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Kevin Kelehan Reflects on ‘Transformative’ LHC Experience

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“Before I went through Leadership Howard County (LHC), I thought I knew everything there was to know about the county,” said Kevin Kelehan. “I had already been involved in so many things.”

In the early 1990s, Kelehan was serving as general counsel to the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, and he served on the boards of several civic organizations.

Kelehan is also a partner with Columbia-based law firm Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett and Scherr. He focuses on all facets of real estate law, primarily real estate finance.

LHC (Class of 1991) ended up being what he described as “a transformative experience” — and one that never really left him. He still returns to LHC as a speaker, a fundraiser and an advocate who encourages people to find out more about LHC. He received the “Distinguished Alumni Award” in 1999 for his post-Leadership class community service.

Born in St. Paul, Minn., Kelehan’s father worked at Montgomery Ward. He spent his teenage years in the Chicago suburbs, moving to Catonsville, Md., when he was 15. After attending University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he went to the University of Baltimore School of Law.

He landed at Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett and Scherr early in his career and has been there ever since, winning awards over the years for both his skill at practicing the law and his passion for “giving back” to the community.

Commitment and Respect

While participating in LHC, Kelehan relished hearing about topics from many different viewpoints. “Everybody there was committed to solving issues that faced all of us,” he recalled, and he believes that trend continues for LHC’s current classes.

“In today’s world, there is often no time for reflection,” he said. But in LHC, committed people make the time.

“I have very good friends from my Leadership days whose political views are diametrically opposed to mine, but there is a respect when we all join in the process of really talking about an issue. Leadership works well to facilitate those discussions.”

If one scans the heads of government agencies, businesses and nonprofits in the county, those positions are full of LHC graduates, Kelehan said, and he has access to them in a meaningful way. “They trust me because of the experience we had together.”

Participating in LHC involves a time commitment, he admitted, but so does developing real solutions to today’s challenges. One of his favorite quotes comes from H.L. Mencken, journalist, satirist and cultural critic, who famously wrote: “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

Within LHC, complex solutions begin to be developed, and they evolve through the years long after a particular LHC class graduates, said Kelehan. “Simply put, it’s hard work building a community, especially when people come from very different backgrounds.”

Keeping in Touch

Andrea Ingram, executive director of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, was a classmate of Kelehan’s. Very shortly after arriving at Grassroots, she attended LHC. “I lived in Howard County, but I had not worked there,” she recalled, terming LHC her “crash course in what’s going on in the county.”

She met people who, over the years, would become Grassroots partners for the long term. “If we look at our board of directors, a good many have gone through Leadership and were introduced to Grassroots through Leadership.”

For Kelehan, meeting people like Ingram opened his eyes to challenges in the community he hadn’t considered in a deeper way. He and Ingram still attend LHC events, along with many of their classmates. “Through Leadership, I truly realized I’m just not a lawyer, I’m a member of the community,” said Kelehan.

Many people who enroll in LHC are already leaders in their sector or even in the community, but it’s LHC that draws them together, he added. “We can all do this ourselves but you need an organization like Leadership as the hub of the wheel.”

The Next Generation

Andrew Robinson — an attorney at Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett and Scherr — is in the current LHC Class of 2016. He participated in Leadership Essentials, and as Kelehan was before him, is already involved in the community in many ways.

Robinson said he went to Leadership Essentials, a six-month leadership development program targeted to rising stars and future leaders under the age of 40, at a time in his life when he was trying build his leadership skills.

Now, he said, LHC is helping him “find out more about the community in an even more meaningful way. I’m ready for that.”

Kelehan said that LHC’s 30th Anniversary Capital Campaign will help to ensure that even more future leaders like Robinson can participate in LHC. The campaign’s goal is to bring its scholarship fund to $1 million.

“I think having an endowment will ensure Leadership gets the people and the diversity it needs to keep the vitality going,” he said.