February Guest Editor, Heather Thomas (LT 36)

A Divine Legacy
One of the most vivid memories of my Leadership Tallahassee experience was sitting in the passenger seat of a City of Tallahassee Police cruiser as it raced to the scene of the 2018 Hot Yoga shooting. The horrific episode in Tallahassee history left permanent scars on our community. When I signed up for the LT required ride-along, never could I have imagined being a witness to the aftermath of such an event. It gave me a greater appreciation for our first responders and a deeper awareness of gun violence, but also the way our city comes together to share fellowship, support and love. Namaste, a word used in the practice of yoga, means, “The divine in me sees the divine in you.” Repeated often during that time, Namaste beautifully expressed what many of us were feeling as we recognized our oneness as a community.
Moreover, before that event was Hurricane Michael. With both of these historic trials happening during our LT year, I couldn’t help but be in awe and appreciation that our diverse class would be brought together—I believe divinely—for such times as these. That connection became even more profound in the days ahead when we lost our LT classmate, Dr. Jeff Godbey. Jeff left behind a wife and young daughter. Our class created a college fund for his daughter so that we could help leave a legacy of Jeff’s love for his family, friends, and community.
When it comes to the meaning of legacies, perhaps LT is one of the best illustrations of how mostly complete strangers are called to the purpose of making a lasting difference in the lives of others. I daresay that the hope of any LT class is that their efforts will live on long after they do. The culminating class project is one way to do that. As many of you have experienced, choosing a class project is not easy. That definitely proved to be the case for, “Smarter than Your Average Class” LT 36. We decided upon funding and building an Outdoor Leadership Classroom at Sabal Palm Elementary, a Community Partnership School.
On January 10, 2021, our vision of an Outdoor Leadership Classroom and gardens became a reality, two years after its conception and in the middle of a global pandemic. Maybe we should have called ourselves, “The Most Persistent Class Ever.” The building of the classroom cost a total of $25,129, which included $23,200 in direct donations, $9,106 in In-Kind Donations from community partners, and a total of 465 hours of volunteer time by LT 36 members. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Lisa Brown, classmate and President/CEO of Tallahassee-Leon Federal Credit Union, a principal funder of the project.
Demonstrated in other communities as a lasting way to foster student learning, creativity, and greater health, an outdoor classroom helps to improve healthier, whole-child development overall. This is especially important now in the midst of educating students during the COVID-19 pandemic (again, divine timing). LT Class 36 also wanted to recognize the faculty with the outdoor classroom as an acknowledgment of their hard work as they help to address the types of generational concerns students face in this area.
There is a plaque in the space dedicating the project to Jeff Godbey’s memory, along with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Leadership Tallahassee continues to teach me many things. One of those being that the positive power of the collective is the most powerful change agent of all. In these current times, much seems to divide us and unity seems almost impossible, when in actuality, there is much more that unites us.
When we come together, despite the challenges of our era, we raise each other up and the next generation with us. One of the greatest legacies to leave would be one in which we inspire our children to believe that anything is possible because we have shown them how it can be done.
Another way Namaste is used is, “The light in me honors the light in you.” When we serve the community from a place in which we recognize ourselves in one another, it becomes a divine way to live, love and lead, and we shine our light for others to follow.
Shine on,
Heather Thomas (LT 36) 

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