Lately, as the success of the Reel Guppy Outdoors program has surged, I have taken some time to reflect upon the people and events that have gotten us here. An important part of my success with this program has been the lessons I took away from my participation in the Ventura County Leadership Academy. What VCLA has done for me in my career and volunteer work is incredibly valuable: first and foremost, it taught me how to be a leader.
I have been active in my community for many years. I have long held a deep drive to serve others and to make my community better. What I needed were the tools for making connections, for building a network of leaders to support my vision, and for taking my dreams from vision to reality. From day one in VCLA we were instructed in a leadership approach that involved empowerment, personal connection, and ethical behavior. I grew tremendously; I learned how to be a leader in building my own company and brand. I learned how to identify a need and then step up to fulfill it.
In short, I want to share three key take-aways that I learned through my participation in VCLA Cohort XX.
- Education is valuable. By becoming more educated I was building more value in myself. This allows me to make a decent living, and empowers VCLA graduates to apply for top positions in the county. This lesson inspired me to go back to Oxnard College to take filmmaking courses. What has developed since then has exceeded my expectations. By building my personal value, I have been able to use that as the vessel to start an impactful nonprofit organization that has served more than 2,400 youth and counting. The Reel Guppy Outdoors program serves Ventura County kids, connecting them to the outdoors and a valuable and relaxing hobby (or career). It teaches them patience, hard work, and about aquatic ecosystems. It is endorsed by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, and has been recognized by state, national, and international fishing organizations for our educational and ethical practices.
- Sustainability and philanthropy are more than just buzzwords. During our cohort’s visit to Limoneira, John Chamberlain spoke about his company’s calculated risks and efforts toward achieving greater sustainability. The way that they built their infrastructure, working throughout Ventura County, and in different regions around the world – it’s an effective blueprint for growth. I was impressed how Limoneira provides so much for the community, and the commitment it takes to sustain this level of support.
- Health care is vital to our communities, but can be very difficult to access. I grew up “in the system.” A child thrust into foster care like this can develop certain personality traits that result from the psychological trauma we suffer, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Things that were not spoken about during my childhood are more openly addressed now. Mental health does not deserve the stigma it receives; I can see that some of my insecurities and defense mechanisms have arisen from the upbringing I had. It’s too bad that I had to struggle so much as a kid and a young person, and that I only had these revelations as an adult – kids should not have to experience that. Nevertheless, the open conversation we had in the health care session put me on a path to understanding. It also got me more fired up than ever to help the kids now growing up in the same system I grew up in.
These lessons have helped to shape who I am and how I approach my work in Ventura County. Since my participation in Cohort XX, I have built the Reel Guppy program from concept to action. I am proud to say that my leadership has brought in more volunteers, supporters, and media attention than ever. And it’s only the beginning! We are providing healthy, exciting, hands-on opportunities for kids – most of them low-income and at-risk. VCLA helped to give me some tools that I use every day in making Ventura County an even better place to live. I’d like to invite all of you to come out to see what we are doing and to get involved. Visit http://
VCLA is very near and dear to my heart. The lessons I learned have helped to propel me to greater things than I had ever imagined. I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve Ventura County, and to put my leadership skills into action.
Kevin Brannon, Cohort XX (“Dos Equis”), AKA the Best Cohort Ever
Founder, Reel Guppy Outdoor, a nonprofit corporation