Tag: Forward Janesville

Linda Ross,
Executive Director


Editor’s note: As a Leadership Development Academy alum (Class of 2013-14), Linda Ross is passionate about the mission of the organization and enjoys working as  Executive Director/Program Facilitator. Wisdom acquired at LDA empowers her to continue her success in business.  She is excited to work with others to obtain their leadership goals.

Volunteering and Mini-Projects

Volunteering can change your life and the lives of others.  The Leadership Development Academy class learned all about that from our panel of experts, then were able to put what they learned into practice.  In the morning we met at IronTek in Beloit.  During the afternoon,  participants divided up into teams and worked on mini-projects at non-profits in Beloit.

A Panel who Loves Volunteers!

Have you ever been listening so intently to someone that you forgot to do something? I forgot to take the panel’s photo.  Yes, I did, so I’ll just have to tell you about it and show you a photo of a cute puppy available for adoption from one of our panel member’s non-profit.  I think you will be able to figure out which one it is from.

Our panel was moderated by Jennifer Johns from Mercyhealth, and included Donna Ambrose from Caritas, Michelle Matthys from First National Bank, Brett Frazier from the Rock County Humane Society, Sandy Johnson from CASA of Rock County and Jill Ayres from Mercy Hospital.  They are all passionate and love volunteers.  They find their volunteers from word of mouth, social gatherings, social media, and hopefully from this blog.

Volunteers are Customers

Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville has more than 81,000 volunteer hours recorded each year, the equivalent of more than 39 full time staff members.  Jill Ayres stressed the importance of choosing where you would like to volunteer based on your passion.  She said volunteers are her customers, so she makes sure to thank them every day, keep them busy and make time for them, so they feel important.

Volunteers Must be Committed

Sandy Johnson, who started as a volunteer for CASA, and is now the director, has walked the walk, so now she can talk the talk to the LDA class.  She makes sure to choose the right volunteers to serve at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Rock County.  Not everyone is cut out for the job.  They have to be committed, reliable and be willing to stay for as long as the child needs them.  Most of the children, who are served at CASA, are under age five and are great kids.  They need someone who will stick with them, because the last thing they need is another person to walk out of their lives.

Let Them Discover Their Passion

Volunteering has to be positive and have an element of fun, Brett Frazier from the Rock County Humane Society, told the participants.  You can’t place restrictions on volunteers.  Let them discover their passion.  A young person may come in the door thinking they want to walk dogs, then participate in a surgery and find they want to go to school to be a vet tech. Don’t limit them.  Brett said some of the best volunteers go to organizations with opportunities or ideas they have for them.  Sometimes the ideas help shape the organization’s future.

Volunteering Makes You Humble

Find something you are passionate about.  Boards don’t need bodies, they need working bodies. When you are at events, you had better be representing boards you are sitting on. Great advice from Michelle Matthys from First National Bank.  She enjoys networking and has become friends with those she is on boards with.  As humans, we are selfish and volunteering makes you humble, she told the class.  Don’t volunteer for personal gain.  If you have an agenda, don’t volunteer.  If you are looking to help others and give back, volunteering is for you.

Feedback is Important

Donna Ambrose, from Caritas, has learned a lot of skills from volunteers and volunteering, such as human resource skills.  People need to find their niche or professional skill set and give time to organizations that fit them.  Donna has been seeing an increase in volunteers, especially from high schools and first responders.  She likes feedback from volunteers, because if she doesn’t know something is wrong, she can’t fix it.  Flexibility and people who understand their mission are her best volunteers.

All of our panel had heartwarming stories to tell about their volunteers.  They said they could go on and on.  Volunteering changes people and organizations.  Most non-profits could not do the great work they do without them.  Volunteer and change the community you live in!

Benefits of Volunteering

Erin Loveland

Erin Loveland shared the benefits of volunteering.  She has been with House of Mercy for years and has a heart for the homeless and for volunteers.  Many of us don’t think about most volunteer opportunities being in informal settings, such as shoveling for your neighbor or making dinner for someone who is sick.  People who volunteer have an increased sense of well being and mental health.  You can learn job skills and network.  Many community services would have to decrease without volunteer labor and Erin is grateful for those who volunteer.

School Leaders, Parks & Families

Speeches were on the agenda for those who couldn’t share at the last session.  Most chose to share Rock County’s great assets.  Teachers and school leaders, as well as the wonderful parks and businesses in our communities came up.  Families are admired.  We all have so much to be thankful for in the area we live in.  Look around you and pay attention, then thank others who make Rock County a better place to be.

Civic Responsibilities & Government

Dan Cunningham, from Forward Janesville, is very passionate about politics and government.  It shows.  Dan encouraged the participants to contact their legislators and local officials.  He said government is everywhere and we can make a big difference by getting involved locally.  A group from Rock County recently took a trip to Washington DC, and Dan, who used to work there, said it feels “normal”.  Government is not built to change quickly and it takes time to see results.  Government is everywhere in our lives, so get involved and make a difference, he told the class.

