Explore Class 3 Visits South Phoenix, Mesa, & Buckeye!

May 21, 2024
Leadership LessonsPrograms

Our three day local city excursion included South Phoenix, Downtown Mesa, and Buckeye, representing urban, suburban, and exurban cities. Keep reading to learn more about our experiences in each of the communities!

South Phoenix

Our trip to South Phoenix started bright and early at Spaces of Opportunity, where we learned about the work they do with urban farming. We met two incredible farmers who showed us their crops and put us to work, teaching us about their unique approach to farming in the middle of Phoenix.

We then transitioned to a panel discussion with six incredible local leaders at the Broadway Heritage Neighborhood Resource Center. Dani Portillo, Matt Stewart, Thomas Claiborn, Stephanie Para, Victor Vidales, and Darlene Jackson shared their stories about working and growing up in South Phoenix, and the work happening now to preserve the history and culture.

Our next stop was at the Roosevelt School District Wellness Center where their team catered lunch and we learned from three local education leaders about how they collaborate with their intentional work supporting students at all levels in South Phoenix.

Then, our cohort headed to the Girl Scouts Camp at South Mountain, where Mary Mitchell shared her story and her leadership philosophy as Co-CEO of Girl Scouts-Arizona Cactus-Pine Council.

Stop five was at Sagrado Gallery where Sam Gomez talked about the importance of community input, culture, and art when it comes to development in the area. The leadership of Cihuapactli Collective, Enjolie and Carmen, joined us next, and shared their work around culturally specific healthcare, providing support from womb to tomb for urban Indigenous Peoples from the diaspora.

For more photos from South Phoenix, please visit our Facebook album.

They then took us to the Campo Santo site, where over 200 unmarked graves have been identified, and where they hope to build their future facility and do the work to acknowledge and protect the unmarked cemetery. Finally, our day ended at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center where our group debriefed about the day together before heading home to prepare for our next full day in Mesa.


Mesa started at the Nile Coffee Shop with leaders from RAIL CDC sharing about their anti-displacement work, supporting small business, using art and engagement to bring together neighbors, and sharing the resources of their Financial Opportunity Center. They then gave our group a driving tour of the neighborhoods surrounding Mesa’s downtown, highlighting the long term effects of disinvestment, and the current over a billion dollars worth of investments contributing to the gentrification and displacement in the area.

We then went to K’e Community Lab, where Pamela Slim shared her work as a business coach and her philosophy around creating an ecosystem with your community. We also heard from Renee Aguilar from Cultural Coalition about how they create events and art engagements to celebrate the culture of the community.

Our lunch was provided by Que Chevere, and the owner, Orvid Cutler, shared why Downtown Mesa was the only place he considered opening his business and the strong community of businesses in the area that make success possible.

We then transitioned to The Post, where Downtown Transformation Officer, Jeff McVay, and local council representative, Jen Duff, talked about the transformation happening in downtown, the investment, and the efforts to ensure small businesses are supported to keep the area unique.

Next we went to tour the ASU Mix Center, led by Ari Huerta-Crummey and Johanna Richards, where we saw the impressive offerings of the center for both the community and students. This was followed by a tour of the incredible theaters at Mesa Arts Center led by Mandy Tripoli, and the art studios led by Laura Wilde. We ended our day in the Co-Lab at the arts center, where we reflected on the day before attending the VIP opening of the Mesa Contemporary Art Museum exhibit that evening.


Buckeye was the third city in this program marathon weekend. We started our day at Hidden Lake, a beautiful venue where former mayor Jackie Meck and Council member Tony Youngker Welcomed us to their city and shared some history and background about how Buckeye became one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Council member Youngker then escorted us to Screws & Sparkles, a successful downtown business run by Sophia Martinez that supports creative entrepreneurs and spurred a unique and vibrant corner in the downtown area.

Our next stop was Grand View Dairy, which recently auctioned their farming equipment and cows, and whose owner shared his perspective on the role of farmers as developers in this quickly growing city.

We transitioned our day to Verrado Grill for lunch, where Todd Hornback and Sintra Hoffman talked about the 303 freeway and the intentional planning behind master plan developments in the area, starting with Verrado itself.

We ended our day with a short walk to The Center on Main where we learned about education, workforce development, and economic development from Brian Wright and Mike Neu. Our day concluded with a short debrief about our time in Buckeye, and our time over the three days as a whole. 

It is evident that even for those who have lived and worked in the Valley for many years, there is still so much to learn about cities that are just a short drive away. The stories, the deep histories, and the dreams for the future that each place represents are unique and important to the larger story of Arizona.

Special thanks to all of our community partners who made the trip such an incredible experience.

South Phoenix

Dr. Dani PortilloSuperintendent of Roosevelt School District
Shelley JacksonGoverning Board Member President of Roosevelt School District
Ryan ThayerExecutive Director of Spaces of Opportunity
Stephanie ParraExecutive Director of ALL In Education
Dr. Enjolie LafaurieComadre of Development for the Cihuapactli Collective
Jeffrey ZetinoResearch and Policy Director for ALL In Education
Mary MitchellCo-CEO of Girl Scouts – Arizona Cactus-Pine Council
Sam GomezFounder & Executive Director of Sagrado Gallery
Dr. Kristina ScottVice President of Student Affairs at South Mountain Community College
Maria Del Carmen Parra CanoCo-Founder & Executive Director of the Cihuapactli Collective
Victor VidalesReal Estate Agent and Merit Partners
Darlene JacksonOrganizational Leader of Nevitt Neighborhood Association
Thomas Claiborne IVStatewide Engagement Specialist, Community Engagement at FIRST THINGS FIRST
Fredrick MontoyaPrincipal of the Academies at South Mountain


Jenn DuffVice Mayor and Councilmember, Mesa City Council
Ari Huerta-CrummeyAdministrative Assistant at ASU MIX Center
Johanna RichardsCommunity Engagement Program Manager for ASU, Mesa City Center
Agustin GastelumCommunity and Economic Development Consultant in Mesa, AZ & Former Executive Director of a Community Development Financial Institution
Pamela SlimCo-Founder of the K’é Community Lab
Jeffrey McVay
Downtown Transformation Officer for City of Mesa
Carmen GuerreroFounder and Executive Director of the Cultural Coalition
Mandy TripoliDirector of Community-Engaged Practice for the Mesa Arts Center
David CrummeyBoard Member of First Things First Southeast Maricopa Regional Council, Mesa Arts Academy, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley, ARCHES (Arizona Research Center for Housing Equity and Sustainability), and Mesa Urban Garden
Orvid CutlerOwner of Que Chevere
Michelle DonovanCo-Owner and Proprietor of the Nile Theater and Nile Coffee Shop


Jackie MeckFormer Mayor of Buckeye
Sophia MartinezOwner of Screws & Sparkles
Sintra HoffmanPresident and Chief Executive Officer, WESTMARC
Todd HornbackPartner & Chief Advancement Officer, Cohere Life, Inc.
Todd YoungkerCouncilmember
Brian WrightEconomic Development Business Manager at Grow Buckeye
Jennifer MladickOwner of Hidden Lake AZ LLC
Michael NeuCareer and Technical Education Director at the Buckeye Union High School District Career and Technical Education Director at the buckeye Union High School
Nick VanderwayCo-Owner of Grand View Dairy

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