A reenactment of epic proportions during a scavenger hunt in Key West. From left, Jim McCarthy stares at his drink he gave to Michael Shields to hold; Matt Pitcher wishes he had McCarthy’s body; Kim Matthews found the perfect piggyback; Sheryl Schwab and Matt McJunkin are your typical tourists, Alison Kerr leans as she pictures her next reality show, “Kerr in Key West.” Then there’s Ally Kelley, who managed to lose her earring. Jen McComb, far right, wonders when the “Amazing Race” began. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Hell, I might be biased when I say the Monroe County Leadership Class XXVIII — The Trailblazers — is the best class ever. After all, that’s what every person who’s gone through leadership will say to you. 

Believe me, however, when I say that this will be a class that’s going down as the best of all time. 

Rewind to March. The class, with 24 members, had just finished an emergency management session in Marathon. One class remained before the class would graduate. 

Bonds formed with classmates would be celebrated. Stories would be told among classmates to leadership alumni. And yes, I’m sure a few would surround me. (Don’t believe what they tell you when they bring up what happened at Robert Is Here Fruit Stand or Southernmost Point.) And more than anything, graduates would show appreciation to the many alumni who continue to enhance the leadership experience and build on the information class members gain on the many facets that make Monroe County unique. 

Then a pandemic hit. Uncertainty swirled. Our lives as we knew them changed. 

In an instant, Class XXVIII members sprang into action. At a county level, our very own Shannon Weiner led the response as the county emergency management director. From the outset, she convened emergency COVID calls with leaders in government and in hospitals up and down the Keys, checking to ensure they had the resources needed to keep communities safe. Fellow classmate Kimberly Matthews, senior director of planning, also spend time in the emergency operations center. 

At Mariners and Fishermen’s hospitals, classmate James Munro made sure the facilities had the resources to treat patients. From the health department, the class’ Alison Kerr works day-in and day-out to keep the public and media outlets informed on case counts, testing opportunities throughout the island chain and other pertinent information related to the COVID-19 crisis. 

From the state level, Sarah Craven worked diligently as Rep. Holly Raschein’s district director to help process unemployment claims that rose as the pandemic put many out of work. 

At the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys, led by my classmate who serves as president and CEO Jennifer McComb, tens of thousands of dollars went to help Keys residents with food, housing, health care services and more. Grants have supported more than 20 charitable organizations to deliver direct critical aid to low-income families, seniors, children and employees who were left without work up and down the Keys. 

Not only did he keep the community safe, but Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg went above and beyond as he helped dish out meals to those in need. Along with their daily duties at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, David Smith and Matt Pitcher took a few shifts at the checkpoint in Key Largo during the outset of the pandemic.

Other services needed to carry through despite the prevalence of a pandemic. It drew DeeDee Henriquez and Sam Steele to implement protocols at local tax offices in order to serve the public safely. These are just a few of the many amazing members in the Trailblazers class who are out responding to the COVID-19 crisis. 

In just a few weeks, the class will convene to conclude the last leadership session and follow it up with a little ceremonious excitement. Months have passed since some classmates have seen each other. 

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Monroe County has leaders who’ve stepped up to guide us through something that had no playbook. My classmates who make up class XXVIII are “Trailblazers” who will continue to find solutions and lead our Keys communities through the good times and the challenging times.

See you all soon. 

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