Whose Eyes Are You Seeing VC Through?

Tracy McAulay, VCLA Cohort XXVI 

Management Analyst

County of Ventura



Like the first two VCLA sessions, session 3 was a whirlwind. We delved into the economy, transportation and the arts – no small task for a single day. All of the presentations were fascinating, and I could write pages. As I reflected on the day, I decided to stop short of writing the novel I wish to write and focus my comments (somewhat).

We started the day with a presentation by Matthew Fienup from California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting. Every time I hear him speak, I wish I had studied economy instead of music and psychology. Ok, maybe not instead of; perhaps in addition to.
The news was unsurprisingly concerning. The County’s pre-COVID economy was lagging and we are now working our way through a world-wide pandemic with economic impacts that dwarf the 2008 recession. Eventually, we will come out the other side, but the recovery is not projected to be as robust, as fast, or as complete we may wish.
Matthew shared a slide of his adorable puppy and asked a simple question: “whose eyes do you see this crisis through?”. For his new puppy, coming into his home slightly before the onset of the pandemic, sheltering in place probably seemed like the greatest idea ever. Everyone in the family was home 24/7 which translated into frequent walks and a non-stop stream of affection and human companionship – a dog’s dream.
Some of us are experiencing something similar to the puppy. Those who can easily work remotely remain employed safely at home and are less likely to contract the disease. Sometimes, the results of sheltering in place can even feel like blessings. For example, I traded my minimum 65-minute round trip commute for a very long walk through my neighborhood in the mornings and some parts of life seemed to slow down, a relief from the constant movement of life before. I was in a unique position to be able to support my daughter as she embarked on the strange journey that is distance learning but even more than that, I am suddenly a part of her kindergarten experience in a way that I never would have been had she started in 2019 instead of 2020. For this group, some things are better than they were before. This group is fortunate.
Unfortunately, this way of experiencing the pandemic is not universal. The pandemic is disproportionately impacting some groups more than others. Matthew stressed in his presentation that there are families who did not recover economically from the 2008 recession and there are those who will not recover economically from this most recent crisis. Job loss, illness, reduced hours and sudden and prolonged unemployment will have long-lasting impacts for many families in our community. I think it is important to note as well that this presentation was focused on economy – it didn’t delve into the physical and emotional impacts of this crisis, which will also disproportionately impact some members and groups in our community more than others.
We are in for rough times, but the impacts have not been and will not be felt equally. There is concern of a K shaped recovery, in which people in higher paying, technical and remote sectors recover strongly while lower-paying, non-remote industries decline and fail to recover as quickly or as fully. Two separate, side-by-side recoveries with significant and lasting repercussions which would exacerbate existing inequalities in our community.
One would expect, based upon the lack of pre-pandemic local economic growth followed by pandemic fueled job losses, that the housing market would soften. Ventura County consistently defies these expectations. Pre-pandemic, rent and home prices continued to increase while incomes since 2000, after adjusting for inflation, decreased . Stranger still, home prices and rent continue to increase even in the wake of the pandemic. It is staggering and almost incomprehensible; but 15 years of working in the housing industry have frequently caused me to pause and wonder if housing here will ever be attainable for all members of our community.
After the seriousness of the morning presentations, the drum circle was a welcome respite. There is something about the rhythm and resonance of a drum circle that speaks to our soul. It’s an external, shared heartbeat. A community.
We came together in the courtyard of the Museum of Ventura County, masked and distanced in a large circle. Instantly dubbed “The VCLA Cohort 26 Percussion Ensemble”, John Lacques from Drumtime led us in call and response and then randomly called on each of us to play a solo – a connected series of short performances by VCLA’s finest and truest drum amateurs (well at least most of us were amateurs – I have my suspicions about a few of you!). I was nervous. I like to be prepared. Even as a musician I was not an improviser; I diligently practiced so that I would be ready for every performance. As I anxiously waited for my turn to solo (have I mentioned that the primary factor that ended my musical career was chronic and debilitating stage fright?), I placed my hands on my drumhead so that I was ready to go when I was called. It was then that something magical happened. My drum wasn’t sitting idle. It was immediately clear that it wasn’t tensely waiting, worried about what would happen when it was our turn (traitor!). It was engaged, vibrating sympathetically with the current soloist, quietly understanding what was being said and singing along.
We are connected, it softly reminded me. Even when we are socially distanced, even if we seem completely detached, alone and disconnected. We are part of a bigger whole.
Shortly after this realization, I managed to mess up my very short solo. Somehow, I got off beat. As a former musician, it was humbling. I don’t exercise my creative muscles often enough anymore. I am pulled in so many exhausting directions every day as I multi-task my roles as a wife, parent, friend, employee and concerned local citizen. I am out of practice and out of touch with my own creativity. I have felt it before, and I felt it again, calling to me to return. One day, I will find a way to answer that call.
Live music exists in the moment. It dawned on me that even as I had stumbled, the other drums (and drummers) had been there, quietly beating in support. Once again, I placed my hands on the drumhead, noting that my drum was already actively responding to the beat of the next drummer. We are connected.
As I looked around the circle, I reflected that sitting in community with people outside of my household has become a novel experience. Something I used to take for granted was suddenly a profound and specific joy. One of the most impactful consequences of prolonged orders to shelter in place is that we are isolated from family and friends. Less often, we think about how isolated we are from our community as a whole. Interacting with acquaintances and strangers is an important and under-rated part of our social fabric. The arts are critical in connecting us, before, during and after this pandemic finally ends. For a brief time, music brought shared experience and community to our cohort. 

