Louisville – Quality of Place? DEFINITELY!

Sandy Deel

Sandy Deel (LL '12), director of HR services & benefits, Thorntons Inc.

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.