ABOVE: Ernie Reynolds, Leadership Franklin class of ’16-17, Eric Stuckey, ’09-10, Paula Harris, ’10-11, Mark Hilty, ’17-18, Robert Blair, ’99-00.

ABOVE: Ernie Reynolds, Leadership Franklin class of ’16-17, Eric Stuckey, ’09-10, Paula Harris, ’10-11, Mark Hilty, ’17-18, Robert Blair, ’99-00.


Franklin Home Page

(Tuesday, April 17, 2018) 


“Serving the community in which you live has been foundational to me since childhood. It is essential to the health of any community that those within it take responsibility to make it better. Service comes in many forms because the needs of a community are vast and different. Yet it is because of the many diverse needs within our community that each of us can find our own way to serve. Franklin is blessed to have a large number of servant leaders and volunteers who collaborate in many ways to make our community a better place. For over 20 years, Leadership Franklin has been a driving force to bring those leaders together for the benefit of all.” — Founding Leadership Franklin Board member Julian Bibb

The impact of the Leadership Franklin program is storied and far reaching.

Jewels of the Franklin landscape including the brand-new Pocket Park, Bicentennial Park, the McLemore House Historic Audio Tour, and the Driving Tour from the Carter House to the Carnton Plantation. all are program projects of Leadership Franklin classes. An award-winning children’s book, Where Are Bucky and Bonnie? was published and Mimi’s Room – a space of comfort for little ones – at the Williamson County Juvenile Court – was renovated showing the bandwidth of the program’s impact.

Graduates of the Leadership Franklin program humbly continue to serve the community. They are a network of servant leaders lending their expertise and sweat equity throughout Franklin and Williamson County including the areas of historic preservation, elected government positions, non-profit boards, in churches, in schools, and answering emerging quality of life issues such as affordable housing.

And while the impact of the program is deep and wide in its reach, the more than 400 graduates of the program relate to each other as though family, seeking each other out for advice, help, or simply to check in with each other. This group is a force of folks leaning in on their talents to keep Franklin great.

A friendly family of over 400 members. That’s a big family tree with an exponential amount of connections brought together by a calling to serve.

The community of Franklin is sought after, internationally, as a place to live and to work. Growth in residents and businesses relocating to Franklin is exponential. With each new family that arrives, each corporation that changes their address to a Franklin zip code, or everny new small business putting out its shingle there, is a sense of belonging as they stroll past Franklin Theatre on their way to Puckett’s for a meal or descend on Cool Springs to shop.

But how does someone begin to bring their talents and expertise to help meet the needs of the community? How can someone get involved in service to have an impact on the Franklin community if you are in a career or life stage transition? What does it take? Who do I need to know? When can I begin to help my neighbor?

As a Leadership Franklin alum myself (Class of ’13-14), I knew reaching out to the program’s Executive Director Paula Harris ’10-11 and Associate Executive Director Debbie Henry, ’10-11 would help answer these questions. We invited members of this Leadership Franklin “family” to talk about their experiences in the program and how to get engaged in opportunities of community impact.

Leadership Franklin Executive Director Paula Harris ’10-11 and Associate Executive Director Debbie Henry ’10-11.

Meeting at City Hall in downtown Franklin, I had the pleasure of talking with City Administrator Eric Stuckey ,’09-10, Ernie Reynolds, ’16-17, CEO of Outdoor Classic Structures and a native of this area, Robert Blair, ‘’99-00, born and raised in Franklin consummate community leader whose service includes over 15 years on the Franklin Special School District School Board, Mark Hilty, ’17-18, Franklin assistant city administrator, and Paula Harris, ’10-11, current Leadership Franklin Executive Director whose Franklin roots reach back to the Pioneer days.

The room was buzzing as soon as we assembled. I realized that I would not have met these folks were it not for the program. We began by talking about how their favorite program day influenced their choices of service.

I am ahead of myself just a bit. Some important background information is necessary to fully understand the value of this program and the ease with which anyone can begin to serve in this community.