My thoughts wandered back to the question posed earlier in the day – whose eyes do you see this crisis through? By default, we see and experience the world through our own unique lens. It is easy to feel connected to and understand those with similar experiences. It is much more difficult, and correspondingly more important, to remember that we are also connected to people with experiences and perspectives drastically different from our own. We are connected to those who appear to be perfectly fine, just as we are connected to those who are clearly struggling. As humans and especially as leaders, it is important that we take the time to step away from our individual points of view and choose to actively listen, and maybe even hum along quietly for a time, to everything that is happening around us so that we can gain a comprehensive and deeper understanding of the challenges and successes facing our community.
We are connected.

Virtually the Best – Reflection

Jennifer Duston, VCLA Cohort XXVI 

Client Partner

Franklin Covey



As John Quincy Adams so eloquently stated, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, & become more, you are a leader.” I couldn’t choose words more appropriate to describe Cohort XXVI and our day of learning with community leaders as a part of the Ventura County Leadership Academy. 


Although we began the day in the ever so normalized 

Zoom meeting that has come to be the standard for group meetings these days, let me tell you it did not disappoint. We were guided through a beautiful history of leadership by the knowledgeable and thought provoking Genevieve Evans Taylor (VCLA Cohort XVI), Chief of Staff to the President at CSU Channel Islands. We examined the evolution of leadership throughout the years and began on a deeper dive into the journey of relational leadership. We each explored the concepts of being inclusive and ensuring diversity is at the table, sharing our power to empower others, as well as the importance of leadership being purposeful, ethical, and process oriented. We leaned into and celebrated the idea that anyone can be a leader, being reminded it is a choice one makes and does not happen by accident. 

Next up, we were headed to our very first on-site meeting as a cohort at The Search Dog Rescue Foundation in one of the most beautiful facilities I’ve experienced in our county. With lots of open space, we were each given our own chair, doused with hand sanitizer, and told to pick a space on the grass of what seemed like the size of a football field. We are the FIRST VCLA Cohort to meet in-person in the midst of a pandemic and we handled it well...socially distanced, masked, and hand sanitizer flowin’! As VCLA Director Pattie Braga gave us the rundown, it became evidently clear that the opportunities abound for our group and the importance of taking advantage of connecting with and learning from the leaders around us.

Thanks to Dr. Tiffany Morse (VCLA Cohort XVII), Superintendent of Ojai Unified School District, we got to know our fellow cohorts real quick! Who knew a group could have so much fun and learn so much about what another through “socially distanced icebreakers?!” We so appreciated Dr. Morse’s approach to facilitating this and going the extra mile to ensure just the perfect mix of fun and seriousness to begin forming the bonds that will carry us through this year. 

Throughout the day we had multiple sessions that were nothing short of engaging and thought-provoking as well as welcomed by various county leaders. Brad “Brick” Conners, City Manager of Port Hueneme and President & CEO Pharos Leadership joined us and shared his excitement and admiration for our group and what we are doing. Chiany Dri, Anti-racism Educator and Consultant spent some time leading us through a series of Bias exercises and a very meaningful discussion around diversity. Rhett Mauck, Director of Development at The Search Dog Foundation gave us a tour and history of their work--simply amazing--I encourage you to reach out for a tour and learn more! Last but not least, Herb Gooch, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science (Ret) at California Lutheran University gave us a crash course in local and state politics. 

We even had a visit from VCLA Alumni, Caitlin Barringer, it was so inspiring to hear her say that "The VCLA program gave me the opportunity to learn from the best and inspired me to engage more with my community, which is what made me want to run for Santa Paula City Council!”


By the end of the day all I could think of was how grateful I am to be part of such a quality organization, surrounded by so many amazing leaders. In just 2 meetings with my cohorts, I can already tell that we are being called to dream more, learn more, do more, & become more! We are after all, virtually the best!

All Barks & No Bites

Caitlin Brooks

VCLA Cohort XXVI

Program Manager/Transportation Planning

Ventura County Transportation Commission


If you don't like dogs or puns, this recap of VCLA Cohort XXVI Session 2 is going to be ruff. Please furgive me and I promise by the time you've finished reading you won't be hounding anyone for more. 

Our second session (but first in person!) was held on Friday October 9th at the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which is truly one of the most spectacular facilities I have ever visited. I highly recommend you sniff them out if you have a chance. Not only were we lucky enough to visit this beautiful spot tucked away in rural Santa Paula, but we also learned they didn't charge us a dime for the meeting space. If you thought this was a real treat like I did and are interested in throwing them a bone, I added a link to donate to their organization here: https://donate.searchdogfoundation.org/1170.  

Before we set out for Santa Paula, we started our morning on Zoom diving into the basics of relational leadership with Genevive Evans Taylor, who laid the foundation for us to evaluate our approach to becoming a successful leader. Her presentation was enlightening and I appreciated that the tools she provided could be put into practice immediately. I look forward to using the lessons learned from our morning session as I move forward in my professional development. After the morning Zoom session, we drove to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation where I was immediately comforted with the sound of barking dogs and also put at ease to find we were meeting outside, socially distanced, with my fellow cohort members wearing masks (so no bites!).


