Cohort Reflections

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 our Ventura County Leadership Academy (VCLA) journey and celebrate the incredible experiences we’ve shared.

On our first day, Dr. Genevieve Evans-Taylor invited us to consider leadership from a new perspective: we are all teachers, and we are all learners. Over the course of the coming months, that concept proved undeniably true.

With the broad range of topics we had the opportunity to explore — from environmental concerns, agriculture and water to the arts, education, public health, government and beyond — I am willing to bet that every single one of us learned several things we didn’t know before (I know I did!). And at the same time, we all taught each other as we shared our unique perspectives and knowledge of our respective industries.

Amanda Fagan, Cohort XXIII member and community planning liaison officer for Naval Base Ventura County said it perfectly: “Through VCLA, I gained a more in-depth understanding of the challenges facing Ventura County, such as affordable housing, economic and disaster recovery, transportation, water, and balancing growth and development with conservation. I also gained a window into some of the possible solutions to those challenges … On a personal note, my fellow cohort members are some of the most engaging and energetic leaders I have ever known, and I have really enjoyed learning from each of them.”

As we learned about our community, Cohort XXIII also got a unique opportunity to witness the difference we can make by combining our diverse strengths and leading together. When the Thomas Fire struck, each and every member of our cohort stepped up in some way to help, whether it was lending their expertise to fighting the fire, evacuating residents, providing shelter and food, collecting donations, or just offering words of support to those affected.

Kimberly Coley, Cohort XXIII member and executive director of the American Red Cross Pacific Coast and Ventura County Chapters, played a significant role in the fire relief efforts. She shared these thoughts about the experience: “During one of the most challenging times of my career, I found myself surrounded by the members of my cohort, all of whom were actively leaning in and offering to help. It is absolutely priceless to know that there is a group of people out there that might not do the work I do, but that I can count on for support, guidance and growth.”

During our final session, we once again had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Genevieve Evans-Taylor, who brought the experience full circle with a reminder of the value and importance of gratitude. And as we reflected back on our experiences with VCLA, I think it is fair to say we all felt we all had a tremendous amount to be grateful for — and a tremendous amount to look forward to as we continue to work together to build a stronger, happier, healthier Ventura County.

As Carlos Lopez, Cohort XXIII member and vice president of General Construction Clean Up Inc., put it, “Ventura County is a special place, and VCLA brings together special people. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Ventura County by meeting key community members and learning about important issues; I am most fortunate to have done so alongside my fellow cohort members. By promoting leadership and connecting us to other leaders from diverse industries and backgrounds, VCLA has kept true to its mission. I look forward to helping strengthen our county.”

Curious what else Cohort XXIII had to say about the VCLA experience? Read our reflections (also published in the VCLA graduation program) here.


Nerissa Stacey is the director of communications at Mustang Marketing, a full-service marketing, advertising and communications firm that has served organizations throughout Southern California since 1986. As director of communications, Nerissa oversees the agency’s written work — from social media content and press releases to copy for ads, e-blasts, websites and beyond — and assists in the development of marketing and public relations strategies for Mustang’s clients. She is a California Lutheran University graduate and has been a Ventura County resident since she was 4 years old.