For more than 20 years, Leadership Franklin has provided for a cohort of 20 members an almost year-long program aimed to provide class members with knowledge, network connections, and resources to bring forth new ideas to serve the citizens of Franklin and Williamson County. Created by a team of Franklin community leaders including long-time resident and first program Executive Director Caroline Cross, the program seeks to grow a citizenry of service-oriented people.

The monthly day-long session topics are: history, government, business, law enforcement, media, education, quality of life and land resources. Land resources is a brand-new program day this year. This exposure to Franklin and the county help groups within the class create a project that supports or improves some aspect of the community.

“It’s a sun up to sun down proposition,” says Debbie Henry. “And worth every minute of it. Most participants are amazed at the ground we cover, literally, in a day and how much they learn. I often hear them say, ‘I had no idea.’ or “Who knew?’ at the end of a program day.”

The previous class creates the current classes program days. According to Paula Harris, this attribute of the program, “… keeps Leadership Franklin nimble in its response to current concerns as well as our beloved traditions and history. The Land Resources Day stemmed from a growing concern of the consequences of unchecked growth to the quality of life here in Franklin. If we can’t protect what we have, we will lose it. We can’t recreate the green spaces and historical integrity of this area.”

I asked those assembled what was their favorite day. The top-rated program days were Quality of Life, History, Education, and Government. Paula Harris sees Government Day as essential: “you’d be surprised at how many people in our community have not attended a Commission meeting or any type of government meeting. And don’t get me started on the lack of voter participation. Increasing that number is passion of mine.”

Robert Blair cited Education Day as one of the most meaningful in part because he was a teacher, but that day he learned about all the educational opportunities offered in the area. And although he graduated years ago from the program, he joins the current class for program days such as Education to continue to stay current in his role on the FSSD School Board and as an active citizen.

Mark Hilty and Ernie Reynolds were most touched in the areas of serving Franklin’s children.

For the first time during a program day, Mark, a father of five, watched a Juvenile Court Session. “It blew me away what these kids go through on their own. I sat there knowing I had to help in some way. And I will.”

Ernie, who once served on the Board of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) resigned from it to become an actual advocate for one child, told me, “Seeing the experiences of these children caused me to want a deeper connection to create a better future for at least one child. If walking alongside them through the court system because their parents couldn’t is helpful, then it is the least I can do.”

Eric Stuckey participated in a variety of other leadership programs in other states some larger than Leadership Franklin: “… [the program] showed me a depth in Franklin that I was not aware of before I moved here. It fascinates me that a city of 70-80,000 people has the reach Franklin has. It rivals larger cities in the quality and range of its citizens’ impact.”

Moving to the topic of connecting to the community to serve, everyone at the table suggested applying to Leadership Franklin by May 11, 2018 for next year’s class: www.leadershipfranklin.com/application/.

“I have lifelong friends because of Leadership Franklin’, Debbie Henry says. ‘If you live in Franklin or do business in this community, we would love to hear from you. And if you are a high school student who wants to learn about leadership in your community, we have the Youth Leadership Franklin program too: www.youthleadershipfranklin.org/.

Paula Harris adds, “The Leadership Franklin program helps people get involved if they are not already at the level of service they might want to be. This program embraces the good of what people bring to the community from their past communities to enrich Franklin.”

And if time doesn’t permit going through the Leadership Franklin program, what can someone do to get involved in the community?

“Oh goodness, says Robert Blair, just call me. I would be very happy to talk to you and introduce you to anyone in town that could be of help to you. I’ve done that for years. That’s what we all are supposed to do, welcome anyone in who says, “how can I help?”. All gathered suggested that before you commit to an organization spend some time learning about all the needs of the community and the organizations already providing services in those areas.

The Williamson Herald and Franklin Home Page were held up as great resources as well as the programming of Franklin Tomorrow with its Breakfast with the Mayors and Frank Talks events for folks looking for connections to serve. Joining the Rotary was also seen as an option for people transitioning to retirement or a career change.

