Stories From Our Alumni

Listen to a VL Story

Alex Sachs (VLI Class 37)

Alex Sachs (VLI 37), is originally from Brazil, but grew up in New Jersey and France. She played soccer for the Brazilian Women’s National team for 11 years, was a silver medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. She was inducted to the Brazilian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005; only 4 female soccer players have had that honor. She’s a gold medalist in the 2007 Pan American Games and retired from play that same year.

Currently Alex is a Program Manager for PlayWorks, a nonprofit that transforms school recess that supports social-emotional learning.

Alex graciously told her VL story to KJZZ.  Take a moment and listen to Alex express her VL Aha moment!

Another AmAZing LeaderLink Success Story

Jennifer Lindley (VLI Class 30)

Economic Development Coordinator

Town of Queen Creek

In November 2015, I received a match request from LeaderLink regarding Neighbors Who Care (NWC). After a number of discussions and approval by the Board, I was appointed to the Board of Directors in February 2016

Neighbors Who Care (NWC) was founded in 1994 and assists the homebound, disabled, and/or frail elderly in Sun Lakes and south Chandler. The NWC mission is, “The comfort of home and the dignity of independence; the elderly are able to live at home for as long as feasible with pride, dignity and

independence.” NWC’s operational goal is to recruit, train, and manage community volunteers to provide quality non-medical assistive services to enrolled clients via a “neighbor helping neighbor” approach. NWC’s service area is comprised of 32 square miles and serves the communities of south Chandler and Sun Lakes. This geographic area, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, has the third highest population of elderly adults statewide, but lacks sufficient wraparound human services programs to address the population’s needs.

I have enjoyed my involvement with the organization and truly believe in the mission. Before joining the Town of Queen Creek, I was the Executive Director for the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership and served as the Vice President of the East Valley Partnership. I love bringing my passion for helping others, expertise in non-profit leadership and community development knowledge to Neighbors Who Care. It’s amazing to see firsthand and hear about the amazing staff and volunteers that are helping to enhance the quality of life and relieve loneliness of homebound and disabled persons every day!

I live in Gilbert with my husband and 3-year-old son (and one on the way!).


American Probation and Parole Association Fellow Mark Stodola (VLI class 22) Honored

for Fighting Drunk Driving

markandshakWASHINGTON, DC – (December, 2016) – The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (, a national not-for-profit that leads the fight against drunk driving and underage drinking and is funded by America’s leading distillers, recently recognized Mark Stodola, a probation fellow at the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as one of nine recipients of its 2016 Kevin Quinlan Traffic Safety Awards.

Now in its fifth year,’s Traffic Safety Awards recognize members of the traffic safety community who demonstrate leadership and excellence in advancing the cause of saving lives and preventing injuries on our roadways. Stodola received the award during’s Fifth Annual Kevin Quinlan Traffic Safety Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on November 30, 2016.

Mark Stodola has more than 30 years of experience working in the field of court management and adult probation in Arizona. Prior to joining APPA and NHTSA as a probation fellow, he spent 18 years with the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department in Arizona overseeing drug and alcohol treatment programs, eight years with the Tempe Municipal Court, and most recently, worked in the Adult Probation Services Division of the Arizona Supreme Court. In his current role as the APPA and NHTSA fellow, Stodola advocates for the use of innovative practices for the supervision and treatment of impaired driving offenders, such as Computerized Assessment and Referral System (CARS), a computerized clinical report generator that includes a mental health assessment tool used in DUI intervention and treatment.

“When determining the appropriate level of supervision and treatment for impaired driving offenders, it is important to use risk and needs assessments, as well as alcohol and drug monitoring technologies to inform these decisions,” said Stodola. “I am grateful to for this award and its recognition of the great work APPA and NHTSA have done to educate criminal justice practitioners on how to effectively monitor impaired driving offenders.”

“Each individual recognized today has been a strategic partner for us in the charge against drunk driving,” said Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of “Mark Stodola has spent more than 30 years providing education to criminal justice practitioners across the U.S. on effective supervision and treatment practices for impaired driving offenders. His work has been integral to reducing the number of repeat offenders that place more lives in danger when they end up back on the road.”


Valley Leadership Alumni Recognized for Making our Community a Better Place for Children and Families


Child & Family Resources announced that former Valley Leadership Institute Class 34 has been selected as its 2016 Gabe Zimmerman Emerging Champion Award Winner for leadership in establishing the Arizona Tuition Waiver.

