Leadership Vallejo Year Nine contemplates improvement projects

Vallejo residents have the Leadership Vallejo program to thank for the new and improved mural and the planters on Tennessee Street, the planters and doggie-do cleanup stations on the waterfront and the yurt at McIntyre Ranch.

A regularly updated kiosk with information on available services for homeless and low-income residents, which grew out of Leadership Vallejo last year, is now part of a Participatory Budgeting effort aimed at helping the city’s homeless.

Last year’s class also found a permanent home for the Trolls Under the Bridge project. 

Now in its ninth year, Leadership Vallejo educates and trains future business, government and volunteer leaders. Participants meet once a month for nine months for a day-long program. Each year, teams are formed to focus on a community project, like these.

Program alumnus Ian Kaiser worked with the Vallejo City Unified School District on creating the high school academies, program organizer Tina Fowler said.

Friday was the second session of Leadership Vallejo Year Nine. The group of about 20 met in the morning for a nosh and a history lesson at the Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum. Participants represent a wide range of residents including Realtors, car dealerships, hair stylists, financial experts and individuals. Organizations like Team Superstores, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Kaiser Permanente, Foster Greatness and the Vallejo Police and Fire Departments are represented. 

A brief history of the museum, Mare Island and the city, from the time even before Vallejo was a city, was presented by museum executive director Jim Kern, followed by short presentations by local authors of books on the history of various ethnic groups represented in town.

New this year was a bus tour of Vallejo, with former mayor Terry Curtola and Vallejo businessman Buck Kamphausen explaining points of interest.

“It was fantastic,” said Kevin Brown, participating in Leadership Vallejo on behalf of the Vallejo Fire Department. “Being a native, I thought I knew a lot about Vallejo, but I realize it’s just a drop in the bucket.” 

Robert “Bobby” King, of Vallejo’s California State University Maritime Academy, said he chose to participate because he’s new here and wants to learn the lay of the land “beyond the campus.”

“I also hope to get to know some of the others interested in the same things,” the Memphis area native said.

Mike Pedergast, another native, representing the Law Offices of Morton & Russo, said the bus tour was especially interesting.

“I learned a lot I didn’t know,” he said.

Touro University employee and Vallejo native Alicia Ashorn said she joined the group to “become more a part of the community.

“I’m interested in it. I love it,” she said. “Quite a few friends have gone through the program and had only positive things to say.”

Like the others, Ashorn said she’s especially eager to help develop and accomplish a lasting team project — “an opportunity to make our community better.”

This second meeting included breaking up into teams and “brainstorming” to narrow down at least the areas of interest for an eventual project.

Brown, speaking for his group, said they were leaning toward either doing something for the city’s youth or its homeless. 

Speaking for his group, Manny Angel of Visit Vallejo said his group will try to find a way to help revitalize downtown, having been “inspired by the tour.”

Sandra Vegas of the nonprofit Foster Greatness, speaking for her team, said members were discussing finding ways to partner local businesses with high school students for mentoring opportunities, while Pendergast said his team is seeking ways to raise funds to help Leadership Vallejo expand its programming.

“We wan to focus in succeeding,” he said. “We don’t want to set our sights too high, so we fail. We want our project to work.” 

This is a reasonable concern, since the majority of projects each year wind up fizzling out for various reasons. Also, there’s a participation cost factor — about $1,000 — that some people and/or employers can’t or are unwilling to pay.

“We’re thinking of creating an annual fundraiser for Leadership Vallejo, so the group can help fund people who can’t afford it,” Pendergast said.

The reasons for participating in Leadership Vallejo may be as varied as the participants, though there may be a common theme in what they walk away with, Fowler said. 

“I think the people who come through the class have a better understanding of themselves,” she said. “They have a better understanding of the things they know, and of the things they don’t know when in leadership roles. Also, they know where to go to get the real information, who the key players are.”

Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824.