As we close, Paula Harris sums it up best, “Serving in Franklin is so much more than just writing a check. You can see the impact you are having as you work along those you are serving. There are hundreds of opportunities to serve at very different levels of intensity. And the Franklin Leadership alums would be happy to help you find your way to a fulfilling place of service. Think of us as family. Just ask us for help.”

To help you find your way to serving:

Leadership Franklin is accepting applications for the Class of 2018-2019 through May 11.

Franklin Tomorrow https://franklintomorrow.org/

Deb Enright, Ed.D., Leadership Franklin class of 2013-14, is committed to helping folks find ways to bring their talents to nonprofit organizations just waiting to meet them.


Leadership Franklin has announced that applications are now being accepted for its twenty-third class, 2018-2019.

Applications may be downloaded here. Completed applications are due on or before May 11, 2018. Questions regarding the application process may be directed to Paula Harris, Executive Director, at 615.491.6536 (paula.harris@bargedesign.com) or Debbie Henry, Associate Director, at 615.628.0264 (dhenry@tmagroup.org).

Leadership Franklin is a non-profit community leadership organization dedicated to educating, informing and empowering leaders to improve the quality of life in Franklin and Williamson County.  Participants meet once per month for nine months, for a series of classes aimed at presenting and analyzing a particularly important segment of the community.  Classes focus on the areas of history, government, business, law enforcement, media, education and quality of life. The class begins with an opening day and retreat in August. 

Each year’s class is divided into four groups who develop a class project to be presented on graduation day.  Recent class projects include the Lake Dock at Harlinsdale Farm, a pocket park on Old Liberty Pike, a partnership between the Williamson County Sheriff’s Drug Task Force to present Get RAD (aka Get Real Against Drugs) informational sessions, and a video presentation of local visionaries chronicling the business impact of well-known local leaders in Franklin.


High school seniors and current college students who live in Williamson County are encouraged to apply for the scholarship to be awarded by Leadership Franklin. The non-profit organization will award one $1,500 scholarship to a student who meets the scholarship criteria.

Applicants must have a minimum 3.25 cumulative grade point average to be considered. A copy of the student’s transcript and a 500-word essay are part of the application requirement.

Scholarships are awarded based on a scoring process of scholarship application points: a combination of grade point average, school extra-curricular activities including sports and community outreach, and strength of writing/quality of essay. All students are encouraged to apply.

Applications are due March 2, 2018. Applications may be obtained here.


[Living Legacies in Williamson County: Mary Mills, Leadership Franklin Class of 2015 Video]

Mary Mills has been named the recipient of this year’s Caroline J. Cross Award for Leadership Franklin.

Mills, a lifelong Franklin resident, graduated from Franklin High School, and then headed for Tennessee State University where she earned an Administrative degree. She spent 39 years as a secretary at Johnson Elementary and as Principal at Franklin Middle School.

Mills once again served her community as Williamson County Commissioner for 17 years in the 11th district, after retiring from the school system. She is an active member of the African American Heritage Society and has been affiliated with the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce, Williamson Medical Center, Community Childcare, and the Williamson County Health Council.

The Caroline J. Cross Award was established to honor Mrs. Cross (Founding Executive Director) and create an ongoing award that identifies a leader in our community who exemplifies the values and lessons of Leadership Franklin. Criteria for nomination include leadership that motivates and inspires other individuals along with traits of creativity, character, dedication, and community service. Each year’s class submits nominations and selects an individual who makes a true impact in the community.

Past recipients of the award are: (LFA: Leadership Franklin Alumnus) Jimmy Gentry, Rogers Anderson, Julian Bibb III (LFA), Scott Roley (LFA), Janet Keck, Alma McLemore (LFA), Rick Warwick, Emily Magid, Paige Pitts (LFA), Dr. Joseph Willoughby


Leadership Franklin's class of 2017 showcase their project work during this year's graduation ceremony. 


