By Peter Dunn, Correspondent

Worcester is often described as a place with all the benefits of a big city while maintaining a small town feel. We’re the second largest city in New England, but still have great neighborhoods – and more than sixty public parks. We have a growing airport, an expanding train station, and now we are starting to get the national recognition we deserve. At the same time, amidst our growth, our community remains a close-knit family. I’ve heard people compare Worcester to the story of Goldilocks, where the porridge is “just right.”

With the right energy, and one or two helpful connections, anyone can make a difference in our city. The Leadership Worcester program presents the perfect opportunity to spark the imagination and the energy, while making those connections happen.

There’s no better example of that dynamic than the Pow! Wow! Mural installations. A grassroots group of artists and community members put energy behind their inspiration and gathered the necessary resources and support that enabled them to install more than 100 murals across the city. That initiative is more than just an art project, it’s a robust community development project that inspired our city. And, if you look at the past and present committee members, you’ll find many Leadership Worcester alumni.

Kevin O’Sullivan, retired president and CEO of the Mass Biomedical Initiatives, has long said that the difference in Worcester is that we have the “collaborative gene.” Look no further than the recent Worcester Together initiative for a case in point. This amazing partnership led by the United Way, Greater Worcester Community Foundation, and City of Worcester has raised more than $10 million to support immediate and long-term recovery efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

But, Worcester Together is more than a fundraising initiative. For months, between 50 and 100 dedicated people, representing a diverse cross-section of organizations, institutions, and businesses have come together multiple times each week. They share information to address the community’s critical needs, identify gaps in resources, and work together to ensure the most vulnerable among us get the support they need. This remarkable effort has been a shining example of the city coming together to make a difference. Once again, alumni from Leadership Worcester have been a major part of the effort by bringing their skills and energy to the table. And they put their money where their mouth is. The Leadership Worcester alumni association challenged themselves to contribute financially to the Worcester Together initiative, raising more than $7,500 in just a week.

As a Leadership Worcester participant, the program content opened my eyes to the city to a depth I had not experienced before. It has stayed with me, reminding me to challenge assumptions, embrace different points of view, and discover more of Worcester. The connections that I made and the relationships that I built with fellow classmates are long-lasting. Many collaborations among Leadership Worcester participants have had a positive impact on our community and I applaud the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and Greater Worcester Community Foundation for reestablishing the program and their commitment to helping develop our community’s future leaders.

The Leadership Worcester philosophy of collaboration and partnership is critically important, now more than ever. I encourage emerging young professionals and aspiring leaders to: Get involved. Make a difference. And don’t let our porridge get cold.