Dr. Tiffany Morse led us through a pandemic friendly ice-breaker and we were off to the races to learn more about each other and what we have in common. I felt encouraged to open up to my group because Dr. Morse did an excellent job fostering a positive environment where we could focus on our similarities. After our ice-breaker we split into groups to recap our Immersion Activities and it was great to hear about the wide spectrum of options we each had to choose from in our County. We went on to have lunch and go through a bias workshop with Chiany Dri, who did a fantastic job teaching us about our own inherent biases. It reaffirmed that we all have room for improvement and I was thankful to have a presentation on such a timely issue. 


Afterwards we went on a facility tour guided by Rhett Mauck, the Director of Development for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.  Although there was much less dog-petting than I was hoping for, I was nonetheless fascinated by his overview of the work they do. Their mission is to strengthen disaster response in America by rescuing and recruiting dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters. The property is immaculate, the dogs sound incredible, and I will continue to talk about their organization to anyone that will listen for the furseeable future.

 

The final presentation was given by Herb Gooch, who gave us a crash course in Ventura County politics. It was refreshing to receive an unbiased overview of the political races and I appreciated the comprehensive background on our state and county history, which will definitely come in handy as we go through the upcoming election. 

 

VCLA Alumni have often described the program as "drinking from a firehose" and after only two sessions, I couldn't agree more. Session 2 was informative and a lot of fun. I can only imagine how much work went on behind the scenes to make it successful. Thank you to Pattie, our speakers, and the VCLA Board. 

I'm grateful for the opportunity to participate in VCLA and continue to learn more about our County and build relationships with my fellow Cohort members. Although we are transitioning to safe in-person sessions, Cohort XXVI will continue to be virtually the best!

Thanks fur reading.

VCLA Inspires

Caitlin Barringer

VCLA Alumni, Cohort XXV 

Development Manager, Kids & Families Together


The mission and purpose of Ventura County Leadership Academy (VCLA) is "connecting people & issues to strengthen our county" and it is something that they embody well.  As a recent graduate of Cohort 25 (Aptly named “We Survived”, due to the COVID-19 pandemic cutting our year a little short), I had no idea the impact that VCLA would have not only on my career, but on my heart for our community as well.  

Although I enjoyed and learned from many aspects of the program; our visit to Sacramento & meeting with our representatives, visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Situation Room, touring the Waste Management Recycling Plant and the Colleagues Municipal Water District, it was being invited to attend the California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research & Forecasting (CERF) luncheon in 2019 that helped sparked my recent run for office.  It was at this luncheon where I realized for the first time that Ventura County is experiencing negative population growth.  Additionally, the city in which I reside (Santa Paula), is in the second year of population loss.  I asked myself how this could be, as I see Ventura County as a gem on the coast, so beautiful that we are a tourist destination, with amenities that would attract anyone to want to live here.  That is when I decided that while I may not be able to help the county at large, I can be more involved on a local level and work to shine a light on all the wonderful things Santa Paula is and can be.  The VCLA program gave me mountains of great information which I learned from the guest speakers and presenters that were experts in their fields.  This knowledge gave me the confidence to sit and have breakfast with the City Manager, ask probing questions and learn more about local issues impacting my community. I decided to get more involved and was soon appointed to the Measure T Commission, then eventually deciding to run for City Council, hoping to be that next generation leader and voice in our community.

I believe that I am qualified to serve on Santa Paula's city council not only because of my roots in the Santa Paula community, my experience in the nonprofit sector, but because I completed the VCLA program. It has taught me about the issues impacting in not only my own city, but throughout the county.  I’ve built lasting connections with my cohort, many of VCLA’s over 600 other alumni, and I believe it has allowed me to build relationships with people that I can partner and collaborate with to make our community a better place.  Thank you VCLA for staying true to your mission and supporting existing and emerging leaders like myself and giving me tools to go out and make a difference in my community.

Reflections on a Patriots’ Day Session

Jeremey Shumaker

VCLA Cohort XXVI 

Regional Director of Operations for American Medical Response

On September 11th, 2020 the 26th cohort of the Ventura County Leadership Academy met for their first of ten sessions. The date was not lost on me nor was it on the rest of my fellow leaders. As a veteran and as a first responder, I would be remised if I did not acknowledge the tragedy of 9/11 and the sacrifices made that day by hundreds of fire fighters, polices officers and EMS professionals.
I am sure that this day was not what VCLA had envisioned but VCLA Director Pattie Braga and her team were able to come up with a COVID friendly version of the community exploration exercise. The Cohort was split into 10 groups of 3-4. Each group assigned to explore an assigned city. No rules, no specific guidance on what to do or how to do it. We were told that we “must visit your city together on Friday, wherever you want, doing whatever you want”. We were encouraged to reach out and use our network to schedule meetings or gain insight.
From socially distanced coffee with Mayor Flynn of Oxnard to a walking tour of downtown Ojai, to an extended trip to the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks. Each team took a different approach and focused on different aspects of their assigned city. We learned about Port Hueneme which means “Resting Place” and all took pride in the fact that we can pronounce it correctly. We learned about the efforts Santa Paula has taken to ensure the small businesses in their city are able to survive through COVID. We learned about all levels of the education system, sales taxes, and the effects of sugar free candy on your digestive system.
Normally, when the world is not experiencing a pandemic, the entire cohort would come together at the end of the day to share what they learned. This year, as you know, is different. We came together virtually which I am certain will be a theme for cohort 26 at least for the foreseeable future. Pattie and the curriculum committee came up with a brilliant way for us to learn even more about the County with a friendly game of Jeopardy based on the most recent State of the County report released by the Ventura County Civic Alliance. A game, I might also add, that I ALMOST won.
Session 1 was an exciting and fun way to start off what will be an incredible year. I am honored to have been selected to participate in VCLA and I cannot wait to see what the coming months have in store. I joined VCLA because I wanted to learn more about the County that I call home. I wanted to learn more about the issues the County is facing and what others are doing to address those issues. I wanted to learn more about what I could do to contribute to those efforts. Last weeks session taught me that there are countless people who are making a difference for others every day. I felt inspired and motivated to continue learning and I cannot wait for next months session!

