Strangers to Best Friends

Have you ever seen the inside of the old jail (or the new one), or watched someone be extracted from a crushed car, looked inside Trauma Star and military aircraft, seen how cute airboat drivers are in Everglades City (I mean know why the Everglades are so important to the Keys), been to the residents-only parts of Ocean Reef, or seen the inside — alllllll the way inside — of the Monroe County medical examiner’s office? Well, I hadn’t until Leadership Monroe County, but more importantly, I got to do these things with 21 of my new best friends.

Last weekend, at 6.5 miles into the 7 Mile Bridge Run, I realized exactly how the past seven months of leadership sessions have paid off. I needed to know — for reasons — someone in a position of authority and that person, thank goodness, I happened to know through Leadership.

Leadership Monroe County’s mission is building relationships for constructive alliances among Florida Keys leaders – how I got in, I have no idea – to work toward long-term goals for the betterment of Monroe County.

The 22 of us began our seven-month journey by selling “Arabic oil” to each other. We brawled over prices, learned about tourism, and then brawled again while hunting down “pinky,” the highly sought-after scavenger-hunt flamingo. Mainly after each event, I saw that working together and helping each other out was always the better thing to do.

We spent the weekend in Everglades City learning about its influences on Florida Keys history, and about the fragile environment that is the lifeblood of the Keys. We looked for ghost orchids, pissed off Lou Caputo, and played “flip cup” with alumni. (If you thought the little communities in the Keys are small, then you haven’t been to the Everglades, where the only thing that stays open past 10 p.m. is Circle K.)

Watching a video of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in Mississippi during the emergency management session was an eye-opener. When hospital employees started numbering themselves in case the water didn’t stop rising, it hit home for our class. Our class project, emphasizing “3-4-5 Stay Alive,” will be released before hurricane season.

We saw the inner workings of the local jails, hospitals, schools and government systems. We had our own Kate Bauer Jones of United Way involve us in an interactive simulation that explored poverty in the Keys. The experience brought some of our classmates to tears over such simple yet profound obstacles such as a lack of transportation or food.

While each student of Leadership had areas of expertise, almost all of us had a “Wow, I didn’t know that” moment during each session — like “wow, pickle ball is really important to the people of Key Colony Beach.”

I am sad to have the experience end (but excited about cocktails this weekend at Shirley Freeman’s house!), and my bosses are probably happy to have me back to work on all my missed Fridays. Cheers to Class X-X-Y. Oops, I mean V – the best chocolate-making class in the history of leadership.


Leadership Class 25 graduates this weekend in Key West after seven months of learning about the inner workings of the Monroe County. One of my favorite experiences was seeing the inside of the Ranger dive training facility with my new best friends Lindsey Ballard, Kate Bauer-Jones, Dammit Darrell Birkhimer, Mike Card, Wendy Coffman, Steve Cook, Theresa “T-Fab” Faber, John Gallant, J.C. Holmes, Donatella Kelly, Chuck Licis, Chuck Lindsey, Barbara Neal, Derek Paul, Jennifer Powell, Jolynn Reynolds, Stuart Strickland, Lisa Thornhill, Angie Walterson, and Chris Todd-Young. CONTRIBUTED

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