Dan Cunningham

Greater Beloit Chamber & IronTek

The Greater Beloit Chamber hosted us at Irontek and provided a taco bar for lunch.  They always treat us so well and we appreciate their hospitality!  If you have not been to the business incubator to visit, be sure to stop by soon.  

Megan O’Leary Photography

Irontek was a great place for the class to take group and team photos.  The space is bright, airy and interesting.  Megan O’Leary Photography does a fantastic job for us each year.  Come back next month to see the photos.


In the afternoon, the class was able to put their volunteer skills into practice.  Four non-profits in Beloit needed help, so the class pitched in to make a difference in their community.  

Stateline Boys & Girls Club

One of the teams worked at the Stateline Boys & Girls Club.  The weather was beautiful, so they started in an outside garage area, then moved into organizing their art classroom and inside storage areas. They filled two dumpsters and really made a difference for them.

Beloit Domestic Violence Survivor Center

Another team helped out at the Beloit Domestic Violence Survivor Center.  They worked on painting their main bathroom and a wall in their living room.  It looked fresh and clean when they were finished.

Community Action

Community Action was looking for help in their Community Garden, as well as doing some odd jobs at one of the houses they are working on in the Merrill neighborhood.  I was impressed with the amount of work they had done by the time I got there.


Caritas needed help unloading their Second Harvest Food Bank Truck. Once unloaded, the team helped inside with sorting, labeling and many other jobs that needed to be done.  It was fun to watch everyone so eager to tackle each job with gusto.

Making a Difference

Another great day at the Leadership Development Academy session, making a difference in our communities by giving back and volunteering.  Nonprofits always need help, so find one that fits your skill set and get started today!

Linda Ross,
Executive Director

Editor’s note: As a Leadership Development Academy alum (Class of 2013-14), Linda Ross is passionate about the mission of the organization and enjoys working as  Executive Director/Program Facilitator. Wisdom acquired at LDA empowers her to continue her success in business.  She is excited to work with others to obtain their leadership goals.

Leadership, Networking and Fundraising

How would you define “leadership”?  Does a leader ever doubt they are a leader?  Who inspires you? How do you network?  How should we go about fundraising?  These questions and more were answered at the December session of the Leadership Development Academy (LDA).  We met at SSM Health St Mary’s Hospital in Janesville.


The day started with a brainstorming session led by AmyJo Verbeten, from SSM Health and a LDA board member.  AmyJo asked participants what qualities good leaders had.  Their answers were right on target.  Leaders listen, have integrity, serve, are humble, have integrity, vision and more.  These answers were evident in the next session during our leadership panel.  

Leadership Panel

The leadership panel was nothing short of phenomenal.  Joining us for the panel was Larry Squire from Johnson Bank, Mitch Benson from Prent Corporation, Jane Blain Gilbertson from Blain Supply and Dr. David Clark from Central Christian Church.  The experience, humility, wisdom and passion on this panel were second to none.  In my opinion, it was the best panel I have ever had the pleasure to listen to.  They are all great servant-leaders in our community.  Hearing from the leaders and understanding that they have struggled through their journey to get to where they are, helps others to keep moving forward when they are feeling inadequate.

Powerful Advice

Sharing with the participants, the panel gave expert advice.  Leaders should have vision, a fire in their belly, character (can you be trusted) and skills; in that order.  If you are great with the first three, skills will come and others will follow.  A leader must know when to talk and when to listen.  Leaders don’t build followers, they build more leaders.  The culture of your organization in most important. You must know where you need to grow, so you can teach others how to grow.  Find a career you like and one you can thrive in.  Momentum is everything.  See your business as a game you want to win.  Have a mentor and be a mentor.  Everyone is a leader, because everyone is a parent, spouse, friend or someone others follow.  I think  you get the picture.  It truly was extraordinary!


Craig DeGarmo, from DeGarmo Plumbing, and Jen DeGarmo, from FIDO, shared with the class about networking.  A great team and engaging, Craig and Jen compared what the experts say about networking and what has worked for them.  Ask open ended questions.  Be intentional.  Be yourself.  Keep your eyes open for networking opportunities. Listen. Network with the right people.  They put the class at ease for the Nothing But Net session they would experience after lunch.

Warm Cookies and Hot Chocolate

SSM Health provided lunch and snacks throughout the day.  It was all delicious and we were spoiled by hot chocolate with marshmallows and warm Christmas cookies in the afternoon.  The class wants to meet here every month!  

Nothing But Net

Forward Janesville joined the Leadership Development Academy and the Greater Beloit Chamber for the largest Nothing But Net event they have ever held!  More than 50 people networked during the lunch hour.  JoLynn Burden, from Forward Janesville, organized the event and made it fun for all.  From finding others to form the best poker hand, to collecting business cards and introducing yourself, to playing Bingo, everyone was laughing and having a good time, while making connections.  It was a very non-intimidating way to network and in the end, everyone walked away with new connections and smiles on their faces.