The Beginning – Cohort XXVI, Alumni Reflection by Melissa Miller

The mission of Ventura County Leadership Academy is connecting people and issues to strengthen our county.  And today, on Patriots Day, Cohort XXVI did just that.  With the task of taking a deeper dive into ten of the largest cities in Ventura County, each team had the opportunity to connect with many key individuals that make up each city.  Even with Covid restrictions and limited “in person access”, our virtual research and meetings were a fun way to get to know fellow cohorts and learn about a specific city.

From City Council Members, local Mayors and Assembly Members, to business owners, college presidents, artists and General Managers of Park & Rec, we were able to ask the tough and not so tough questions that make each city unique.  On the surface, we found significant city differences in housing prices, school district sizes and funding, crime statistics and populations.  Then we looked below the surface.  The one thing that each city had in common was the success of community and connection.  Each council member, business owner, county representative or board member we spoke with agreed that “their sense of community and connection” allowed for their cities success during some of the toughest times in the county.  Each city embraces their diverse culture and longstanding history that make them unique, all the while knowing we all form a bond that connects – We Are Ventura County!

In the weeks and months ahead, each immersion activity that we complete not only brings our cohort closer as leaders but allows us to embrace each and every part of our county.  We will be pushed out of our comfort zones to ask the deep questions.  Then, we will look deep inside ourselves to help find and answer.  But mostly, we will continue to connect, grow and expand our knowledge of this beautiful county . . . and create some lasting partnerships that will stand up to the hardest of times.  We are virtually the best – Cohort XXVI.

Melissa Miller, VCLA Cohort XXVI

 

Alumni Reflection – Kevin Brannon, Cohort XX

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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://reelguppyoutdoors.com/ for more information, and please contact me to visit, volunteer for, and participate in this life-changing program.

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

Teachings from Dr. P in the age of COVID-19

Author – Maggie Kestly

VCLA supporter Maggie Kestly recently added the below post to her Facebook page. Maggie and VCLA founder Dr. Priscilla Partridge de Garcia had a special relationship that was filled with mutual respect & admiration. Please take a moment to read her thoughts below and possibly use the tools that she learned from the amazing “Dr. P”. – Pattie Braga, VCLA Director

04/26/2020

As the new day approaches with a beautiful sunrise forming I stepped out on our second story balcony to catch the sun coming up. I stood there listening to the birds chirping as my sign that the new day is beginning. Each day brings interesting observations about myself. I’m experiencing the ability to see patterns in my thoughts. Thoughts that can bring me up giving me hope and thoughts that bring me down becoming destructive. Patterns that are created by choice in where I allow my mind to travel.

An amazing woman named Priscilla came into my life several years ago. She gave me so many valuable tools to overcome patterns in my thoughts. One of them she referred to as her prisoner of war technique. She found that prisoners in war camps were able to survive some of the most extreme conditions by directing their thoughts. They survived being confined in boxes only to be taken out once a day to be tortured. The thought that any human being would be treated that way is beyond me however it is real and it did happen.

So how does one survive months or years of this kind of torment? They use their minds to take them other places. They tell their minds to STOP the focus on the confined area they are in and they STOP their minds from thinking only of the torture yet to come. Instead they seek visuals of where they want to be once they are freed. One man literally designed, purchased materials and built an entire house in his mind. This daily focus allowed him to survive his horrible situation as a prisoner of war.

The technique given to me simply allowed me to become aware of where my thoughts were traveling say the word STOP out loud then redirect my thoughts on a different path. For over a year I practiced this technique. It became ingrained in me to immediately use this when I was heading down a dark path.

The past few weeks of confinement has proved to be challenging at times. Enough so that pulling out this technique has been necessary so I could redirect my thoughts. In doing so I’ve found so much beauty just within the walls of my home with my husband, my dogs, our home and yesterday our backyard. I’ve been able to envision the gatherings that we will have once allowed to do so in the environment we are creating in our home. Focusing there has been the best way to stay positive through all of this and even see the value in having a chance to just slow down.

I’m grateful to wise people like Priscilla who provide tools for turning negatives into positives. She passed away not too long ago and I know she is missed by many of us.