Leadership Franklin has awarded its $1,500 scholarship to recent Independence High School 2017 graduate Ashley Haylett. Haylett plans to attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville this coming fall and will study courses to pursue a career as an animal nutritionist.

Haylett is an active student at Independence with leadership roles in clubs like Young Rotarian Interact Club and Girls Cotillion, as Student Ambassador and a student council representative. She volunteers outside of school extensively with both Williamson County and Tennessee 4-H programs, leading significant projects that mentor and develop teams. Haylett currently serves as the Tennessee Central Region All-Star Chief, as well as the Tennessee 4-H State Council Senior Representative.

The Junior Girl Scout Troop Leader has also volunteered with South Williamson Association and Special Olympic youth basketball leagues, GraceWorks Ministries, Inc., and Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home.

Scholarship applicants must have a minimum 3.0 cumulative grade point average to be considered. A copy of the student’s transcript and a 500-word essay are part of the application requirement. The contribution is awarded based on a combination of scholarship application points, community involvement, and quality of essay.


Brentwood Home Page

(Tuesday, June 27, 2017) 

United Way of Williamson County’s board of directors recently announced the recipients of more than $2 million in 2017-2018 program grants from the organization’s Community Care Fund.

The grants ranging from $347,000 to STARS, which serves students in Middle Tennessee with programs addressing violence, substance abuse and other issues; to $5,000 for Gentry’s Education Center at the Storefront, which provides tutoring and enrichment and other education programs.

The grants are the culmination of a months-long allocations process with more than 60 community volunteers serving on Citizens Review Panels. The goal of this process, which includes in-depth vetting of each applicant program’s administration, finances and effectiveness, is to ensure donor resources create the strongest impact on the individuals who comprise Williamson County and on the community as a whole.

“Our Citizens Review Panel volunteers live and/or work in this community, so they see its most pressing needs,” said United Way of Williamson County President and CEO Pam Bryant, in a press release announcing the grants. “These insights are crucial to ensuring Community Care Fund program investments create lasting solutions for our community’s Health, Education and Financial Stability needs.”

This year, volunteers allocated the most funding for Health-related programs at $1,381,911, or 69 percent of the total funds. This investment supports the community’s most vulnerable, providing access to health care, therapies, in-home assistance and supports needed to improve wellbeing and safety.

Education programs received $389,536 – 19 percent of the total fund – to remove barriers to learning and prepare students for successful, independent and productive futures.

Income-related programs help community members build more stable lives through job skills training and additional resources to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency. This year, volunteers allocated $242,000, or 12 percent of the total fund, to reduce the burdens of financial need.

With each of these investments, United Way of Williamson County’s Community Care Fund is investing in long-term, sustainable change for the community’s collective well-being. To view the details of this year’s community investments, visit uwwc.org/communityinvestments/.


Leadership Franklin is pleased to announce its class of 2017-18. 

Mike Alexander, Signs First – Franklin
Torrey Barnhill, Friends of Franklin Parks
Allena Bell, The Refuge Center for Counseling
Valencia Breckenridge, GraceWorks Ministries
Joni Cole, Gray’s on Main
Amy Dreiling, Attorney Law Magazine
Nena Graham, Williamson County Government
Chris Henson, Columbia State Community College
Mark Hilty, City of Franklin
Ricki Keckley, GoodWorks Unlimited, LLC
Zannie Martin, Williamson County Juvenile Court
Elizabeth McLaurin, The Land Trust for Tennessee
Sarah Meyerrose, Franklin Financial Network/FranklinSynergy Bank
Kevin Riggs, Franklin Community Church
Cyril Stewart, Cyril Stewart, LLC
Kristine Tallent, City of Franklin
JP Taylor, Franklin Police Department
John Wingo, Stites & Harbison
George Zubulake, Promotions, by George

IN THE NEWS: MAY 3, 2017

Williamson Herald

"Leadership Franklin 2017 group creates neighborhood park on Old Liberty Pike" | (Wednesday, May 3, 2017) | By Cassie Jones

A ribbon-cutting was held this week for a new neighborhood park at 204 Old Liberty Pike in Franklin. Leadership Franklin Class of 2017 members, Williamson Inc., the city of Franklin Parks Department, Aldermen Margaret Martin, 4th Ward, and Alderman at Large Brandy Blanton and community leaders attended the event.

