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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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.