This prestigious award is given to an individual or group that has emerged as an up and coming community champion for children and families. These recipients are inspirational, compassionate, and innovative in their advocacy for making our community a better place for children and families.  VLI Class 34 joins a select group of Arizona leaders who have shown extraordinary passion and dedication to helping children lead healthy, happy lives through which they can reach their full potential.

For their Community Impact group project, six VLI Class 34 members conceptualized, wrote, lobbied for, and passed Senate Bill 1208—the Arizona Tuition Waiver. Signed by then-Governor Jan Brewer in 2013, the Waiver is available to foster youth and former foster youth attending Arizona public community colleges and four-year colleges and universities, and covers certain school fees and tuition not included in other grants.

VLI Class 34 will be honored at the 2016 Champions for Children & Families evening event on Thursday, December 8, 2016. If you would like to attend this complimentary fundraising dinner, please contact Christy Moore to register with the Valley Leadership table.

 Mark Briggs and Denis Day Still Connecting and Making Changes 

mark-and-denisMark Briggs and Denis Day are graduates of VLI Class 18. Mark and Denis have been in contact with each other, among other members of that Class, for the past 20 years and are currently partnering on a new venture that will ultimately help non-profits both nationally and internationally.

Mark and Denis’ objective is to provide non-profit, membership organizations, an affordable, cloud-based database specific to their needs. They are currently collecting hundreds of surveys that will directly influence their focus, ensuring that all these needs are met.

Please take a few moments to complete their survey, allowing them to address areas of needs that will directly assist non-profits.

MissionPoint appreciates your input.

MissionPoint Feature Survey

Linda Brock’s Impact on VLI and VLA Scholarship Recipients

By: Caitlin Hartman

linda-brockNo one has committed more to the Leadership Institute Scholarship Fund or understood its impact as much as Linda Brock. Linda has had a long history with Arizona and Valley Leadership. She moved to Scottsdale in 1969 to start a new business, a Volkswagen dealership (she later added BMW, Dodge and Oldsmobile). It was the largest woman owned business in the State of Arizona at the time, and twenty-five years later she sold the dealerships to Jerry Chapman in 1995. She was an early graduate of the Institute from Class 7, and in 1994, she was named Woman of the Year.  “It [was] an honor to be able to contribute to an organization that has had such an impact on my life,” Linda says about the experience. She echoed these same sentiments when describing her experience on the VL Board of Directors, which she joins this year.

In July 2016, Linda made a $2,500 contribution to VL’s Scholarship Fund and chose two incoming Valley Leadership Institute Class 38 members and two Valley Leadership Advance 2016 members to sponsor with her donation. “Cost can be an obstacle for some potential Valley Leadership applicants,” Linda explained. “Hopefully these scholarships will enable four applicants to have the special opportunity to learn and grow in leadership skills.” Linda chose the benefiting recipients because, “They were people that I believe will benefit from the Valley Leadership Experience and will contribute to the learning of the other participants.”

Daniil Gunitskiy (VLI 38) is the Chief of Staff for Teach for America and is a refugee from Russia to the United States.  He is dedicated to serving causes larger than himself, from delivering food aid to the elderly in eastern Ukraine to chairing a successful bond campaign that will deliver nearly $60 million additional dollars to downtown Phoenix schools.

Naketa Ross (VLI 38) is the founder of ResilientMe, a nonprofit that prepares youth to successfully transition into adulthood after aging out of the foster care system. She founded the nonprofit because of her own traumatic experience as a homeless youth, and she is dedicated to improving the lives of others.

Michelle Harrison (VLA 2016) is actively involved in the community and has dedicated herself to the fight against domestic violence.  At Maggie’s Place, a shelter for women survivors and their families, she meets, serves, and connects with victims of this abuse. She applied to VL after hearing about the experiences of an alumnus in her same industry and was thrilled to join when she was accepted. “Linda’s contribution to my participation in Valley Leadership Advance has allowed me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in growing as a young professional and gaining the knowledge and insight I will need to expand my professional horizons,” Michelle explained. She is looking forward to gaining insight and experience through Linda’s mentorship.

Rachel Egboro (VLA 2016) is the Community Outreach Coordinator at First Things First, a live, first-person storytelling show that builds empathy and community between the performer and the audience through shared personal experiences. When she found out she was accepted into Leadership Advance she said, “I was pleased, honored and excited. It’s nice to know that the people reviewing my application see my leadership potential”.

All of the recipients are excited to meet with Linda and learn from her experience. “I have many expectations for my time with Valley Leadership Advance, one being the guidance and insight provided by a mentor,” Michelle explains. “I hope to gain lessons learned and feedback from someone seasoned in the workforce.” Rachel stated that, “Linda is also interested in following these recipients on their Valley Leadership journey and beyond. “Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to meet these four recipients and encourage them in their leadership experiences, and to encourage them to take more leadership responsibility in their communities,” Linda says.

