Over fifteen years, the Cottonwood Institute community has grown and spread all over the world. You never know where you’ll bump into an alum, instructor, or other friendly face. Denver, of course, is a pretty good bet—and so it was when Executive Director Ford Church bumped in to CI alum Eric Wesolowski while out and about over Thanksgiving weekend!
Eric participated in the Cottonwood Institute Leadership Academy when he was a student at Johnson and Wales University back in 2011. He now works at Next Door American Eatery in Stapleton which (small world!) is a longtime partner of CI! We caught up with Eric about his memories of CI and how he’s taken those leadership lessons to heart since.
What CI program(s) did you take and when?
I worked with Cottonwood Institute through our Leadership Academy at Johnson and Wales University in the Fall of 2011 I believe.
What do you remember most about your CI experience?
The biggest thing that I remember was meeting with Ford a few times to talk about the event we were helping out with at Bluff Lake Nature Center. I remember these meetings in particular because it was the first time that I ever felt like I was being treated as an adult rather than some adolescent young college kid. Because of this it gave me the chance to reflect on myself and to start acting like an adult rather than an adolescent young college kid.
What are you up to these days?
Found a passion for wine and decided to get certified as a Sommelier after college. Jumped into restaurant management as soon as I could to start getting experience to open up my own eventually. I just got married a month ago and am currently working as the Assistant General Manager of Next Door American Eatery in the Stapleton location.
Are there any skills or things you learned from CI that have come in handy in your life?
Leader vs. Boss. One thing I took away from Cottonwood Institute was always thinking to myself, am I doing this action as a leader or a boss? A boss will just tell you what to do and be angry if it’s not done right without lifting a finger. A leader will show you how it’s done and guide you the right way to achieve the desired end goal, and if need be will roll up their sleeves and jump into the trenches with everyone to make sure it happens.
Looking back now, how has your CI experience impacted you long term?
I think the biggest takeaway I got from CI was that I realized I don’t live in my own little bubble. There is a whole community around me that can build me up and help me out. On the flip side of that I should be equally happy to help out within my community if I have the means to do so. Even if it’s something as simple as stopping to pick up some trash on the road or helping out at Project Angel Heart for a morning to get some meals to sick people who can’t make their own.
How has your CI experience helped you create positive change in your community?
It honestly made me realize that I am part of a community. I always kind of thought of myself in my own little bubble without thinking whether my actions affect the community or not. Now I try to be more cognizant of the things I do. I’m not gonna lie and say that I go to a soup kitchen every weekend and help feed the hungry, but if it’s an option I try to buy locally to help build up our local businesses to keep them thriving (not that I personally keep them alive, but every bit helps). When ordering beers and liquor for my bar I try to stay local to build up our breweries and distilleries within our community.
Based on your CI experience, what advice would you give to other students?
Always think of yourself as a leader. You never know when the role may be thrown upon you. I know a lot of people (in the past myself included) who grow up thinking that’s a problem someone else can solve or I’m not the one to make that decision. If you aren’t looking for solutions early on then you will always be staring at the problem. So have faith in yourself and your decisions, sometimes it works out, sometimes it crumbles. Either way get back up on that horse and try to find another solution!
Thank you to Eric Wesolowski for his contributions!
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