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.



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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VCLA is Hiring!

The Ventura County Leadership Academy (VCLA) seeks a part-time Director to provide key strategic, organizational and financial leadership and direction to VCLA. The Director will be forward-focused and will enhance the visibility and growth of VCLA through development of strong community interest and support. This position is expected to grow to full-time over the next three years.

Candidates will have successful experience growing relevant components of an organization, will have experience with and knowledge of nonprofit management and governance, and will possess strong financial leadership skills and fund raising and/or event planning experience. Success will hinge on whether this person has a true collaborative approach to problem-solving, is team oriented, and is a servant leader.

Title: Director
Reports To: Board of Directors
Mission: Connecting people and issues to strengthen our County.

Each of the last 24 years the Ventura County Leadership Academy has brought together leaders representing approximately 35 private industries and public/private agencies to participate in an exceptional learning experience that takes place over the best part of a year. Once a month, participants are brought together in day-long structured activities focused on key county-wide and industry infrastructure issues that touch every facet of our lives. Through these activities participants gain a broad yet comprehensive understanding of how different parts of the County – public and private sectors – interact and interweave in ways that benefit us all.

During the last two decades under the umbrella of Ventura County United Way, VCLA has grown dramatically and earned a solid reputation as a significant contributor to County life.

Three years ago, the Board incorporated as a separate not-for-profit organization to strengthen its unique regional role even further. By educating current and emerging leaders about issues and solutions that directly affect our community VCLA strengthens Ventura County leadership and, thus, contributes to improving the quality of our lives together. VCLA boasts over 500 alumni occupying key roles in a wide range of industries and agencies throughout the County. VCLA is a nonprofit corporation.

This is a part-time exempt position estimated to be half-time/three days a week. The Director will report to the Board of Directors, have experience with nonprofit boards, along with fund-raising and “friend-raising” experience. The successful incumbent will be a seasoned leader expected to have a significant impact on organizing annual cohort sessions in which participants develop a solid understanding of County-wide infrastructure issues that affect all sectors. VCLA graduates have the potential to form a vibrant and supportive alumni association with the Director shaping the effort. An annual awards luncheon in the spring recognizing leaders in our community is a key fundraising event and highlight of the year.

Enhancing the prominence of this event and expanding sponsorships and attendance is a goal. Board member recruitment and development is also significant aspect of this position. Administrative support for this position is built into the annual budget.

The Board is seeking an accomplished leader with a solid understanding of all sectors of the County and shared infrastructure issues that pose both challenges and opportunities. The ideal candidate will have a passion for connecting issues and people and a commitment to the mission of VCLA.

Specifically, the Director is responsible for:

· Cohort Session Leadership
Provide a consistent and knowledgeable presence at each monthly cohort session and at the annual trip to Sacramento. Staff the Curriculum Committee. Identify and secure presenters, assure that presenters are well prepared. Secure session locations relevant to the topic. Make certain the program is well coordinated and the variety of speakers and tours provide on-target and insightful information.

· Resource Development
Through cohort tuition, annual fundraising events, grantsmanship, Board and alumni giving, and individual and corporate donations assure that the organization has sufficient funding to meet its annual plan and budget. Work toward establishing a six-month cash reserve.

· Financial and Administrative Management
Ensure that VCLA is fiscally healthy, effectively managed, transparent and ethical in its financial and business dealings. Work with the Board to craft an annual budget and operate within budget guidelines. Develop and maintain sound financial practices and a fiscally responsible budgeting process. Deposit checks and handle payables as needed. Develop and deliver organizational communications, both internal and external. Maintain organization records and databases.

· External Relations / Cohort Recruitment
Build and maintain positive working relationships with individuals, associations, organizations, and businesses to raise VCLA’s profile in the County. Attend community events that give VCLA visibility. Be the “face” of VCLA. Enhance VCLA’s online presence and with the Board develop and implement a long-range marketing strategy. Through these efforts develop strong interest in the program resulting in a steady stream of quality applicants.

