by Lisa Sisley on November 15, 2018

In October, I wrapped up a year of being in the Leadership Kansas program. And, boy, what a year it was.

Here’s the thing. I’m a lifelong Kansan. Born in the south-central part of the state. Raised for part of my childhood in the southeast section. Spent the rest of it in the southwest. And for a long time now, I’ve lived in the northeast. So yeah, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about our big, beautiful state.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Here’s the basic structure of the program. Each month for six months, we spent three days immersed in a Kansas community — Garden City, Kansas City, Hays, Hutch/Wichita, Pittsburg, Manhattan/Topeka.

Again, I’d been all those places and lived in some, but I quickly realized I hadn’t scratched the surface of a lot of what’s going on in Kansas.

We heard from (and questioned) panels of brilliant community leaders and subject matter experts. We learned about the challenges to rural medicine at a small-town hospital. Listened as higher education leaders grappled with difficult realities. Admired the matter-of-fact way law enforcement professionals connected the dots between decreased mental health funding and increases in crime.

And workforce. Always workforce. Everywhere we went, in every industry, every community: “We need people to do the work.”

We marveled at the ingenuity of our fellow Kansans, from corner to corner. Fantastic public-private economic development partnerships in Garden City. Successful water-conservation policies and projects in Hays. World-class aviation programs and production in Wichita. Visionary, yet practical, downtown redevelopment projects in Pittsburg. The list goes on!

“Mind-blowing” pretty much sums up our experiences. I wish everybody could do the things we did — climb up in a hot, noisy power plant; ride an elevator in the pitch black down into a salt mine; walk through a beef processing plant to see the hardest–working people in Kansas; marvel at Sporting KC’s “boot room” of pro soccer players’ shoes; cry at the stories of first-generation Kansans; listen in stunned silence to Taps at a veterans’ memorial….

We met people who dream big. People who imagine how things could be. People getting it done.

I’m still pinching myself that I got to have all these experiences and travel the state meeting wonderful people. It renewed my pride in being a Kansan, and gave me a lot of hope for the future. And it made me eager to find new ways to serve my fellow residents of the Sunflower State.

I’ll keep you posted!