My Leadership Tallahassee experience was quite different than others, but it is still something for which I am incredibly grateful. I applied after returning to Tallahassee from New York in 2003. I was a young professional working on the faculty at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point while conducting my dissertation. When I returned, I wanted to reconnect with the community at a deeper level since I had only known it as a college student. I moved here from Germany at age 17 and didn’t know a soul. I always tell people that if I could have picked a hometown, it would have been Tallahassee…I love the compassionate people, the climate, the beautiful scenery, and how much there is to do, especially outdoors! I actually didn’t know much about LT until I joined.
My class was filled with amazing people, but we never seemed to click like other classes. I never heard anyone claim we were the best class ever. I joke with my classmates that we are the lamest class ever since it’s usually just me or me and one other person from my class who show up for any LT events, and it has been like that since early on. We rarely get together, but when we do, it is evident that we like and respect one another. I love our slogan, Leadership through Diversity. Unfortunately, we also experienced leadership through adversity. We lost three classmates at a young age, and I will never forget them. Kay Freeman, Ray Johnson, and Stacey Webb were amazing people whose short lives continue to have deep impact on people.
I will never forget discussing homelessness with Kay, and I told her that while I had not experienced homelessness myself, I had lived in my car for several months trying to pay my way through college by working several jobs but ultimately unable to make rent. She said, “You dummy…that’s homeless!” It honestly had never dawned on me until she called it out in a way only Kay could do.
One of my classmates, Kate MacFall, tapped into my love of animals and changed my life in profound ways. Because of Kate, I started fostering animals to help save their lives. I specialize in helping neonatal, sick, and orphaned kittens and puppies. Two weeks ago, I took in a very pregnant dog from Polk County who gave birth to 10 puppies, and two months ago, I took in a very pregnant kitty from Wakulla County who gave birth to 5 kittens, 3 of whom are available for adoption along with their momma. I have fostered 723 animals who would likely not be alive had it not been for Kate’s influence.
Speaking of animals, I have a rescued Golden Retriever who is a certified therapy dog and service dog. For eight years we’ve loved volunteering with Alzheimer’s patients, at the hospital, and in the court system, often with abused children. It is through the latter experience that I’ve seen firsthand how compassionate and supportive our LT 23 big cheese Jack Campbell is.
Leadership Tallahassee sparked a dream in me as well. I am a leadership coach, speaker, and trainer. During my program year, I had asked Barbara Boone if I could help infuse more leadership development into the curriculum, and she said it was outside the scope of LT at the time. It took me several years to make the dream a reality, but I started a successful yearlong Leadership Academy for professionals to provide training, mentoring, coaching, and assessments. It is a complementary program to LT and I’ve had several graduates join LT and several LT graduates join my Leadership Academy. In 2015 I bought a beautiful office building and named it the Leadership Development Center. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience helping people at all levels grow to their full potential!
Leadership Tallahassee showed me how much need there is in our community, and how much compassion exists for those in need. In 2015, I started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Life Worth Leading that provides training and resources for people with disabilities. I am a SCUBA instructor trainer with a specialty in working with people with disabilities. Able-bodied people take my classes, and their tuition helps provide scholarships and adaptive gear for people with disabilities. My dream is to build a warm water aquatherapy center in Tallahassee with three pools: one deep for SCUBA diving, one shallow for physical therapy, and a third for animals like my Bodi who has arthritis.
Throughout the years, I’ve grown to love my LT family including people from other classes. I enjoy staying plugged in to all the wonderful opportunities that LT provides including lunches, networking events, and learning opportunities. I believe so strongly in the experience that I became a lifetime member!