Leadership DeKalb had been around only five years when Sara Fountain joined its class of 1992. She was so impressed with the organization that she stayed involved. When the executive director position become available 11 years ago, she expressed an interest and was chosen. As she prepares to retire after the graduation of the 2012 class, Fountain said there could not have been a better match between a person and a job.
“I love this job. It has been a perfect fit for me with my skills set and my personality and interest in sustainability,” Fountain said. “What could be better than getting up every morning and going to a job that doesn’t feel like a job? It just feels like my life—what I’d choose to be doing even if I weren’t earning a living at it.”
Her favorite part of the job, Fountain said, is bringing people together. “I try to get people to bond early, and some lifelong friendships have grown out of it,” she said. “When people who meet through Leadership DeKalb become friends, they help each other personally, professionally and within the community. They stay connected and form a network that makes our community stronger.”
Fountain observed that one might expect that a group of 40 to 50 people, each of whom is often accustomed to being the boss in his or her own organization, would have a hard time working together. “That’s not the case at all. Even though we have people from some lofty positions, they all are giving, considerate and eager to help others,” said Fountain, who added that she has personally worked with more than 800 adult and youth leaders during the past 11 years. She laments that leaders at the state and national level are not as effective in reaching consensus as Leadership DeKalb members are.
“It’s inspiring to see how hard these people work in their communities—willing to do whatever it takes to make their communities stronger whether it’s running for public office, volunteering or some combination of those,” she said.
As she has connected community leaders with issues facing the county and the region, Fountain said, she’s met great people and had a lot of fun. “I’ll never forget the class of 2002, my first class as executive director,” Fountain said. Like many classes, the class of 2002 poked a little good-natured fun at Fountain and she laughed harder than anyone.
“Columnist and former broadcast journalist] Steen Miles was in that class and she and a couple of others cooked up a skit and a song about me—it was just hilarious.”
Fountain said she also has had experiences that moved her deeply. “We have had three blind people go through Leadership DeKalb and they didn’t back off any of the activities, including the ropes course [an exercise that involves class members helping each other through a series of physical challenges]. Their courage just brought tears to my eyes.”
Of Leadership DeKalb, which this year celebrated its 25th anniversary, Fountain said each year builds on the previous year’s success so the organization “just keeps getting better.”
She acknowledged that it was tough deciding when would be the right time to retire. “This was a very difficult decision for me to make as there is really no ‘good’ time to leave. I will truly miss leading each [member] through the unforgettable class experience as well as the ongoing connections we have all made through our committee volunteer work and member events,” she said.
“Sara is the model of a servant leader,” said Leadership DeKalb board chairman Arnie Silverman. “She has led hundreds of events for Leadership DeKalb class members and alumni, including the organization’s 25th anniversary last year. She has steered the leadership development of more than 800 adult and youth graduates. We sincerely thank her for her contributions to DeKalb County and wish her all the best in her retirement.”
Fountain said, “I am so grateful to so many of you for your leadership, friendship, inspiration and selfless service. What a moving experience and journey this has been for me. Please know that I will still be very active as a member of Leadership DeKalb. But, the time has come to begin a new chapter.”
The Leadership DeKalb Board of Directors has chosen Caroline Moise of the class of 2001 to succeed Fountain on an interim basis.