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Jennifer Duston, VCLA Cohort XXVI
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!
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!
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:
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:
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?”