Like all of us, I had a wonderful Leadership Tallahassee experience. My year with LT 33 was a transformative year – making new friends while becoming more acquainted with Tallahassee and the diversity that drives our community. I was reconnected with my college roommate. I met classmates who I never would have known otherwise and developed lasting friendships. This introverted engineer was even elected co-Big Cheese. And yes, like everyone before me and after me, I will tell you wholeheartedly my class is the Best Class Ever. The LT year flies by quickly, and before we knew it our time as the active class was over and we graduated. It’s true what everyone says, you probably won’t see the rest of your class all together at the same time after graduation. No matter how hard we all try, life gets busy and gets in the way. But that’s okay, as much fun as it would be, we don’t all need to be together at once. Between LT Functions, a coffee here, a lunch there, or catching up over a glass of wine one evening, there are so many ways to stay connected if you want to. You get out of it what you put into it.
My time since my LT year has included multiple opportunities for me to give back to LT: serving on YLT Interview Committees and participating in Captains Meetings; working as STEAM Program Day Chair for YLT 14; being an opening retreat volunteer with LT 36 & 37; and serving with LT 30 to interview candidates from YLT 15 for the Youth Leadership Award. Fast forward to February 2020, and Amanda Wiggins (former LT Staff, LT Honorary) called wanting to talk about YLT with me. But not interviews this time, she wanted to know if I would serve as Curriculum Chair for YLT Class 17. After talking through it with Amanda that decision was a no brainer – my love of working with students combined with my love of LT had combined to present me with a full year with YLT. Little did we know that within a month COVID would change the way we lived and worked, and it would definitely change the way we were able to meet and present programming with YLT 17.
We started our program year virtually – virtual orientation and 2 virtual retreat days. We learned quickly that our students worked best when the schedule of their virtual day mimicked their school schedule, so we rearranged our virtual time together. Our first program day was pushed back to October in hopes of being hybrid, but still had to be changed to virtual programming. Our program day team was fantastic – they pivoted quickly and presented an engaging virtual program day for the students. We excited to be able to provide hybrid programming in November with our Healthcare/Human Services Day and to finally be able to see some of our students in person. We were even able to bring the students out that day to provide volunteer service. Our in-person students helped stock the pantry at Second Harvest and they prepared the gift bags for the Angel Tree Program at the Salvation Army. Our virtual students recorded themselves reading their favorite childhood stories for Children’s Home Society. Then with the holidays and concern about COVID cases rising, combined with Amanda’s move to Arizona, we punted our December program day to our March make-up date, and crossed our fingers that 2021 would be kinder. For 2021 we were able to provide hybrid programming for our students for all of our remaining days – Business & Finance, Public Safety, Infrastructure, and Arts & Culture. And while the programming was always engaging and energetic, we had to work hard to keep it just as engaging for the virtual students. My iPad and cell phone were connected to Zoom and were carried throughout the days through many small group sessions to keep our virtual students engaged. They always thanked us for our efforts to try and keep them integrated in the day. Thank goodness for unlimited data! Despite the challenges we had an amazing year. The programming teams just stepped it up with each program day. Whenever we thought we had the best day yet, the next program day just brought it up a notch. I’m thankful we had Henry with us along the way to tell us the story and provide the memories of YLT 17’s year. I couldn’t have done it without Amanda, Rebekah Negron, Barbara Boone, Becky Tolnay (LT 33),and Lili Hoffman – to be hybrid it really did take a village. You get out of it what you put into it; and we poured our heart and souls into YLT 17 (my other Best Class Ever). And YLT 17 gave me so much in return.
It was such an honor and privilege to serve as the Curriculum Chair for YLT Class 17. Those young men and women continually impressed me with their enthusiasm and commitment to learn more about our community and how they can make it better. YLT Class 17 just graduated from their program this past Sunday, May 16th. It was the first time we got to see some of our students in person as they had participated virtually until that point! But that graduation didn’t only mark the end to our Youth Leadership Tallahassee year. It also was a beautiful way to end my regular commitments with Leadership Tallahassee. I’m moving away from Tallahassee in a few weeks. I’m fortunate to work for a company that understood my desire to be a little closer to my family, and I’m transferring to our office in Jacksonville, Florida.
If I have learned any one thing from my years spent with Leadership Tallahassee and Youth Leadership Tallahassee it is that you get out of it what you put into it. If you engage, serve, and give of your time and effort to LT, even in a small way, it gives back to you in so many ways. I’ve met so many wonderful friends from so many LT and YLT classes throughout my service and social connections with LT. And while I will still be connected to my LT friends and family in so many different ways after I move, I know I will greatly miss the presence of my LT and YLT Community. I’ll keep pouring into our programs and my friendships from a distance so that I can continue to benefit from my experiences.
Leadership Tallahassee and Youth Leadership Tallahassee are made up of many who call themselves the Best Class Ever. But what I’ve really learned from my time with LT is that we aren’t just a group made up of everyone’s Best Class Ever. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As Leadership Tallahassee all of our classes comprise the Greatest Community Ever. And I am proud to be a part of our LT Community!