December Guest Editor, Randy Nicklaus (LT 9)

I hope your holidays will be full of joy and happiness. Let’s appreciate the benefits we have and help others who are less fortunate, not only during the holidays but throughout the entire year!
My LT experience began in 1991 when I was accepted into Class IX. Yes, we used Roman Numerals back then to identify our LT Class! We also had small name tags with safety pins instead of magnets to attach to our clothes. We had small group projects during that LT year, not entire Class projects like now.  There are many other changes too.
My Class IX small group project was to look at the community perception of Rickards High School and find a way to improve it. We did a short pre-survey of a small group of our acquaintances which showed an unfavorable view of the school. Then we took that group on a tour of Rickards High School. Their post-survey perceptions showed a marked improvement in how they viewed the school. To me, this was a clear example that we often form stereotyped and negative perspectives about people and places from second-hand knowledge and inaccurate assumptions instead of first-hand experience.  That’s a benefit that first-hand experiences like focused LT class days and field trips bring to us during our LT training. When my daughter was in high school, she attended the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Rickards High School and had a fabulous experience. This reinforced my LT small group experience which I’ve never forgotten.
Since I graduated from Class IX in 1992, my involvement with LT has continued through Quarterly Luncheons, Building Better Boards, LT Human Service Days, committee work and personal LT friendships. My wife Miriam (LT 29) introduced me to her class and more LT friendships were created. 
This year, Miriam and I are participating in LT 2.0 Journey to Racial Justice. I’m learning that while our community has made progress in racial justice over the years, we still have a lot of work to accomplish. Just as there were unfavorable perceptions toward Rickards High School that were improved during my LT IX small group project, I believe many of these same unfavorable perceptions about aspects of our community still exist today. We need to continue our LT programs and community initiatives to make more changes to improve knowledge, perceptions and attitudes in our community.
For the past 35 years, I’ve been the President of 2-1-1 Big Bend. We serve the Big Bend region with 24/7 hotline services including crisis intervention, suicide prevention, supportive counseling, information and referrals to community resources. People can reach our hotline by calling the three-digit 211 number. Over the years, many LT and YLT graduates have served on our board, supported our services and sponsored our events. 2-1-1 Big Bend serves as a community safety net and central clearinghouse of human service information. LT contributions have been invaluable to me and my agency.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our 2-1-1 Big Bend calls have increased by 40 to 50 percent. Instead of receiving an average of 1,400 calls each month, we are now typically handling more than 2,000 calls a month. More callers are indicating a need for food, housing and financial assistance. We have collaborated with several community agencies to provide customized services to help during the pandemic including our partnership with our United Way Ride United program and Second Harvest of the Big Bend to deliver food to households that don’t have their own transportation.  As economic and mental health issues continue to rise, our 211 hotline counselors will continue to be available 24/7.
LT has played an important part in my ongoing leadership development, my role as President of 2-1-1 Big Bend and in my personal life. Thank you Leadership Tallahassee and my LT Friends!

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