Buckeye Councilwoman Michelle Hess

Buckeye Councilwoman Michelle Hess is the executive director of Leadership West.

Whenever people find out I am the executive director of Leadership West and a member of the Buckeye City Council, they tend to question my sanity. That is, with our country divided and a perception of a lack of civic engagement and leadership locally, they believe one person cannot make a difference. These naysayers and I have a definite difference of opinion. I, and countless others, have witnessed the changes in the West Valley and the leadership capabilities shown by graduates of the Leadership West program. Currently in its 25th year, these eager graduates have used their time and talents to join the leadership pipeline to support the future growth of the West Valley cities they work in and inhabit.

For those of you not yet familiar with Leadership West, we are a nonprofit organization that engages, informs and inspires proven leaders in business, nonprofits and government to leverage their time, talents and leadership capital to enhance the quality of life in the West Valley and Arizona. Besides these reasons to associate with Leadership West, it is vital that we educate others in the issues, challenges and successes of the communities we live in, so informed decisions can be made. This is how we create the movers and the shakers of the future.

So profound is the program that we can look at the successes through the results of the past 25 years. When we add up the thousands of community service hours, as well as those civically engaged, here are the impressive statistics: Seven of our graduates ran for office, one state representative was reelected, one state representative elected, one Central Arizona Project board member reelected, one person appointed to the Goodyear City Council and then elected, one graduate appointed to the Avondale school board and one voted in as vice mayor by her peers. Additionally, graduates serve as the current president and past president of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce and president of the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Graduates have received many accolades for their leadership accomplishments including; the Phoenix Business Journal’s Most Admired Leader Award for Pendergast Superintendent Dr. Lily Matos DeBlieux, Melissa Holdaway was an Athena Award finalist, Marie Rogers Lopez had the Avondale Resource Center named for her years of service, Buckeye Elementary School District President Dr. Kristi Sandvik is the president-elect of the American Association of Superintendents and Administrators, WESTMARC President and CEO Sintra Hoffman received the Education Award from the Maricopa County Community Colleges, and Rep. Diego Espinoza received the Adelante Stepping Stones Award.

Most important is the civic-minded ownership of our graduates. Each program participant is required to complete a project that will enhance the lives of others in the West Valley. One such program that stands out is the Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference, founded by Leadership West graduates Dr. Lily Matos DeBlieux and Gina Godbehere. This anti-bullying, suicide prevention program has empowered youth and touched the lives of over 380,000 students throughout Arizona.

It is so easy to criticize our government and society today and talk about the apathy or the indifference. I prefer to concentrate on the difference makers in our local communities today. Luckily, Leadership West is recruiting for Class XXIV in the fall and you have the chance to apply and join the ranks of the caring, committed, concerned citizens.

We hope you will check us out today and support the program and events open to the public, and show that civic pride and ownership go hand in hand. We welcome you to Leadership West and will be proud of your future accomplishments. Visit our website at leadershipwest.org for more information or to apply. Applications are due by Friday, May 31.