Fundraising Panel

In the afternoon, fundraising was the name of the game.  Each team is working on a team project and many of them will need to do some fundraising to support their project.  Several of the participants have never had fundraising experience, so we brought in a few experts to share with them how it is done.  Our panel was a bit short, because one panel member’s hot water heater broke that morning and another had a family emergency, so they weren’t able to make it.  Thankfully, during our Nothing But Net session, I met someone who does fundraising for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and she was able to stay and help out with the afternoon sessions.  She stepped up like any great leader would.  Truly gracious and helpful!

Fundraising is like a “Dating Experience”

On the panel were Jen Johns from Mercy Health System and an LDA board member, Joe Jimenez from KANDU Industries and an LDA board member, Jon Urish from Beloit College and Abby Leverenz from the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  The panel gave great advice to the class.  They told them to not forget to ask people who have given in the past.  Know who you are asking.  Dig and see who they have given to in the past.  They also explained how fundraising is like a “dating experience” and is built on relationships.  It was very informative and help the class gain knowledge to use during the last session of the day.

Fundraising Simulation

During the last session we had a fundraising simulation.  Participants worked with their teams to come up with a presentation to give to the panel to ask for money for their projects.  I helped out on the panel for the simulation.  The panel represented a small business, a wealthy widow, a large corporation, a single person living in the city, a single mom concerned with social issues, a married couple and a community foundation.

This simulation gave the class experience in making the ask and the panel gave feedback about why they would or would not give money to the team.  Some of the panel gave money, because they felt it was an issue they would support.  Not everyone gave money to every cause, which is what happens in real life.  The class learned how to present their project and how to ask for funding.  We are hoping they are now equipped to go out and seek the funds they need to support their projects.

Powerful Day!

We had a full day learning from some top-notch leaders in our area about what leadership is, how to be effective at networking and how to support projects with fundraising.  It was a busy day, filled with laughter and sharing, and in my opinion, one of the best Leadership Development Academy  sessions we have had.   I can’t wait until next month!

Linda Ross, Executive Director

Linda Ross, Executive Director

Editor’s note: As a Leadership Development Academy alum (Class of 2013-14), Linda Ross is passionate about the mission of the organization and enjoys working as  Executive Director/Program Facilitator. Wisdom acquired at LDA empowers her to continue her success in business.  She is excited to work with others to obtain their leadership goals.

Questioning Economic Development

Have you ever wondered what economic development is all about?  What does it take to bring a company to Rock County?  How many agencies are involved?  What is the process?  What is the timeline?  Is Rock County ready to welcome new businesses?  These questions and more were answered when the Leadership Development Academy (LDA) met in November for an economic development session at Blain Supply.  

Blain Supply

Our morning began with a welcome and tour with Bill Schendt from Blain Supply.  He has been with Blain Supply for 34 years and you can tell his is very passionate about the company.  Bill explained to the participants why mentoring is so important. You need to seek one and be one.  Leadership, once developed, must be passed on.


Touring Blain Supply was interesting.  We met in their conference center, a top-notch facility.  They invest a great deal in their people and it shows by their dedication and hard work.  Going behind the scenes, we visited the distribution center, photography studio and call center.  


Economic Development Tour of Janesville and Milton

The sun was shining as we were touring Janesville and Milton in a VanGalder motor coach.  James Otterstein from the Rock County Development Alliance, John Beckord from Forward Janesville and Al Hulick from the City of Milton, shared  what was happening in our area.  Rock County was the first place in the country to be shovel ready.  This means there are zero barriers for a company to build.  Places on our route included downtown Janesville, the GM property, southside industrial corridor and Milton’s business park.


Advanced Manufacturing Center

In Milton, Dr Tracy Pierner, from Blackhawk Technical College (BTC), welcomed us to the Advanced Manufacturing Center.  Many exciting changes are happening at BTC and they are ready and willing to help businesses and students adapt to changing needs.  Dr. Garry Krause took us on a tour of the facility. Students will be well equipped after training at this facility.

Back to Blain Supply for a great lunch and team project work.  The project teams are narrowing their focus and will soon be announcing their projects.  Exciting!

Economic Development 101

Economic Development 101 was the name of the game in the afternoon.  There are not many people who have as much information inside their heads as James Otterstein does.  He really knows his stuff!  He shared numbers and let the class know Rock County is stronger in our economy today, than we were in 2007.  James couldn’t tell us all his secrets, but he let us know several good things are on the horizon.  Thankfully, we are moving in the right direction.  This wouldn’t happen without the dedication and teamwork of several agencies in our area.


“Project Cougar”

Each project team worked on a case study in the afternoon, trying to convince “Project Cougar”, a new company coming to the area, that Rock County was the place they should locate their business.  They discovered there is a great deal that goes into these presentations, which includes many agencies and organizations working together.  The competition is fierce, the stakes are high and it is not as easy as it looks.

The class presented their solutions to James Otterstein, and Dan Cunningham from Forward Janesville.  They threw out some economic development questions that stumped the teams and were surprised when they had answers to others.  In the end, I think the class decided to leave it to the professionals and be thankful for the great job they are doing in Rock County.

All in all, it was a day packed with information and a day that will be remembered as the class shares with others.  Economic development can be overwhelming and exciting at the same time.  We are happy to leave it with the professionals and are glad they shared with us this month.

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