Community Stories

Leadership Huntsville Masters Program Accepting Applications

It started with one simple quote.

Linda Spalla, told the Leadership Huntsville Masters class, “Once you retire, remember the income is fixed; the out-go is your choice.” Paula Cushman was in the audience when those words hit her hard.

Paula had worked her way up through the NASA and Department of Defense ranks over the years, retiring as the president of a defense company. She even had an award named after her. But, as her professional career was winding down, she heard the one sentence that sparked her to do more with her free time.

Right then, Paula was moved to action.

She upped her community involvement. She started a fund through the Community Foundation that ended up helping countless numbers of teachers and students across the area. Because of the fund Paula started, two teachers at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind got their degrees in teaching braille. Two students at the same school got guide dogs. School libraries are now stocked with books and materials—Paula doesn’t even know all of the ways her fund has helped the community, but she does know it started with that one moment, sitting in the Leadership Huntsville Masters program, when she knew her retirement would be used for more than coffee dates and golf.

It’s also worth noting that Paula was hesitant to share all the good her fund has done. One of the main ideas behind Leadership Huntsville is that the individual contributor isn’t important. What matters is the benefit to the community.

Paula enrolled in the Leadership Huntsville Master’s class before she even retired to learn more about what was going on in the area, but she couldn’t have imagined then that the program would lead her to help so many other underserved people.

“It opened my eyes to other opportunities,” Paula said. “I was almost ashamed of what I didn’t know about my own home. I had been here for 30 years.”

It’s these moments, these snowball effects, that Leadership Huntsville’s Masters program is looking to create. Other Leadership Huntsville programs are designed to help working professionals learn more about the needs in the area, but the Masters program focuses on equipping those nearing retirement with the skills they will need to make an impact after they leave the workforce.

This abbreviated program consists of two, day sessions each month for four months. The Masters program is more affordable as well. Since some of these attendees are retired and no longer work at a company that may sponsor their program fees, the cost of the Masters program is only $500.

Linda Akenhead had a similar experience at the Masters program. Linda’s résumé reads like a list of nonprofits in Huntsville—Huntsville Symphony Orchestra Guild, Committee of 100. She’s been on boards and committees, teams and programs. After years working in healthcare, Linda retired early and devoted her life to raising her children and giving back to the community.

When Linda turned 50, she needed a little extra spark of motivation, so she enrolled in Leadership Huntsville’s Masters program. After all, the first time she went through a Leadership Huntsville program was 17 years earlier, and it changed the way she saw Madison County.

Surely the needs of the area had changed within that time, she thought, and she was ready to see what she could do to help.

While Linda was always involved with varied outreach opportunities, it was the Masters program that gave her the confidence and skills she needed to get into bigger roles at her various nonprofits.

“Each time, I don’t mind stepping up because the Masters program has equipped me with the tools to be a better leader—how to encourage, how to listen, how to communicate,” Linda said.

These examples are only a tiny portion of the work that Paula and Linda do each year, but they showcase how Leadership Huntsville’s Master program inspires retiring professionals.

If you would like to be part of the upcoming session, submit an application by clicking here.

The deadline to apply is January 6, 2017.

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