Keeping the Focus: To Not Act on What Inspires Us, Stifles Us

Robert Gunn, Jr.

Robert Gunn, Jr. (FL ’12) principal intern, Olmsted Academy North

Focus Louisville – April 2012

I will be the first to admit that I have been to wonderful professional development sessions and have been inspired by something that I have seen or heard, only to let my inspiration fall to the wayside because I failed to turn that inspiration into action. Many of us have careers and families that demand the majority, if not all of our time. While I cannot fault anyone for working and spending time with their family, I would like to FOCUS our attention on those who are less fortunate and need some assistance.

During the two and a half days I spent with Focus Louisville, I learned a tremendous amount of facts about the history of Louisville and the things that contribute to our city and community (Thanks Dr. Tom). I learned to appreciate the fact that there is a push to “Keep Louisville Weird.” However, I also learned that there is a need for individuals in our community to step up and assist those in need. Too often, we fall short on acting or volunteering because we either think our individual efforts won’t have a large enough impact or as I previously stated, we just don’t we have the time. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of both.

I visited the Americana Center, which helps many refugees from various countries around the world. We were given a tour of the facilities and heard various stories of heartache, injustice, and barbarism that many people who come to the center have experienced in their lives. When asked what we could do to help, we were given a vast list of things we could either provide or things we could do to assist the families at the center. As an educator, I have many of the students of these families at my school. I have vowed to help educate these students as well as provide time outside of school to assist at the center. Unfortunately, to this point, I have done neither. For me, that changes today, Wednesday May 2, 2012 at 3:00 PM when I will arrive at Americana.

In writing this, I am hoping that speaking about my experience that inspired me as well as many others in my group will resonate with you and get you to think of what inspired you. Next, I would like you to ask yourself what you have done about it. If you are like me and have done nothing thus far, don’t beat yourself up or be ashamed. Instead, get up and do something. Anything is better than nothing and trying to do too much might simply wear you down. Whether it’s money, time, sharing your personal experiences or providing resources, do what you can; but please remember, good intentions without actions will not warrant change and become mere thoughts and words.

My Focus Louisville experience

Martha Mather

Martha Mather (FL ’12) vice president and chief operating officer, Our Lady of Peace

Focus Louisville – April 2012

I moved to Louisville in March slightly apprehensive from Atlanta. I can honestly say that after just a short six weeks, I am a new ambassador of Louisville. Here’s why:

1) The passion of the people living in this community supersede that of any other city I’ve lived in (Atlanta, Raleigh, Memphis, Ft. Lauderdale, etc.),

2) The surroundings – Louisville is an underrated city…the parks, restaurants, festivals, (I started to wonder if that is a strategy…to keep Louisville a secret), and

3) The social services resources for people in need.

My background is in social services. I’ve worked in community centers, outpatient settings, and psychiatric hospitals in several states. I was particularly touched while touring The Healing Place for Women. A former consumer toured us and shared her story while doing so. Her humility, courage, and acceptance really impacted me. This is an organization who does not ask for a single dime from their consumers, relying completely on the generosity of this community. It is a lovely setting for women recovering from alcohol or drug abuse. I could feel the camaraderie, love, and support penetrating the atmosphere as we walked through each phase of the program.

I left the Focus Louisville program with a to-do list – some easier than others – donate clothing, make a financial contribution, tour the West End School, eat out in NuLu, and tell everyone about my experience! I want my family and colleagues both to experience Louisville the way I have. And there is no greater introduction than Focus Louisville.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Debra Hoffer

Debra Hoffer (BF ’12, BF ’04, BF ’02, LN ’06, LL ’93) president, Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana, Inc.

Bingham Fellows Class of 2012

My first thought when I heard about the 2012 Bingham Fellows topic was that if there is a magic bullet for increasing parental engagement in their children’s education, someone would have already discovered it.  In fact, they’d be a regular on Oprah.

Fast forward to the Bingham Fellows Opening Retreat.  I’d read my homework, had a few ideas to contribute and was hopeful that we would share our visions for success, agree on the best solutions and the rest of the Bingham Fellows process would be just ironing out details.  In reality, the process seemed a lot like trying to eat an elephant (something which I have never done in one sitting).   At the end of the day, I decided to just trust the process and modify my expectations for immediate clarity of vision.  A nice glass of Chardonnay was waiting for me at home, which helped me adjust my attitude.

What has transpired during recent weeks is a sometimes frustrating, sometimes delightful, always exhausting process that seems to be leading to some form of success.  We have listened to wise speakers, performed more research and tossed out hundreds of ideas, both good and bad.  Now, in our small groups, we are narrowing our focus.  We are taking small bites of the elephant.  And, it tastes quite good.

