A group of 20 people of varying backgrounds from around Louisiana gathered Feb. 26-27 for their first retreat to begin tackling issues that are having an impact on Louisiana.

The group, 14 Forward, is comprised of graduates from the 2014 class of Leadership Louisiana, which is sponsored each year by Council for a Better Louisiana.

They made a strong bond during the Leadership Louisiana training and after graduating in November, they committed to continue meeting with a series of retreats and workshops to devise an action plan.

CABL President and CEO Barry Erwin spoke during a Thursday workshop at The Bluffs, saying he was pleased to see the group continuing to meet.

The group plans to meet quarterly or semi-annually, with the next one in the Alexandria area.

Michele Blanchard, an attorney from Slidell, is a member of 14 Forward and took part in the two-day retreat. She is the curriculum chairwoman for Leadership Northshore and is chair of the St. Tammany Chamber Review Committee.

“I see it as being forward thinking, by accepting the challenges we face and finding solutions,” Blanchard said. “We will understand more of the issues the state faces on a daily basis.”

The first meeting, in West Feliciana, was to help the group develop its agenda and a plan of action. The West Feliciana Parish Economic Development Council paid $500 toward the 14 Forward meeting at The Bluffs.

West Feliciana Parish Superintendent of Schools and 14 Forward member Hollis Milton helped organize the retreat, which included tours of Bains Lower Elementary and West Feliciana Middle schools and Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

He said the group was impressed with the tour of the prison.

“We could see how Warden (Burl) Cain has changed the culture through faith-based initiatives and work force training,” Milton said. “It is truly a model, and I am thankful to Warden Cain and Gary Young for giving us an in-depth tour. They really took their time and it was a great experience. One my group will never forget.”