We live in an increasingly lonely world. It’s gotten so lonely, the US Surgeon General issued an advisory citing loneliness as a one of the most widespread health concerns in America today. Studies cited in the advisory found that lacking social connection is as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

Unsurprisingly, when we asked candidates for Tempe Leadership Class 39 what they hoped to get out of the program, “connection” was one of the most cited outcomes.

People crave connection and there is a good reason for that. Social connection uplifts us biologically and physiologically. Even discovering the most shallow commonality with someone can improve your mood. Dog owners light up when they get to chat about their four legged companions. Foodies get elated when someone mentions their favorite restaurant. However, some commonalities create such a deep sense of connection that their simple mention creates instant reactions and celebrations. 

Our alumni know that deep and instant connection. It gets felt every time we discover other Tempe Leadership alumni in our lives. The Tempe Leadership class experience not only creates a deep sense of social connection among our alumni, but the community knowledge they carry forward allows them to take on roles to create similar pockets of social connection in other parts of Tempe. This is felt in our local neighborhood associations, our city boards and commissions, our non-profit boards, and even our elected offices. Do not underestimate the profound role that Tempe Leadership has had in building the culture of community in our city. The sense of social connection found by those who live in Tempe has been vital to its health and desirability; many thanks goes to the residents and community members who continue to say “yes” to the commitment of a Tempe Leadersrhip program.

With those sentiments in mind, stepping into the President role for Tempe Leadership this year has been a very personal and emotional experience for me. To be trusted as the steward of an organization that creates such connections and elicits such strong emotions is a gift, but also a challenge. As inceasing numbers of Tempeans lack connection, it is essential that programs like Tempe Leadership grow and evolve to meet those increasing needs. 

Each alum has their own mental association with what makes Tempe Leadership so special and uplifting. For some, the value and connection is built by the time commitment. Many claim it’s the sweat equity of a class project. Others might attribute their sense of connection to the Saguaro Lake Guest ranch overnight experience. However you dice it, there are maybe more “sacred cows” in Tempe Leadership than folks realize. In this role, it is my duty to ensure that our leadership council continues to deliver programs and experiences such that every new class feels it can lay claim to the title of “Best Class Ever”. It requires us to continuously recommit to our values and being willing to let go of things that do not uphold them.

What will never change though is the “why” behind Tempe Leadership. This year, our leadership council and I hope to recenter the organization on our values and find ways to recommit to our missions and purpose. With that in mind, here’s some of what I hope our Leadership Council will achieve with this years’ programming:

Committing to a strong alumni experience

One of the biggest asks I hear is to do more alumni events for Tempe Leadership. Nothing grand, no fancy fundraiser, just an opportunity to come together and connect. Expect to see more communications about alumni events and regular gatherings.

Communicating more often

The other thing I hear is “I only hear from Tempe Leadership when money is involved; the annual fundraiser and the class project. What else is happening?”. In addition to more alumni meetups, we are looking to revamp our website, use our social channels more regularly, more communications via email, and provide more regular opportunities to support our programs in non-monetary ways. 

Being a better resource for all Tempeans

As we approach our 40th anniversary, it’s amazing to reflect on how much Tempe Leadership has achieved and the value it is to our alumni. However, there are some gaps in our existing programming. You will start to hear about changes to our Adult and Youth curriculum as we begin to tinker with them to ensure that our leadership curriculum is more robust. It has also become increasingly clear that many in the Tempe community are craving the connectedness these programs create, but we’ve neglected to make experiences that are accessible to them. The Leadership Council will begin the process this fall of drafting a strategic plan to determine what we should be doing over the next 5 years (and beyond) such that we can leverage what has been built over the past 38 years and create new programs such that Tempe Leadership can be of even greater service to the community.

Those items contain some goals that are lofty. Our leadership council is capable, but we don’t foresee us trying to tackle these things all by ourselves. 

Here’s how you can help us:

    • We need to hear from you! What do you value in the Tempe Leadership experience? How can that value be even greater for you? How can we be of more value to others? Submit our alumni feedback survey and let us know what you think Tempe Leadership should be doing to further our mission in the community.
    • Join us on Friday, September 8th to welcome Class 39 (but you won’t see anything on social media, it’s a surprise!) Keep an eye on your email for the location. Come wearing your class name tag and bring your favorite alumni with. 
    • Share this message with class members who may have not received it and encourage them to update their contact information with us (and be sure to update yours too). 
    • Reach out to your old class members and reconnect. Even if its just coffee with one person you’ve fallen out of touch with. Do your part to battle the loneliness epidemic.

In a lonely world, the Tempe Leadership experience and the social connection it provides is more valuable than ever. It connects people in ways that not many groups are capable of. Our city is a stronger, healthier place due to our alumni and how they have chosen to contribute in Tempe. I look forward to serving Tempe Leadership this year and connecting with many of you as our organization continues it’s mission… Together

Yours in service,

Kelsey Files

President, 2023-2024

Tempe Leadership