What I am learning is the importance of setting the big goals aside while one works to set small goals.  Small goals give us something to chew on, something with attainable outcomes.  We have begun to join our minds together to agree upon a common definition of success, and we are becoming a team.

I think that, one bite at a time, we will eventually eat this elephant.

Louisville – Quality of Place? DEFINITELY!

Sandy Deel

Leadership Louisville 2012 April program day

Our Leadership Louisville program day started at Valhalla.  My husband considers it almost hallowed ground and I would agree that, even under construction, it is an impressive facility.

As a mother of a college bound football player and budding basketball player, I thought I knew a little something about sports in our community.  However, I learned quite a few things that I didn’t know from Steve Higdon, Chairman of the Kentucky Sports Commission. For instance, I didn’t realize that our community doesn’t have a facility large enough to host the NCAA Final Four or Championship Game.  After visiting the YUM Center I can’t imagine that we would need a facility that would hold four times the amount of people needed for one of those games.

I think perhaps my favorite part of the day was when Scott Martin, Parks Director of Parklands of Floyd Fork, gave his powerful presentation.  I am not someone who is easily “sold” the first go around.  It usually takes a vendor a few times to get me on board.  However Scott Martin had me at Hello!  He sold me lock, stock and barrel on the Parklands of Floyds Fork, and the visit to the Beckley Creek park facility sealed the deal.  There is so much thought process that goes into planning each and every detail of the parks and Scott took us through some of those details.  He described to us the thought process behind the playground equipment choices.  Scott envisioned children playing together and working as a team.  This was proven out when a few of my classmates had to work together to go around and around on a piece of the equipment.  Some of my more competitive fellow classmates climbed to the top of the playground equipment (Go Tori Murden McClure and Mark Hogg!) and had a great time doing it.

I loved the visit at the Iroquois Amphitheater.  I had not visited there since I was in high school and I didn’t know the amphitheater had been remodeled to the extent that it has been.  It is a beautiful facility and I plan to make it a point to visit for some performances.  The free Monday night movies in the summer caught my attention and I think that would be a great family outing – a day in the park finished off with a movie in the park!

I must say that I love being part of the Leadership Louisville experience and I think the staff gets so much great experience packed into just one day.  I am always mentally exhausted at the end of these days but it is a good mentally exhausted and I will miss that.  This was another GREAT program day and I hate to see the program (for me) come to an end.

The challenge of getting children “Ready to Learn”

John Cullen

John Cullen (BF '12) chief executive officer, LockUpLead

Bingham Fellows 2012 March program day

Family Scholar House’s (FSH) new Stoddard Johnston Scholar House provided a great environment for the Bingham Fellows as everyone started the creative process of finding tangible ways the community can “move the needle” on student achievement.  Cathe Dykstra, CEO of FSH, kicked off the morning explaining how they work to remove the barriers for single-parent students.  The safe housing and family support allow these impressive individuals and their children to complete a degree and break the cycle of poverty.  I can’t imagine a better investment for a community!

Dr. Keith Look, Principal of Shawnee High School, cut to the chase quickly.  If the community can help outside the school walls with basic needs that are unmet for so many children, and provide children who are “Ready to Learn,” Look stated, the schools can make quantum leaps in student achievement.  No curriculum, teacher, principal, or quantity of computers in a school can compensate for a child suffering from environmental factors that shift their attention and focus, leaving them distracted and unable to absorb and learn.  These environmental factors are barriers not only for low-proficiency children in poverty.  Any child in an unhealthy environment (family instability, poor diet, little physical activity, unsafe and unhealthy housing, etc) is going to perform below their potential in any school, public or private.  And even just a few children in a classroom with attention or behavior challenges can rob the entire class of a quality learning environment.  So it really is not just someone else’s problem, or isolated in a few “failing schools.”  It is indeed a fundamental condition where we will rise or fall together as a community.

Speaking of rising or falling together, Kentucky’s motto “united we stand, divided we fall” describes well the task ahead to provide “Children Ready to Learn”, a term repeated by several speakers.  As we now know, failing neighborhoods are precursors to failing schools.  To quote DeVone Holt (Bingham Fellow 2011), “We at JCPS are in the business of ‘ABCs’ and ‘123s’.  But we find ourselves having to pick up the social services that are not being provided in the community in order to even get to the point where the child is able to focus and learn.”

We heard from our classmate, Dana Jackson (Network Center for Community Change), about the amazing impacts realized by building communities, supporting families, and providing safe and affordable housing to meet the basic needs of families with school-age children.  After drilling down to specifics in the past few months, it certainly provided an “Aha!” moment to pull back out to a broader view of the entire orchestra of parts that have to work together for a functional environment for our students.  We must ensure that all families have access to continuing education for parents, safe and healthy housing, mobility, healthy foods and physical exercise.  Enlisting the faith community, nonprofits, and even informal neighborhood networks to work together to meet these basic needs will certainly translate into broad improvements in student achievement for children at all levels of proficiency.

