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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 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.
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 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
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.
These lessons have helped to shape who I am and how I approach my work in Ventura County. Since my participation in Cohort XX, I have built the Reel Guppy program from concept to action. I am proud to say that my leadership has brought in more volunteers, supporters, and media attention than ever. And it’s only the beginning! We are providing healthy, exciting, hands-on opportunities for kids – most of them low-income and at-risk. VCLA helped to give me some tools that I use every day in making Ventura County an even better place to live. I’d like to invite all of you to come out to see what we are doing and to get involved. Visit http://
VCLA is very near and dear to my heart. The lessons I learned have helped to propel me to greater things than I had ever imagined. I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve Ventura County, and to put my leadership skills into action.
Kevin Brannon, Cohort XX (“Dos Equis”), AKA the Best Cohort Ever
Founder, Reel Guppy Outdoor, a nonprofit corporation
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
“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.
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”.
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.
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:
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: