September 2021 eNews Guest Editor, Becky Tolnay (LT 33)

Do you remember the first time you heard about Leadership Tallahassee? I do. OK, it was not like one of those significant life event things where you know exactly what you were doing when. I can’t tell you that I was standing in my kitchen eating crackers and peanut butter (although that may be true).

I can tell you it was 20 years ago when I was living in Atlanta and working at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. My sister, Kathy Bell, was in Leadership Tallahassee Class 19. For the next 9 months, she would share with me a little about her program day experiences and the new friends she had made. The whole experience sounded pretty great. The next year her husband, John Bell, was in Class 20. (For those of you who, inexplicably, have never met Darryl Jones (LT 20), that was the class that started YLT.) Then, for LT 21, Kathy was Curriculum Chair.

For three years, I got to hear stories about the program days and the impact they had on the people who participated in them. I got to learn about the work that went on behind the scenes and hear stories about the amazing Barbara Boone. I was fascinated by the program and even looked into Leadership Atlanta. Frankly, I was a bit intimidated by the names and companies associate with that group. And, at the time, I was busy with work and had started traveling some for my job. It was pretty easy for me to dismiss the idea.

Fast forward about 12 years and I find myself living in Tallahassee and planning my wedding to my wonderful husband, Michael. The topic of LT started coming up and I started trying to figure out when I would apply. Really, it was never a question of “if”, it was always “when”. In 2015, I was accepted into LT Class 33. You all know about the connections created and the “but for” introductions that happen in LT. I met amazing people and learned so much about the community that is now my home. With Class 33, I was able to get involved in our class project, The Learning Tree: Community Library. We came together to refurbish and furnish a room in a southside area apartment complex community center and fill the library with free books for children in the community. It is almost hard to believe that was 5 years ago.

Last year, I had the honor of serving LT Class 38 as the Curriculum Chair. Believe me, in March of 2020, Barbara and I had a lot of conversations about whether or not to even have a class in the middle of a pandemic. Other leadership programs around the country were choosing to put their programs on hold. There were so many unknowns! Barbara and I talked about the fact that leaders lead. Leaders find a way. This group of leaders and future leaders that accepted the invitation, even with everything that was going on in the world, were ready. What kind of leaders would we be if we didn’t serve them? I will never forget that two-day opening retreat on Zoom! Let me tell you, Class 38 stepped up, got engaged, and stayed engaged all year long.

So what? I had two great experiences with LT 33 and LT 38. So what? I get to go to events and lunches and be part of the LT family. So what?

For me, the “so what” comes every year when the LT “Willingness to Serve” survey comes out and I answer with where I feel I can serve in the best way or “where most needed.” And, when Barbara Boone calls me and asks me to do something for her, I say yes—because how can anyone say no to Barbara Boone?

Part of Leadership Tallahassee’s mission is to cultivate a diverse network of emerging & experienced leaders committed to improving the community. The “so what” is that LT graduates are asked to do more than be leaders. We are asked to become trustees of our community. This means staying connected, staying aware, being willing to take on difficult issues, and being willing to change as we learn and grow.

So, to all of the LT grads reading this, I invite you to take some time to reflect: what is your “so what” and how are you delivering on the LT mission?

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