By Jill Adair
Twenty-six adults of various ages and professions gathered on their first day of class with a similar goal in mind: Learn more about Mesa and get involved.
“I’ve lived here my whole life and know nothing about the inner workings of Mesa,” said Tawnya Christensen, who works in community relations at Fellowship Square, a senior living facility. “I thought I could come here and learn more and commit myself to paying it forward – get on a board or do something that’s helpful.”
Mesa Leadership is a program of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce. The first class was held Friday, Aug. 7, and the program continues once a month in all-day seminars through April, with graduation held in May. Upcoming activities include facility tours, ride-alongs with police and fire and shadowing opportunities with community leaders. Its purpose is to cultivate leadership through education, exposure to the community and interaction between class members.
“Our ultimate goal is to prepare students for a personal journey along the wonderful and rewarding path to community service,” according to the website at mesaleadership.org.
“There are a lot of leadership programs out there but what I love about this one is that it is so specifically for Mesa,” said Melissa Jones, who serves as program chair this year.
Jones, who graduated from the program in 2011, said she sees a lot of alumni getting involved in the community after being a part of this program.
“Every one of the participants wants to be involved in the community in a way that meets their talents and interests,” she said.
The common denominator among a group so diverse is each “wants to make their community a better place,” Jones said.
Since the program was started in the early 1980s, nearly 700 have graduated. Alumni include many current and former city council members and various board members and community volunteers.
This year’s participants include a police officer, fitness specialist, lawyer, retired school teacher, Relay for Life organizer, journalist, real estate and insurance agents, community volunteers, small business owners or employees, community relations specialists and employees of the city of Mesa and Salt River Project.
The first class, focusing on “Mesa Past and Present,” began with a presentation from local historian Vic Linoff, who showed a slideshow, “Changing Facades of Mesa.”
The takeaway from his presentation was that many of Mesa’s interesting and historical buildings have been razed for less desirable, more modern structures. The future of some that survived are still in question.
Historical preservation can protect the past, save at-risk neighborhoods and have a positive impact on the local economy, Linoff said.
Mesa City Manager Chris Brady spoke to the group, briefly explaining Mesa’s council-manager form of government, city services and what he sees for the future.
Since January 2006, Brady serves as the chief administrative officer of more than 3,500 employees with an annual operating and capital budget of $1.6 billion, and serves a city population of nearly one-half million. Mesa is Arizona’s third largest city and is 39th in the nation.
While the state continues to struggle to improve economically, Mesa is leading in building permits this year, according to Brady.
“That shows us a sign that people are attracted to come to Mesa to live,” he said.
But, as Brady pointed out, growing residential neighborhoods doesn’t necessarily pay the bills; the most important thing to sustain a city is having good jobs where people can work, live and shop in the community.
“We’ve got to grow jobs,” he said. “We’ve got to grow the ratio of jobs to households and that’s how we’ll sustain ourselves. I believe that once we do that, we can keep our neighborhoods safe and provide quality parks for them and then other commercial retail will follow that.”
He discussed the distinct areas of the city, outlining the city’s contribution to encouraging growth of private-sector businesses and jobs. Class members were then given time to ask Brady questions.
Michelle Streeter from Visit Mesa, the city’s visitor and tourism office, showed several videos that are used in promotional events and highlighted the city’s efforts around the world to promote tourism, which is important to the city’s revenue and future, according to Streeter.
She says promotion of Mesa can start at home.
“Start owning where you are from,” she said. “Say Mesa, not Phoenix. Have a sense of pride of where you are from. Tell others why you live here.”
Mesa Leadership Program: http://mesaleadership.org/
Mesa Preservation Foundation: https://www.facebook.com/mesapreservationfoundation
City Manager’s Office: http://mesaaz.gov/city-hall/city-manager-s-office
Visit Mesa: www.visitmesa.com