Every single applicant who successfully demonstrates their leadership abilities, thoughtful character, and desire to do more and be more in Arizona deserves the opportunity to take part in Valley Leadership programs. VL’s Scholarship Fund is our way of investing in the leaders that will be changing Arizona and allowing them to gain the skills and connections necessary to do so. When asked what she would tell anyone hesitating to donate to VL’s Scholarship Fund, Linda urged, “Where else can you have such an incredible impact on four deserving future leaders that may have an impact on our community for many years to come? Helping potential leaders gain access to knowledge and networks of other community leaders is a huge reward for me as a Donor.” Michelle agrees, “As a recipient of Linda’s generosity, I would encourage anyone willing and able to donate to those wishing to participate in Valley Leadership. Often times, young professionals forgo professional development due to financial restriction whether by their own account or the inability to gain assistance from their employer.”

If you would like to contribute to VL’s Scholarship Fund, please contact or donate directly online here.


VLY Graduate Expresses Appreciation for VL

By: Caitlin Hartman

Participcaitlin2ating in the Valley Leadership Youth program and interning at VL this summer has been such an amazing, worthwhile experience. I started VLY with both excitement and a fair bit of apprehension—I already do community service and am a leader at my school. Why bother? However, I soon realized that I was dead wrong about what the program was and how much I would learn from it. We started our first program day learning about what a nonprofit is (spoiler: they do actually make a profit! Shocking, I know) and how the grant process for a nonprofit works, which made me want to support my local nonprofits on an even deeper level.

The next two weeks were spent deciding what issues we wanted our own grant to focus on, how to write a grant proposal, and then which grant applicants we would fund. This part of the process is where I gained knowledge and skills that are often overlooked: how to come to a consensus, how to compromise, how to listen respectively to others who don’t share the same opinion as myself, how to take a step away from the attention so others can be heard, and how to advocate for something I was passionate about. Every person should know how to do these things, yet our country and world is still a divisive, polarizing place where many lack the ability to discuss and disagree with respect. I am so glad that I was exposed to these situations sooner rather than later, and VLY is what helped me do this. Finally, at our graduation, we were able to present the grant money to the organizations we chose to fund. This was my favorite part of the entire program. We got to see who our decisions were helping and how much of a difference we were making. It was also here that I asked Christy about interning for VL over the summer.

I was able to help Valley Leadership accomplish so much in the two months I interned there. I helped create a Membership Directory for over 1,800 alumni with updated information and consent, put on an amazing Community Dialogue with Grady Gammage Jr., create new thank you note templates for all of our donors, on-board new Class 38 and VLA 2016 members with payment plans and acceptance materials, make materials for the August Board of Directors Meeting, and much, much more.

Interning at Valley Leadership also taught me both professional and personal skills while bringing me closer to others in my community.  In addition to learning what the heck a mail merger is and how to send an eBlast in Constant Contact (both of which I still haven’t quite mastered), I got to use my strengths to discover more about myself. I learned that I can call alumni to ask for their contact information, but it doesn’t mean I necessarily like it. I learned that I love to write and I am good at it and it is something I want to do in college, which I had never even thought about before this summer. I learned that I am a great public speaker, but I don’t get my energy from it (thanks, Emergenetics, another amazing experience I participated in as an intern). I was also connected with the Arizona Community Foundation to review grants for their LGBTQ youth grant cycle, where I used what I learned in VLY (it all comes full circle!).

Valley Leadership Youth and my summer internship were amazing experiences where I could not only help others and learn valuable tools, but that also taught me new things about myself.  I hope I can continue to support their events or even intern again next summer, and I would highly recommend both of them to anyone interested in participating.

Class 37 Graduation Speech

By May Millies, VLI Class 37


mayThank you for the thoughtful nomination and electing me as your class speaker. I reiterate my thoughts from yesterday that there are no words to explain how nervous, honored, and truly humbled I am to speak on behalf of the Best Class Ever.

Before I go further, let us first recognize that VL does not happen without the vision and coordination of Christy Moore, and her incredible team: Sophia Mayberry, Linda Finecey and Tye Harrison. Also, let us recognize Tivon Moffit, the VL Board, Ambassadors, Program Day Chairs, and the numerous VL Alumni who have generously shared their time, resources, talents and networks to provide us with the Best Program Days – Ever!