Members of Leadership Franklin’s 2017 class worked with the city of Franklin to create the park in hopes to improve livability in the neighborhood by giving residents a place to sit, talk and enjoy the green space around them.   Franklin Synergy Bank sponsored benches for the park.

After the land was flooded in 2010, it was turned over to the city of Franklin with the thought that the land lying in the floodplain could never be built on.

“We wanted to partner with city parks to create a neighboring park for this area,” said Travis Dumke, one of the project members. “With it being in a floodplain, we had to figure out how to make this work.

“Our group worked with [Parks Director] Lisa Clayton and Brian Walker at the city of Franklin Parks Department to identify the need and to design the park itself.”

The city was looking to identify a usage of the land, and members of Leadership Franklin worked with city staff to design a peaceful space with benches and landscaping for the families nearby to walk to and enjoy.

Group members that participated in this project included Denise Andre, Williamson County General Sessions Court Judge; Travis Dumke, Franklin Synergy Bank; Adam Hicks, Skanska, USA; Tim Stillings, NCR Inc.;and Franklin Special School District school board member Amy Diaz-Barriga, city of Franklin.

“We took the opportunity to utilize this property to bring something good to the community that they could use and enjoy,” said Hicks.

Phase two of the project is set to include picnic tables and additional landscaping and trees that will border the property line.

“Our group could not have completed the project without the help of Blake Shelton Lawncare & Landscaping, who was contracted to complete the park,” Dumke said.


                                                    Valerie Romanko                                                                                                             Madison Ovies

                                                   Valerie Romanko                                                                                                             Madison Ovies

Leadership Franklin recently announced its 2016 scholarship recipients, Madison Ovies and Valerie Romanko, during the organization’s Twentieth Anniversary Celebration on April 7.

Madison Ovies is a May 2013 Franklin High School graduate and a current student at West Virginia Wesleyan College (WVWC) in Buckhannon, West Virginia. Madison, a Girl Scout, co-founded her alma mater’s Buddies Club that mentors students with special needs. She has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and Franklin Girls Cotillion. Madison is now a member of the Alpha Delta Pi Sorority where she has served in various positions and co-founded the college’s WVWC Buddies program that pairs students with local elementary students.

Valerie Romanko will graduate from Fred J. Page High School in May 2016. Valerie is actively involved in the school’s Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) chapter, YMCA Model United Nations, and United Way. She is a graduate of Youth Leadership Franklin and has participated in such programs as the Governor’s School for the Scientific Exploration of Tennessee Heritage and Vanderbilt University’s Summer Academy. Valerie plans to attend East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, after graduation. 

High school seniors and current college students who live in Williamson County were encouraged to apply for the scholarship awarded by Leadership Franklin. Scholarships are awarded annually based on a combination of scholarship application points, community involvement, and quality of essay.

Leadership Franklin is a non-profit organization to develop leadership and community engagement and further a vision for Franklin and Williamson County.


Leadership Franklin began its twenty-first year on August 29, 2016 and announced Dr. Joseph Willoughby as this year’s recipient of the Caroline J. Cross Award.

Dr. Willoughby moved to Franklin in 1960 after service in the United States Navy. Over the last 55 years, while practicing medicine in Franklin, Willoughby has supported various organizations such as The Heritage Foundation, Carnton Plantation, and the Franklin Noon Rotary Club.

His strong belief in education led him to co-found Harpeth Academy (now Battle Ground Academy Lower Campus) and serve as trustee, board chairman, and benefactor. Willoughby is credited among other physicians who assisted in making Claiborne Hughes Nursing Home and Harpeth Terrace Nursing Home, now Grace Healthcare, a reality.

In 2016, Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson proclaimed March 19 on Dr. Joseph “Joe” Willoughby Day.

