest of the education that goes on here will not function properly.”
By following this and other pieces of advice, gleaned from decades as a leader in the non-profit world, Dr. Beccaria said he is confident students will be successful. But he added that the most important aspect of any career is sufficient psychological income.
“If you really love what you do, you will never work a day in your life,” he concluded.
The Lunch with Leaders series is a new monthly initiative that brings a community leader to the lunch table with a select group of students. During these luncheons, future leaders will gain insight into real world leadership skills, challenges and benefits. Dr. Joseph O’Brien, executive director of the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU), will be the featured leader in December.