February 17, 2020

The Impact of the Creative Economy

By Colleen Malone

The focus of the day was on Public Safety and the Arts. The most impactful part of the day for me was visiting the Museum of Ventura County and listening to Tracy Hudak, Founder of CreativityWorks, discuss creative economics. How do we define quality of life? Does the quality of life mean the things I accumulate, professional successes or does the quality of life mean the experiences that I have and how I interact in the world? These were the questions and thoughts that resonated with me. As I was listening to Ms. Hudak’s presentation, I realized that arts education plays a critical role in shaping our life experiences and how we view the world. It not only teaches us how to become excellent observers of the natural world it also helps us develop problem solving skills. Being able to creatively solve problems are vital in helping us become leaders in innovation. If we want to be the leaders of new ideas, we must give students the opportunity to use creative expression. Arts education needs to be woven into all parts of our school curriculum. What does this look like? Multi-disciplinary collaboration, art being used in assignments across all content areas. Through the creative process, we learn to ask questions. From our questions or proposed problem, we look for answers. From our answers, we find solutions! So again, to recap Ms. Hudak, “What if we defined the quality of life as…living an expressive life; building creative skills; make meaning together as a community; and solving community problems”. What is the quality of life here in Ventura County? MB Hanrahan said, “If you want good art, lead an interesting life”. Yes, and I want to add, “If you want to find new ways to solve local problems, teach the creative process to the next generation”.

 

Energy, Water, and the Situation Room Experience

By Alejandra Tellez

I had no idea what to expect for this session. I enjoy not getting the agenda until days before, the fact that I just show up, get awesome speakers I learn so much all while getting snacks and food throughout the day; makes me feel so fortunate and will suffer when I attend any other long day event. I was still in holiday mode and was having a hard time getting aaallll the way to Simi by 8 am. But the day turned out to be one of the coolest sessions yet.
Morning started off easy topics that I am familiar with; energy and water. I enjoy hearing people talk about topics I work on, I always learn something new. The history, politics and evolving landscape of water in our County is ever flowing; energy is a resource standing behind the fork on the road, ready to make a turn, make changes, be innovative and evolve with the climate change. We got a cool tour of Calleguas facilities sprinkled with facts about water chemistry and engineering.
Then we all caravanned to the Simi Landfill, as we made our way and started to be surrounded by trash trucks it all became real. Everything was so structured, clean, and organized starting with the specific lanes to drive on as we made our way up and into the middle or the organized chaos. We all got on a bus and experienced stops full of information and but most important of all behavior altering evidence “I need to produce less trash” “wow all that comes here” “oh wow” were phrase heard throughout the bus. Guides were full of great on the job experiences and effortlessly answered all our questions, and there was a lot of questions. I think none of us expected to be so intrigued by trash. From the sorting, layering, gas production, pest control, falcons and what and how to recycle. Walking out with a miniature trash can was a gold stamp at then end. Now if we all just produced that small amount of trash in a day, I’d call that a win.
The caravan once again made its way up to the next hill, the Reagan library, we all circled the parking lot, trying to find a spot. We finally all parked and took in the views as we rushed to our next stop, got a quick peak of Air Force one and got to enjoy a quick bite refill our water bottles and headed to what became an activity full of stress, fun and laughs. As we all got our roles assigned and acted out through a situation room scenario with constant direction of who are your allies or foes and decisions you had to make everyone seemed to embrace being pushed out of our comfort zone. It was great to see everyone in the cohort step up to the challenge. The county it’s in good hands with this 25th best cohort ever.

December 20, 2019

Cityscapes

City Adventures

For session   number four, people were divided in to teams to explore assigned cities within the county. As we ventured out in the day, we reunited in Camarillo where we got to meet Dr. David El Fattal, Acting Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Business and Administrative Services for the County Community College District. He spoke about his responsibilities and one thing that stood out was how he shared that every day was different. He could be going to Wall Street one day and the next, learning about what is the best chemicals to clean the campuses restrooms.

We also had the opportunity to learn about Coffee with a Black Guy. James Joyce III, from Cohort XVII shared about how his company came to be.   What I enjoyed was how he shared personal experiences, answered tough questions and brought a sense of hope for the future as long as we continue to have a conversation.

Highlights from the groups consisted of the following:

  • Thousand Oaks – The group visited the Parks and Recreation department, where we learned it was a special district and called Conejo Valley Parks and Recreation Department. Not only did they make sure their newest park was ADA accessible, they created special trails for walking, biking, and a lot space to be able to play disc golf.
  • Oxnard – We learned how Oxnard College is struggling financially and that 90% of their students are first generation attending college.
  • Fillmore – Two highlights we learned were that 50% of the city’s income comes from Hollywood making movies in their city and the Fire Department is the only one of its kind as having only volunteers running the department.
  • Ojai – Is the oldest city in the county and one-third of the populations are older adults.
  • Moorpark – The group visited Moorpark College and we learned it was the second college in the nation that had a class/subject on how to train exotic animals.
  • Camarillo – The team decided to visit Ventura County Community Foundation. We learned it had one million in assets and has several scholarship programs and is a wish granter for the Make a Wish foundation.
  • Port Hueneme – This team had the opportunity to meet with the Chief of Police. We learned that the city was the first to adopt legalizing marijuana. While some may think that crime increased, the Chief stated that the city had not seen any negative effects. What I found interesting that the city had no freeways, no high schools, and no bars.
  • Ventura – The team had a fun time at the Poinsettia Awards where the Ventura Chamber of Commerce hosts to celebrate the best of the best. Ranging from the best in their community, to recognizing the community leaders. We also learned that the city only promotes the city by running ads in Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, England, Germany, and Canada.
  • Santa Paula – A shout out was given to Elena for helping the team plan out their fun day. This group went to the Agricultural and California museums where they learned about a bee colony to their day being filled with a lot of people named Bob.
  • Simi Valley – This group shared how the Ronald Reagan Library gets half a million visitors a year to sharing about all their open space. The open space is used for hiking as the city have 50 parks and 2 RV parks.
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December 16, 2019

Eye Opening Experiences – Community Explorations & Coffee

By Chris Beck

The mission of Ventura County Leadership Academy is “Connecting People and Issues to Strengthen Our Community;” what better way to live this mission that by exploring every corner of our county in individual groups, and then reporting to the cohort (25-To Life – the best cohort ever.)  Our cohort was assigned investigative tasks to research, explore and connect with the communities of Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, Fillmore, Ojai, Camarillo, Moorpark, Port Hueneme, Ventura, Santa Paula, and Simi Valley.

