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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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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