The Caroline J. Cross Award was established to honor Mrs. Cross (Founding Executive Director) and create an ongoing award that identifies a leader in our community who exemplifies the values and lessons of Leadership Franklin. Criteria for nomination include leadership that motivates and inspires other individuals along with traits of creativity, character, dedication, and community service. Each year’s class submits nominations and selects an individual who makes a true impact in the community.

Past recipients of the award are:

  • Jimmy Gentry
  • County Mayor Rogers Anderson (Leadership Franklin Alumnus)
  • Julian Bibb III (LFA)
  • Scott Roley (LFA)
  • Janet Keck
  • Alma McLemore (LFA)
  • Rick Warwick
  • Emily Magid
  • Paige Pitts (LFA)


  (L-R): Williamson County Mayor and Leadership Franklin Alumnus Rogers Anderson, First Inaugural Youth Leadership Franklin (YLF) Scholarship Recipient Julia Vesly, YLF Board members Tim Ledman and Will Powell.

(L-R): Williamson County Mayor and Leadership Franklin Alumnus Rogers Anderson, First Inaugural Youth Leadership Franklin (YLF) Scholarship Recipient Julia Vesly, YLF Board members Tim Ledman and Will Powell.

Youth Leadership Franklin is pleased to announce the first annual scholarship recipient, Julia Vesly. Julia will enter Tennessee Tech University in the fall of 2016, majoring in Human Ecology — Food, Nutrition and Dietetics.

Board President Diane Giddens stated, “It is exciting to be able to award our first scholarship to Julia for one thousand dollars ($1,000). In applying to the 2014-15 class, she noted her interest to learn about what goes on behind the scenes of a flourishing community. In her application essay, she wrote about her class visit to Williamson Medical, which sparked her interest to volunteer and explore career options. Now serving her community as a volunteer in the Nutrition Department, Julia has chosen to pursue a career as a dietician.”

“In reviewing the scholarship applications, the Board recognized Julia’s Youth Leadership Franklin experience as one which came full circle with the leadership program, established to help future leaders cultivate their leadership skills.”

Youth Leadership Franklin is a non-profit leadership organization founded in 1998 as a class project from the adult Leadership Franklin program and was funded in 2015-16 through sponsorships provided by Williamson Medical Center, Stites & Harbison, Franklin Synergy Bank, First Tennessee Foundation and MTEMC Customers Care Program.



Leadership Franklin is pleased to announce its twenty-first class. Founded in 1996 to develop leaders in Franklin and Williamson County, Leadership Franklin endeavors to provide class members with knowledge, network connections, and resources to bring new ideas to the table for the community.

Each class day is focused on presenting and analyzing a particularly important segment of the city, including area history, government, business, law enforcement, media, education, and quality of life. Class members are grouped, and each group produces a leadership project for the year that is focused on improving some aspect of the community.

The following are the members of the next Leadership Franklin class:

Judge Denise Andre, Williamson County General Sessions Court
Patty Bearden, WAKM, Harpeth True Value
Tony Cassiol, CapStar Bank
Laura Chavarria, Williamson County Animal Center
Amy Diaz-Barriga, City of Franklin
Bryan Doleshel, Williamson, Inc.
Travis Dumke, Franklin Synergy Bank
Lenda Elmlinger, Pinnacle Financial Partners
Drew Freeman, YMCA of Middle Tennessee – Franklin Branch
Kim Hamner, SunTrust Bank|
Adam Hicks, Skanska USA Inc.
Reverend Kenneth Hill, Historic Shorter Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Glenn Johnson, City of Franklin Fire Department
Cassie Jones, Williamson Herald and Southern Exposure Magazine
Wynn Lembright, New Hope Academy
Matt Magallanes, Southern Land Company
Julie Miller, Williamson Medical Center
Ernie Reynolds, Outdoor Classic Structures, LLC
Tim Stillings, NCR, Inc.
Joann Willhite, City of Franklin Police Department

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