The resulting reports were both intriguing and informative. While you could expect reports from meetings with city leaders, city institutions and figureheads, what resulted instead were reports of challenges, struggles, triumphs and plans for a bright future. Some of the more interesting and exciting reports included: 1) learning that Thousand Oaks has a disc golf course that hosted the first national championship; 2) Ojai is the oldest city in the county 3) Moorpark College has a wild animal training center, and 4) Pot (via legal marijuana dispensary) has actually been GOOD for Port Hueneme.

As every day observers that traverse through the county, we are often neglectful in recognizing the beauty, providence, and innovation that exists around us in our smaller cities. While we learned specific facts and trivia about each city, we were vested with the ability and knowledge to be observant of our surrounding communities and enjoy the beauty of every corner of our county.

 

Giving Sight to a Blind Society

I think we can all agree that all too often we see our community and society before us, and fail to recognize that our perception is based on our past experiences and framed by our present situation. This process can blind us from perceiving the lives and experience of those not situated as similarly. A breath of fresh air to remedy this malady was delivered by James Joyce (Cohort 17) who exposed himself in raw form to provide a detailed description of cultural bias and the alternate experiential interactions within our society.

With a list of accomplishments and appointments worthy of more than a single blog post, James Joyce is a resident expert on examining misperceptions and misgivings in a society, that at some times, prefers to avoid the difficult conversations that need to happen.

How do we create discourse to bring light to the tough conversations we don’t have? Coffee with a Black Guy! (CWABG.COM) James Joyce has held several conversational setting wherein he sets personal vulnerabilities asides, and invites members of the public to learn from his past, become part of his history, and guide them on their future journey. The discussion is frank, the topics are real, and the lessons are the golden ticket to participating in a society where everyone is equal and inclusion reigns supreme. An inspiring speaker, Coffee with a Black Guy is a must attend!

 

Ventura County Community College District

Sometimes, numbers are impressive and awe inspiring.  Cohort 25 heard from Dr. David El Fattal and Patti Blair and they relayed the following information regarding the Ventura Community College District:

  • There are three colleges in the Ventura County Community College District; Oxnard CC, Ventura CC, and Moorpark CC. Moorpark is the largest, by far, with an enrollment of 14,553 students, followed by Ventura with 13,431 students, and Oxnard with 7,482 students. Between the three, in the year 2018, 6,676 Associates Degrees were awarded, and 4,157 occupational certificates were awarded. Wow!
  • With a budget matching that of a multinational Fortune 500 Corporation, VCCCD is a true gem within our community.
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December 1, 2019

In the Spirit of Being Grateful

By Carlos Evans

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and being grateful for the many blessings we enjoy here in Ventura County, here are just a few of the many people, places and things that I learned about/from during our November VCLA cohort session. It goes without saying that their contributions are worth acknowledging and celebrating:

  1. I had no clue that Oxnard’s very own Haas Automation Inc. is one of the Earth’s leading manufacturers of machines other companies purchase to create parts essential for their business plans. With over 1.2 billion dollars in revenue annually, Gene Haas has created a privately owned company focused on creating a robust, reliable, easy to troubleshoot product that is competitively priced against global competition. Haas’ products positively impact the automotive, medical, aviation, manufacturing and technology sectors. Of course, little of that is possible without their captive workforce that bleeds “Haas Red” which our cohort observed while touring their factory. Hats off to the Haas leadership team for hosting our cohort that morning and proving that Ventura County has the infrastructure required to attract, sustain and retain a global leader.
  2. Close to my heart was a presentation led by a fellow Naval Aviator, Brad “Brick” Conners, from Pharos Leadership. Brick was upfront and asked the cohort two critical questions for all leaders to ponder in the spirit of self-assessment before getting to his brief: (1) Why be led by me? (2) How will I honor their choice? Personally, I love great questions like these which when answered honestly force you to decide your leadership agenda. All of that to say, Brick went on teach us about innovation from the Native American medicinal wheel worldview through the wisdom centers of spirit, gut, head and heart. One of the great takeaways was that as we develop our personal and corporate wisdom centers, our leadership will be better prepared to innovate in any dynamic and chaotic environment.
  3. Has anyone ever asked you to re-imagine in order to re-invent the wallet to fit the 21st century lifestyle? Probably not, unless you have met the founders of Matterlabs. Built on the premise of progress through innovation, Matterlabs said something profound in their presentation that I instantly respected for them sharing publicly. After being wildly successful early on, they had lost a sense of purpose and yearned to leave a legacy worth remembering. Moving forward from this existential impasse, they would only take projects if it… Inspired, Impacted and Saved. Those values are powerful criteria to discern where to spend your time and how to make an impact in Ventura County. I can only hope that my next generation wallet design lives up to Matterlabs expectations!
  4. We changed venues in the afternoon to the brand new Gold Coast Transit Center in Oxnard. As a company with over 200 employees, 50+ buses, 20 routes serving thousands of customers predominantly in West Ventura County, their new 15 acre facility is well needed and deserved. Of note, I appreciated how they intentionally designed into their construction plans a community-minded meeting space able to host local groups like VCLA.
  5. Following lunch from Toppers (Thanks to Pattie Braga!!), we received presentations from the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project, Ventura County Economic Development Collaborative, Ventura County Transportation Commission and burgeoning community land trust led by Tim Gallagher and Matthew Fienup. After taking pages of notes from those engaging speakers outlining the impactful work their respective organizations are doing for migrants, local businesses, commuters and aspiring homeowners, I left thinking the best is yet to come. Despite their individual specialties, all of the organizations shared in common the changing local socio-economic landscape and a passion to positively shape the future of Ventura County for its constituents before that opportunity is lost or taken.
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November 23, 2019

