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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:
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.