Finally, I am thankful that we have developed the courage, honesty and trust within the group that allows individual members to remind us not to sweep inconvenient truths under the rug, like the glaring racial divisions that are an anchor around our community’s neck.  If not us, who will expand the work to break down these psychological walls and build the community capital to make it clear that we are all in this boat together?  United we stand!

Lessons Learned

Carrie Halstead

Carrie Halstead (IL '10), marketing director, Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Kentucky

Ignite Louisville Class of 2012 Opening Retreat

Lesson1: There is no ‘I’ in team.Okay, so this isn’t a new lesson, but it applies to so many aspects of our personal and professional lives it bears repeating.  After being assigned to our retreat teams, we were tasked with several team building exercises – each with their own special life lesson.  We learned that open, honest communication, even in the face of adversity, is crucial to any team.  We learned to value everyone’s opinion, especially the ‘quiet ones’.  We learned there doesn’t always have to be a defined ‘leader’ and in fact, the team worked better when each of us had a turn at the helm.  And we learned that you do achieve much better results when everyone participates.Lesson 2:  Listen to your gut and push yourself.Gill Holland (Group Entertainment) and Heather Howell (Rooibee Red Tea) shared some of their life experiences with us as they interviewed each other for the group.  And although they have many differences in their stories, they share a few similarities.  They aren’t afraid to be who they are – they’re not interested in fitting into someone else’s idea of who they should be.  They’re not afraid to take risks and they both embrace what makes them different.  What I took away from this conversation is to listen to that inner voice, even if it means veering off course and doing something way outside of your comfort zone.  Trust in yourself, lean on your friends, use your networking circle, push yourself and don’t settle.

Lesson 3:  Giving back feels good.

Want an instant pick me up?  Go volunteer.  You will likely never find yourself in a more welcoming, appreciative and diverse setting as you will in your local nonprofit agency.  And while I may not be the most objective person, having come from a nonprofit, ask around and watch people’s faces light up as they tell you about donating their time or talent to a worthy cause.  Better yet, watch the faces of the folks who work for that agency.  Take a good look at someone who burns the candle at both ends day in and day out just to make a difference in someone else’s life.  If you stay the course and invest your talent whole-heartedly, I promise this experience will change your life.

Geeks, shoe pickers and a giant armadillo provide lessons on regionalism, logistic

Lisa Brosky

Leadership Louisville Class of 2012 – March program day

It was a day about regionalism, but the lesson was logistics.

While this river city, which grew out of a need to portage around the Falls of the Ohio, has always understood the importance of logistics, logistics now drive the economic well-being of a two-state, multi-county region that is stitched by I-65, complemented by the Ohio River and punctuated by UPS Worldport.

As a result, we are all in this together: geeks in requisite black clip-on ties, shoe-pickers who walk 15 to 20 miles a day, a commerce park director longing for a bridge, and even a 7-foot armadillo in Western wear.

On March 13 Leadership Louisville visited two of several businesses that have located in Bullitt County thanks to the proximity to UPS and I-65.

Each day hundreds of computers are shipped to Geek Squad in Brooks for repair, and then back to their owners. Down I-65, on-line retailer Zappos in Shepherdsville, ships out thousands of shoes and household goods each day and returns are happily accepted.

Each day hundreds of people, both skilled and unskilled, go to work.

Thanks to logistics, our region benefits from the presence of Geek Squad “agents,” who take pride in their work and culture, down to the bottom of their shoes, stamped with the Geek Squad logo. Some even carry a badge.

At Zappos, where “shoe pickers” manage vast carousels of footwear, their paid benefits, free lunch and deals on cushioned shoes, are critical and appreciated parts of their compensation.

To the north in Clark County, Ind., River Ridge Commerce Center is expecting a major new tenant (Amazon?!), but eagerly awaits the east end bridge, which will bring interstate traffic nearly to the doorstep.

For me, the day also brought home the impact of Metropolitan College, a partnership of UPS, Jefferson Community & Technical College, University of Louisville, metro and state government. Students work for UPS and receive paid tuition and books, providing UPS a reliable workforce and opportunity to grow. How critical that has proven.

And, of course, there was an armadillo in a cowboy hat. We began our day with Andy Armadillo, mascot of Texas Roadhouse, which believes in good customer service and a good quality product. We were reminded, thank you Andy and team, that fun at work is a good thing (and starting your day with a rousing cheer feels pretty good). Texas Roadhouse, now nationwide, calls Louisville home. More good news for our region.