Driving Forces in V.C.

By Rachel Olsen

The first half of the day revolved around how innovation is the driving force behind Ventura’s economy. We were hosted at Haas Automation which is one of Ventura’s largest manufacturing companies. Did you know Haas Automation provides over 1200 jobs to our local community? During the tour of the facility it was evident that manufacturing technology is advancing, where many of the menial tasks are automated with robotics and most of the labor force are technicians controlling those robotics. After the tour we were greeted by Brick Conners, a retired Navy Commander and VCLA Board member. He spoke about an innovation climate, “innovation: simplification of the complex.” Conners emphasized that innovation occurs with a well-balanced and focused team. We then participated in an activity conducted by the founders of Matter Labs, a local innovation company that bridges the gap between cutting edge academic research and their applications in usable products. They too reiterated that innovation occurs in a group. An innovator takes the specific skills in the group and combines them into a product that is desirable.

Our next stop for the day was the new Gold Coast Transit Center located across the street from Costco in Oxnard. We were given a tour of the beautiful facility by one our very own VCLA alumni and learned more about their transit services. Gold Coast Transit is currently at 62 buses providing services to Ojai, Ventura, Oxnard, and Port Hueneme. Darren Kettle, Executive Director of Ventura County Transportation Commission, also presented on the current transportation issues and possible solution initiatives in years to come, including improving traffic flow by widening highway 101. It was intriguing that more than 50% of local residents in Oxnard, Santa Paula, Camarillo , etc. commute to neighboring cities for work. Forward thinking, the more jobs we can provide in our city of residence, the more cars off the roads – decreasing traffic. Bruce Stenslie from Economic Development Collaborative  took us on a journey through Ventura County’s economic history. What once used to be one of the nation’s highest performing economies, Ventura County may have also seen the greatest decline in the nation after the Great Recession and is still recovering. While quality of life is still what makes Ventura County very desirable, increased housing prices make it difficult for current residents to stay and for new people to move here, making it hard for local business to retain employees and continue to recruit. Tim Gallagher and Matthew Fienup then presented their new initiative of creating a housing land trust that would obtain properties in the area, build new homes, and sell them at an affordable rate.

On a slightly more uplifting topic, we had one more passionate speaker from a local nonprofit. Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) is a local nonprofit that assists indigenous immigrants of all age groups with indigenous language services, mental health and domestic violence prevention, advocacy, and many more. You may have also heard them of Radio Indigena, 94.1FM where they broadcast over 40 hrs weekly of original radio programming in Spanish, English, an various indigenous languages.

Closing out on a very busy day, it made me contemplate and identify “What am I currently doing and what can I do to help Ventura County prosper?”

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October 31, 2019

Learning, on an Unnerving Day

By Crystal Stratton

The day started off a little unnerving. With the fires burning, we all had to rearrange our personal schedules a bit, whether that was traveling, daycare, work or even freeway access – they were small issues, but affecting us all. I was checking my email constantly that morning. Coming from West County, I wasn’t sure if we would cancel, move the location or have to jump yet again to another freeway to make sure I was on time-

Being late for the 2nd day of school is just as bad as being late for the first day.

Jump forward a few hours, and in spite of a few detours, Focus Session #2 was on course, barreling straight down the tracks to Local Government, and personal reflection, with #25toLife on board.  Settling in to my seat at the Human Services Agency, I was excited and nervous to see what the day held.

Dr. Herb Gooch was wonderful and insightful with explaining (in the most easy to understand terms) how government works alongside politics, and even had helpful stories and (!!!) a PowerPoint to assist my visual learning brain.

He then introduced and moderated a discussion with County of Ventura Supervisor, Kelly Long, and City of Moorpark Council Member, David Pollock, beautifully icing and adding personal sprinkles to my government comprehension cake.

Moving forward, the day was a swirl of Simi Valley learning. From City Hall, to the Library and on to the Sheriff Department, learning the history, culture, and personality of the City helped me to understand the community and how each sector and neighborhood works together to build a strong and vital municipality.  When Fred Bauermeister, the Executive Director of the Free Clinic of Simi Valley spoke about his work and place of business, I could grasp how non-profits were able to fill in the gaps in cities, and how those in Public work could still help while fulfilling their passions by volunteering at Private and Non-Profit organizations, further helping and strengthening their community.

