February eNews Guest Editor Hetal Desai, LT 20

In 2002, in the aftermath of September 11, I decided to move back to my hometown of Tallahassee. I had been working in New York for an impersonal “big-city” law firm and didn’t feel like I was putting any good out into the world. Once I moved back, I applied to Leadership Tallahassee to reconnect with my community. Luckily, I was accepted to the best LT class ever: Class XX. What I loved about my classmates was their diversity, not only in the traditional sense, but in their talents and aspirations. Despite their distinctive personalities, they all shared a readiness to make Tallahassee a better place.

I quickly learned that this trait was not unique to my classmates, but is common among LT members. We want to contribute; when a call goes out for volunteers, we respond. It was this trait that led to Class XX successfully creating its class project: Youth Leadership Tallahassee (YLT). Subsequent LT classes have expanded the YLT and fifteen years later it is one of the most competitive and meaningful for area high school students.

As my life in Tallahassee evolved, LT opened doors for me at every step. Professionally, after graduating from LT, I eventually worked at the Tallahassee City Attorney’s Office, and then at Sniffen & Spellman, P.A.. These jobs presented themselves through LT members (especially Michael Spellman (Class XX)) and allowed me to work with local governments and small businesses which have such a large influence on our community. Today, I have the honor of serving the public as an Administrative Law Judge for the State of Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings. Personally, I married Patrick McGuire, a realtor/property manager, and have two beautiful and active girls. One of my first dates with my husband was seeing Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak at the Legislature at the invitation of Darryl Jones (Class XX).

Since joining the LT family, my desire to give back has not changed, but my resources have. When I signed up for LT, I was single and restarting my professional career. I fretted over whether I had the ability to volunteer at the same level as my classmates. I had time and energy, but didn’t have many contacts or much experience. Later, as my family and professional life grew, my time became more limited. LT, however, provided me chances to help at every level. At first, I volunteered at events such as LT program parties and Village Square dinners (which led me to serve on the Village Square Board of Directors). As my professional networks expanded and I had more control over my schedule, I began helping with LT program days. Eventually, I chaired the Government Program Day for Class XXXIV. Today, I serve on LT’s Board of Governors. Every opportunity, big and small, has been rewarding.

LT is a successful and impactful program not only because we are willing to serve, but because it matches each member to a mission that is right for him or her. In the next few weeks you will receive the “willingness to serve” survey. Don’t fret, answer it, and remember it takes all shapes and sizes to make Tallahassee a better place.

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