To our family, friends, and colleagues with us here tonight or in our hearts who have supported us, endured our project efforts, missed functions, late dinners, tonight my younger son’s missed 13th birthday, and any other sacrifice to make this journey possible – thank you for your patience and your love.

And now, to the Valley Leadership Class 37 – Most Caring Class Ever which makes us the Best Class Ever, this journey has been nothing short of amazing. We have learned so many things and that to be a leader we have to INFLUENCE change. These are a few of my thoughts that hopefully capture the incredible journey we have shared:

We started with “hello my name is and this is what I do” and ended with sculpting, dancing, drawing, laughing and how arts matter, too. INFLUENCE

Clanned in Simsoc to deprive or thrive, Yellow, Blue, Green, or Red. We answered questions and Crossed the Line, Open to all things left unsaid. INFLUENCE

We know GPEC, electricity, transportation, and why Phoenix is so HOT it’s COOL. And, we even now know how they keep – water in our pool. INFLUENCE

Dark Money, Super PACs, Independent Expenditures but we are willing to keep reducing taxes in hopes that no one notices that the population continues to increase with no equitable funding assistance for education, for our children, for our healthcare That situation doesn’t make sense so it doesn’t get a rhyme! INFLUENCE

We learned the beauty and challenges of Tribal nations, And how mass and social media demand us to speak our truths. That equity is not equality! AZ’s rate of poverty – is living proof. INFLUENCE

Woop Woop! That’s the sound of da’ police. That’s the sound of real bravery and honor – a calling to serve. Maybe a new calling for some of us, If we have the nerve. INFLUENCE

Are we the most caring class ever? Only 4.3% of AZ is civically engaged! Will we still help tomorrow? Or, pretend it all away? INFLUENCE

Okay, before Tivon pulls me off the stage with a donation made in our behalf (KIDDING!!), I leave you with a quick story:

While in NY for a meeting this week, the attendees and I had the opportunity to share our thoughts on leadership. I reflected immediately on my experiences in VL and realized for as much as it has taught us, it has stretched us if not more.

My share is this: If you want to be a successful valley leader, get ready to be uncomfortable.

We heard, “the moment you concede the fault is theirs you remove responsibility from yourself”. So, take the lead. Take the heat.

This is not a box to be checked or line to add to your resume. You are informed. You are obligated. You are most caring. You are an influencer. You are ready to be uncomfortable!

A Continuing Legacy of Community Service

By Amy Heisler, VLI Class 30

Ralston and Maxwell

When asked to name the most rewarding benefit of Valley Leadership’s Leadership Institute (VLI) program, many graduates say: “being a part of a larger family with a shared goal of community service.”

For some, VLI truly is a family affair. That includes three generations of Homeward Bound’s Executive Director Barbara Ralston’s family. The 1996 Woman of the Year and VLI Class 5 graduate ignited a passion for community involvement in her daughter Lori Maxwell (VLI Class 35) and grandson Nick Maxwell (Valley Leadership Youth – VLY 2015).

“I was first inspired to apply for VLI at the Man & Woman of the Year luncheon recognizing my mother,” said Lori. However, she chose not to apply at the time because of family and career obligations. Fast forward a few years and another luncheon later, and it was time. “The excitement of being around so many people who really cared about making our community a better place was infectious. I applied as soon as I got home.”

Dinnertime conversation soon turned to VLI and young Nick listened in and volunteered alongside Lori at VLI events. When he searched for internship and community service opportunities, he didn’t look very far. He inquired about an internship at the Valley Leadership office and found the VLY program.

“Teenagers think they need to wait before they can make a difference. We were taking action now,” said Nick. “I learned so much about leadership. Here we were, young people who wanted to do big things and we were meeting with people who could help us do them.”

Barbara, Lori and Nick agree that their shared experiences has brought them closer together as a family.

“It’s such a joy to hear ‘I sit on this board with your daughter,’ or ‘I met your grandson’,” Barbara said.

“My grandmother often knew the people I was working with at the VL office and through VLY. That gave us something in common to talk about,” said Nick, a high school senior. “We were having conversations as peers, not as a grandmother and grandson.”

Lori added: “Valley Leadership has helped build our family relationship as much as we’ve helped the community. I also think of what we are doing today as making Phoenix an even better place for Nick and his family, when that time comes.”

Nick is excited to carry on the family tradition. “I want to go through VLI like they went through, it’s a part of the family. I’ll get to do the same thing my mom and grandma did – be a part of bringing the community together.”

“It gives me a great sense of pride to see the desire to serve continue on,” said Barbara. “We need to make sure the program is here for the next generations.”

Stories from our Alumni