BE NKY Growth Partnership Client Relations Manager Devon Stansbury recently graduated from Leadership Northern Kentucky, a program powered by Citi and run through the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

For more than 40 years, this nine-month program has been a valuable tool for developing engaged community leaders and empowers them with the necessary skills to tackle the region’s opportunities and challenges through teamwork.

Devon shares more about what she learned over the year-long program below!

What is Leadership Northern Kentucky?

In this program, we addressed topics that are important to increasing opportunity and prosperity for all Northern Kentuckians, including focusing on poverty, mental health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Sessions featured panels, lectures, tours, and breakout activities at different locations throughout Northern Kentucky.

Our class had the opportunity to tour the Lincoln Grant Scholar House, Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, and the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky. We also toured the cancer center at St. Elizabeth Healthcare and discussed health disparities in the region.

Each month featured a full-day session, with one overnight and a few two-day sessions. We even spent a day in Frankfort meeting with legislators and participated in an activity with mock senate and house bills. I learned about resources that are available in the region, and where we are thriving, but also the areas where more needs to be done. It was a great learning opportunity that highlighted gaps in the community and where we can focus our efforts to make a difference.

Why did you decide to participate?

I knew people who had participated in Leadership Northern Kentucky and heard many great things about it. As I was researching the program, I knew I wanted to have this experience that would help me to not only meet others in the community, but to grow personally and professionally. I wanted to gain more perspective on what we’re doing well and what we need to improve in Northern Kentucky and bring that knowledge to my job and my community.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned?

Although there are so many people in our community working hard to move the region forward, there are still many areas where things aren’t up to par. We still have much further to go in the areas of healthcare, education, poverty, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Two hands-on activities helped to put some of these issues into perspective. In a poverty simulation, each group was given a personal and financial history and were tasked with surviving for one month with just the resources they were given. During a DEI activity, each of us was given a small plastic bag and a container of different colored beads. We were tasked with adding beads to our bag based on the people we grew up with and those currently in our lives. For example, a pink bead represented a female, and a white bead represented that they were white. It was an interesting interactive experience to see who we were surrounded by in childhood and adolescence and if that changed or stayed the same for us as adults. It ultimately gave us insight into how those in our lives helped shape our perspectives and who we are as individuals, and how it continues to play a role in our lives today.

What do you think are some important community issues to tackle?

The sessions that impacted me most were those dealing with homelessness and domestic abuse and violence survivors. We must get those who are struggling the help they need to get on a good path and move forward in their lives. It was interesting to learn about the hierarchy of needs, and how if people don’t have the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter, it will be much harder to achieve other important goals in life, such as sustaining a job.

During one of our sessions, we also heard from a survivor of suicide. Mental health is a very important issue in our region that must be addressed. Similar to basic necessities in life, if someone isn’t mentally healthy, it can be difficult for them to function in other important areas of life.

What was one of the most interesting things you did?

Our overnight stay at Camp Joy was my favorite session. It included a lot of mental and physical team-building activities. The “artifact sharing” activity really resonated with me. Each person brought an important personal item and story to share with the class. It was eye opening to learn what each person has encountered. Every member of my class is a great leader and very active in the community, but it was powerful to discover how much we all relate to each other, and more than we thought we would. Camp Joy was such an amazing opportunity because everyone was so open and engaging. This session was intense, but in the best way possible.

Would you recommend others participate in Leadership Northern Kentucky?

I cannot recommend enough for others to participate in the program, especially those who are hoping to do a deep dive in Northern Kentucky. I grew up in Ohio, and it seemed most of my classmates were born and raised in Northern Kentucky, so connecting with them really helped me learn about the three-county BE NKY region. I was further immersed in the culture of Northern Kentucky by listening to speakers from different backgrounds, meeting people I otherwise wouldn’t have met, and attending sessions at various locations throughout the community.

This program was amazing, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Many of the discussions and activities were emotionally challenging, but I got so much out of them. It really has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I don’t feel I have the adequate words to capture how amazing it was.