When my husband and I moved from Central Florida to the Tallahassee area in spring of 2016, we said it was like getting an upgrade in life. He was a longtime fan of North Florida and had been looking for property for a couple of years when we landed on the perfect, unique house on a lake in the woods north of Tallahassee. I call it our treehouse, because it sits on a hill where we are at bird’s-eye level with soaring hawks and eagles. Egrets and herons wade in the creek down the hill from our house. It is a place of great peace and, thankfully, has been the “perfect” place to ride out the pandemic when we’ve needed to stay home.
My plan on arriving here was to retire from the research and consulting company where I had been chief analyst for 20 years and to establish a solo consulting business while dedicating myself to community work. Then a friend lobbied hard for me to apply to Leadership Tallahassee. I wondered, how would that work? Because my situation differs from that of most LT applicants. I provide consulting services to clients — start-ups and mid-sized companies in publishing and media — on their growth strategies and the needs of their markets. But I choose to focus most of my time on community service, volunteering and serving on the boards of arts and culture organizations. First was Southern Shakespeare Company and now Gadsden Arts Center and Museum in Quincy. And currently, I am also acting as creative director for a grant-funded oral history project for the Havana History & Heritage Society that will result in our making three documentary films about the fascinating history of our region.
Wait! Gadsden? Quincy? Havana? Yes, there’s another difference: I live in Reston — in Gadsden County, not Leon — about 15 miles up North Monroe from the State Capitol.
So, I wondered whether Leadership Tallahassee would embrace including a member later in her career and from our region, but not living in Tallahassee. I was delighted and honored to find that the Leadership Tallahassee selection committee for Class 38 was completely open to welcoming a member of a different stripe.
And what an amazing class LT 38 is — the freshest class ever! From our opening retreat held totally on Zoom, then hybrid Zoom / in-person, and finally in-person meetings, our class rose to the challenges of the pandemic and bonded in ways that I believe are very special. Like other LT members before me, I was floored repeatedly as our deep-dive program days exposed me to so much about Tallahassee’s communities and critical issues, and about the great businesses and organizations that actively seek to solve challenges and needs of underserved groups. Particularly powerful for me were the program days on Justice — the session on restorative justice blew my mind — Education and Workforce, and Arts and Culture. And I was on the Green team.
Because of my experience in LT, I have doubled down on looking for ways to extend it to serving our region more broadly. Many people in the county where I live need the same help and services as their neighbors in Leon County. Of particular concern are literacy and third-grade reading levels, equity in access to healthcare and legal services, and exposure to art and cultural resources. I plan to become increasingly more involved in the arts and cultural activities, especially where they intersect with community outreach and education. I’m committed to supporting cultural, literacy-focused, creative, and lifelong learning activities that help grow the mind and curiosity about the world and foster dialogue that helps us better understand each other.
Without exception, every LT member I meet exhibits a high level of warmth, commitment, candor, “get ‘er done” attitude, and invariably responds to an email or a call with “how can I help?”. To me, Leadership Tallahassee is a community, like a small town where everyone knows everyone and has their back. A community this bonded and committed can move mountains.
Every day I see the positive impact made by my Leadership Tallahassee colleagues, and I invite everyone to Think Small and, in doing so, to reach bigger. For any program or project designed to help a particular group, let’s focus on honing in on the small details to ensure the program works for that community in need. Then let’s Think Big, setting on a path to take that program bigger, beyond Leon, to other communities in our region that have the same needs, by asking: Who else can this program reach beyond the group I’m particularly focused on? What other communities have the same need? Who can I share or collaborate with who can take it to other groups in our region?
Let’s reach big by starting small, getting the details right, and together achieving things that make a difference in the lives around us in Tallahassee and beyond. As the African proverb says, it indeed takes a village to raise healthy, literate children well-prepared for their futures. It is a privilege and an honor to serve our communities, working hand in hand with my LT classmates. Thank you, Leadership Tallahassee and my amazing LT 38 classmates (the Freshest Class Ever) for the impact you’ve had on my life. I am grateful to be sharing this journey with you all.
Leigh Watson Healy
Leadership Tallahassee Class 38