Explore Class 3 Visits Yuma: Navigating Borders, Cultivating Leadership, & Celebrating Community

April 24, 2024
Leadership LessonsPrograms

Earlier this month, the third class of Valley Leadership’s Explore program kicked off the first of their six trips by traveling to Yuma and San Luis! Our partners in these communities are always so welcoming and show up in the most authentic way, demonstrating leadership based in true collaboration and service. 

Our trip to Yuma started with the warmest welcome by Arizona Western Community College, who’s team provided us with lunch and a dynamic discussion with many local education leaders. The speakers represented many different sectors within the college, sharing their unique approach to ensuring local community members have access to higher education in all regards. Much of the programming focused on industries relevant to the area including agriculture and automotive repair reflective of the significant agricultural opportunities and the Yuma Proving Ground.

We then went directly to the University of Arizona Center for Desert Agriculture to learn from U of A agricultural leadership as well as a multi-generation farmer and a water lawyer who could speak to the many facets of the industry. We wrapped up this part of our day with a tour of the border wall, taking note of the proximity to the agricultural fields, and the previous location of the Yuma gap, now filled with a fence. The Cocopah tribal land still has an opening to Mexico, where the border patrol sits and waits to pick up migrants as they cross. The Explore class participants left water bottles behind in the cooler available for those making the journey across the border.  We ended our first day at Prison Hill Brewery for dinner. Chris Wheeler, the owner of the brewery, joined us to tell his story of growing up in Yuma and his experience as a small business owner in the city. 

We started our second day bright and early to make the short drive to San Luis where the local Economic Development team welcomed us with breakfast and coordinated speakers from Greater Yuma Economic Council, Yuma Proving Ground, and the San Luis Port Authority. We then took a short tour of the border crossing to get some insight into the crossing process for goods, making note of the efficiency that is implemented to make this border run smoothly and safely.

For more photos, please visit our Facebook album.

Before heading back to Yuma, we stopped at Rolls & Bowls for lunch to learn about another small business and hear from the Director of the Chicano Art Collective. This was a great start to learning about cultural assets, as our next stop was in downtown Yuma where we visited the Children’s Museum and the Yuma Art Center. A short tour of local murals during a downtown celebration was a great way to take in the richness of the community’s culture and identity.

Our visit to the Yuma and San Luis communities left the Explore class participants with a different perspective of the area, a deep appreciation for the leadership example we saw, and a desire to return and experience the community on their own. Upon reflection, it was clear that these communities left a positive impression of true collaboration and resourcefulness. 

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

Reetika DhawanVice President of Workforce Development and Career & Technical Education, AWC
Shelley MellonArizona Western College Education Panel
Maria GuzmanAWC Advising & Student Services Coordinator
Olivia ZepedaDistrict Governing Board Member
Tosha GillispieDirector of Agricultural Programs, AWC
Jason AmonCapital Patrol Commander, Yuma County Sheriff’s Office
Diana GomezDirector of Health Department
Stephanie SlinskiExecutive Director, UA Yuma Agriculture Center
John BoeltsFarmer, Desert Premium Farms
Meghan ScottWater & Agriculture Law
Chris WheelerOwner Prison Hill Restaurant
Armando EsparzaDirector of Economic Development and Economic Affairs for the city of San Luis
Buna GeorgeExecutive Director of the Greater Yuma Port Authority
Mark SchauerPublic Affairs Officer at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds
Greg LaVannVice President and CEO of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Council
Abraham AndradeChicano Art Collective
Ana PadillaYuma Art Center

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