Laura Blakely lived in Mountain View for a decade, but it wasn't until participating in Leadership Mountain View that she really got to know the city.
Each year Leadership Mountain View, a nonprofit run by the Chamber of Commerce, brings together several dozen people who live or work in the city to help them learn about what makes Mountain View function -- from its City Hall to its schools, businesses and nonprofits.
"I was interested in learning more about the city and becoming a leader," said Blakely, who volunteers in the elementary school district. "I learned so much about how different agencies come together."
LMV's classes which have graduated council members, school administrators, business leaders and nonprofit directors span nearly two decades now, and next week is the deadline to sign up for the program's 20th class. The milestone will be celebrated when this class graduates in the spring, and 500 alumni will reunite to celebrate the 20th anniversary, said the program's current director, Alicia Crank.
The approximately 30 participants in each class meet one Friday a month for nine months to become more acquainted with the city and find ways to get more involved, Crank said.
"It exposes people to how the city works. This is a way for people to see how they want to become more involved," Crank said.
The program is a great way to network, and many participants stay in touch after the course. This year's class will kick things off with a meeting at the Microsoft campus, where they will participate in team-building exercises.
"I made good friends in the Police Department and the library," said Kathi Lilga, executive assistant to the elementary school district superintendent. "I highly encourage people to do it."
Later in the year, the group will tour City Hall and listen to guest speakers, mostly city employees, during a forum at the library. During another class, the Community School of Music and Arts and KMVT, the local television station, are on the agenda.
"Participants learn what kind of opportunities are out there," Crank said. "Each time you come, there will be a different experience."
The program costs $1,750, but Crank said many businesses pay for their employees to attend. Both local school districts have sent at least one employee a year in the past. The nonprofit also raises funds to help people who have to pay out of pocket.
"We never want finances to be an issue," Crank said.
This is Crank's first year as program director, and besides planning the 20-year reunion, she hopes to implement new activities, such as a mentoring program pairing current participants with alumni.
"Someone who came through the class several years ago had different experiences than someone going through it this year," she said.
Crank said many cities have similar programs, but Mountain View's is unique because of NASA Ames and all the big businesses located here. She hopes to capitalize on this, for example, by organizing a "class trip" to NASA.
The last day to apply for the upcoming class of Leadership Mountain View is Thursday, Aug. 13. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and live or work in the city. Applications are available by going to www.chambermv.org/leadership. The upcoming class starts in September.