Mixed in to the activities were two more personal leadership growth discussions and exercises. I enjoy learning more about myself, as well as my fellow Cohort partners through the guidance and expertise of previous Cohort members and mentors. Banks Pecht helped to grow us individually in a Leadership as Applied lesson, while as a group, we all collectively grew together in Genevieve Evans Taylor, Ed.D.’s Authentic Leadership exercise.

By the end of the day, I wholeheartedly believe I can speak for just about everyone, in that we all had a full, eventful, educating, enriching and fun day that left us all a little tired, mostly at maximum mental capacity, full in personal connections and experiences, more connected with our local communities and government, and definitely overly excited for what next month’s Focus Session will bring.

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September 27, 2019

Day One, Taking the Leap

By Deborah Meyer-Morris

Driving home from work on Thursday  September 12, 2019, the night before VCLA Day One, I was giddy with excitement and gratitude thinking about VCLA starting the next day. I have worked continuously, one way or another since I was 12 years old when I first starting delivering magazines on my bike. However,  I have not previously had an opportunity for formal personal development. Therefore, I view my time in VCLA as a gift.

I have not ever really thought about my personal strengths or picking a career that built upon them. I have always loved solving puzzles. Aside from the summer after my junior year at CSUN, when I briefly thought about getting a teaching credential (which was an acceptable career  for women in 1981), I thought I wanted to be an attorney-advocate since childhood.

As part of VCLA, all new cohort members are required to take the Clifton Strength Finder. On Day One, Hilary Howard shared her expertise in this area with us. She  taught us that we can only build on our strengths, and that we cannot build performance on weakness. This message really resonated  with me, especially after running for VUSD School Board last year, and losing.   I have spent some time, wasted it seems, over the last year trying to figure out how to identify and improve my weaknesses. However, Ms. Howard’s message taught me that my worldview was backwards, I should be working on maximizing my strengths.

Ms. Howard taught us there are thirty-four prevalent talents, out of which there are thirty-three million combinations.  These talents can also be arranged around four main themes: executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking. If you had asked me before I took the Strength Finder which two themes best described me I would have said strategic thinking and executing.  However, my top five strengths did not include one strength in executing. My top five strengths include two each in strategic thinking and relationship building, with one in influencing.

Over the last week, I have really thought about this assessment, and my lack of executing strengths. Maybe this explains some things in my life I had attributed to other causes. Clearly, (no pun intended),  my strength colored glasses are foggy.   However, rather than continue to dwell on improving my weaknesses, I am going to take reassurance in my strengths and use the Cohort 25 to Life community journey to become a more effective leader and change-maker.

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September 27, 2019

The Expectation of Leadership: Re-orient

By Theresa McKenrick

Thirty-two individuals took the first steps to becoming a team months before the first session this past Friday. In preparation for applying to become a part of Cohort XXV, I visited the VCLA website and read thru the curriculum. When submitting my application, then again as I prepared for my panel interview, I looked at the website and re-read the expectations. Some weeks later, I received a welcome aboard email. The email was both a welcome and a comprehensive guide to the next steps. Step number one, read, sign, and return an agreement to fulfill the responsibilities and expectations for all cohort members; fourth look at expectations of future cohorts.

Be engaged.

Be present.

Communicate.

Participate.

September, Friday the 13th I arrived at a remote building in the hills of Ojai. Men and women were in the process of taking seats.  I had the agenda, my report, and note-taking materials. The day went mostly as expected. We presented reports, participated in icebreakers, and explored known and unknown information and topics. I had understood that diversity was an important goal for VCLA and I was mildly and pleasantly surprised to meet a couple of folks who I would not readily single out as “leaders” and many who embodied several traits of leadership. Great news, I was prepared to learn and grow with new people over the next year.

Six hours later, I found myself unprepared. My profession is as organizational communicator. “Public” is in my job title. As I looked around the circle of my fellow cohorts from all different backgrounds, motivations, organizations, and communities, and as the “call and response” of the drum circle made its way to me, I could feel my face getting warm and my heart rate pick up. I actually recalled to myself the agreement I had signed: be engaged, be present, communicate, and participate. This couldn’t be part of that requirement.  I reassured myself that nobody was expecting a professional performance. I even assured myself that it would take 30 seconds and no one would remember a thing I had done. My turn came and I beat that drum with no expectation of making music or anything pleasant to hear. My 15 seconds (not minutes) of fame passed. I sat there feeling spent and allowing my face to cool.

In my mind, I will rename Focus Session #1, “Reorientation” instead of “Orientation.” I came in with my own expectations beyond the expectations provided to us. I am not shy and like many of Cohort XXV, I signed up to challenge myself. I can’t explain why this particular task was such a challenge to me and I guess that is the point. We are different and we will find things hard while others find them easy. Leadership means a lot of things. We may like, dislike, disagree with, and/or heartily endorse the topics, activities, and speakers over the next few months. For me, on session day one, I faced a challenge because a public drum solo is NOT my thing. Every moment was uncomfortable, and honestly, for me it was embarrassing. I did it.  All discordant, disjointed, non-musical, and non-rhythmic all of it. I’m certain it was not as painful for all, maybe not for anyone else. We each will face the next months with our strengths and weaknesses. I will reorient myself. My drum solo is over. We somewhat know what’s coming and we’ll be mostly prepared.

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