· Strategic Direction
In collaboration with the Board, advisory council, alums and other stakeholders develop annual and long-range goals for VCLA. Advance and maintain processes to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of organization activities, engagement efforts and results.

· Board Relations
Work with the Board on an ongoing basis to develop a robust candidate pipeline attracting individuals with passion and talent to join the Board. Engage individual Board members and maximize critical thinking and involvement in Board committees.


· Graduation from VCLA’s program or similar leadership program
· Three or more years in management roles including budget accountability
· Prior experience serving on or working with nonprofit Boards of Directors
· Proven fundraising experience
· Demonstrated experience working to develop relationships and visibility through community events
· Record of building and maintaining collegial and collaborative working relationships

· Ability to synthesize new and complex information quickly and to communicate persuasively with different audiences
· Excellent written/verbal communication skills
· Superior public speaking skills
· Strong organizational skills

· Knowledge of the Ventura County community – government, law enforcement, education, nonprofit, commercial business, infrastructure issues such as water & housing
· Exposure to public policy development, public funding, infrastructure financing
· Understanding of a range of leadership styles and leadership development

Competitive annual salary, no insured or retirement benefits. All California State Holidays will be observed. 24 hours of sick time will be granted annually. Because the hours are flexible, and some months require more than half-time work, vacation time is negotiable.

You may apply via email by sending a letter outlining qualifications and resume as PDF documents to Include in email subject line “Your Name – Dir Applicant.” Applications will be accepted through June 15, 2019. Anticipated start date is August 1, 2019.

VCLA conducts this search process and employment opportunity without regard to race, color, religion, sex or gender (including gender identity and gender expression), sexual orientation, pregnancy (including childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions), age, disability, national origin or citizenship status, marital status or registered domestic partnership, ancestry, medical condition, genetic characteristics or genetic information, military service or veteran status, or any other characteristics protected by federal, state, or local laws prohibiting discrimination.

4 Degrees of Separation

By Merrill Whatley

Shortly after our January 11 VCLA session, I took a trip to Pittsburgh for work. As I write this, I am on Southwest Airlines, flying to Denver on my way back home via Burbank.

In the morning portion of the Local Government focus session, the subjects we covered about city government, county government and special districts may not have a greater available organizational and cultural juxtaposition in America than Continue reading

Ahoy Matey!

By Franki D. Williams

Squid boat: Up to 40% of California’s squid can be distributed through the Port of Hueneme on any given year.

After a morning focusing on local government in Thousand Oaks, I drove the back way through the agricultural fields of Camarillo, a part of the city unfamiliar to me, and met the rest of the cohort at the Port of Hueneme. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Continue reading

Water, water everywhere

By Jon Gathman, Installation Program Integrator at Naval Base Ventura County

How much water comes from the San Joaquin Valley (ie Sacramento) to support the Metropolitan Water District (serving you, me and the 18.999998 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties)?

  1. 4%
  2. 10%
  3. 30%
  4. 60%

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October 17, 2018

On Leadership and Exploring the Deep Sea

By Melissa Baffa, Cohort XVII, President, VCLA Board of Directors

Seven years ago, I was a member of Cohort XVII. It was during our session on education that our director asked for volunteers for the position of cohort representative. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity, but I was afraid to raise my hand. I would need to be elected by these fellow cohort members I was just getting to know. The last time I had run for anything was in high school, and I lost that election pretty badly. Being the cohort rep would mean attending the organization’s monthly board meetings, reporting out on our progress, and offering feedback. It would meanContinue reading

Cohort XXIII Reflections

By Nerissa Stacey, Communications Strategist, Mustang Marketing

It seems like only yesterday that I took my seat at Camp Arnaz for Cohort XXIII’s very first session. I remember looking around the room at a sea of unfamiliar faces, not sure what to expect but excited to find out. And now I’m preparing to sit among my fellow cohorts — no longer unfamiliar faces, but instead cherished new friends — at graduation as we conclude Continue reading