20/20 Leadership Blog

3 days 21 hours ago

As a young child, Janeth Lopez was taught that she could be anything she wanted to.  With that message, she set her sights on pursuing a career in the medical field.  She also understood from a young age the power of medicine and its ability to change lives and help people at the same time.  As a freshman in high school, Janeth had dreams of becoming a nurse, but now says that she is focused on becoming a surgeon.  On the path to becoming Dr. Lopez, Janeth is also armed with a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) license, earned during her senior year at Ruskin High School.

She will enter the University of Missouri - Kansas City this fall, majoring in biology.  UMKC has been a familiar place as Janeth has taken dual credit courses at the university and participated in pipeline programs that have offered exposure to the medical field.  She also looks forward to the entering into what she calls a diverse and great environment in the heart of the city. “I still plan to live at home with my parents, as I have a great support system in my family,” Janeth adds.

The idea of family is an important one for the hardworking honor student.  Janeth, growing up in a household with her parents and two younger sisters, is the first in her family to attend college.  “It is my responsibility to set the example,” she says.  Janeth has already demonstrated quite the example for her sisters to follow, considering she already has a resume that includes four years of ROTC, the school soccer team, student council, as well as seven years in orchestra.  Additionally, she volunteers at St. Joseph Medical Center. 

The effort that Janeth has displayed as a student and a scholar paid off for her, by way of earning the KC Royals Charities Scholarship this year.  She admittedly was nervous as she attended the Shining Stars Awards Celebration in April and says that the interview via FaceTime didn’t help her nerves either.  “After the interview, I kept thinking about how I made it one step further,” she recalls.  Once her name was announced, Janeth began to remember the effort that she put in as a student and participant in 20/20 Leadership. “It showed me that I could do it,” she says.

The KC Royals scholarship is made possible by a generous donation from the Royals Charities.  Participants in 20/20 Leadership are eligible to apply for the scholarship.

2 weeks 4 days ago

With a father and grandfather who served in the U.S. Navy, William Crow thought that might be destined for a career in the military as well.  However, with new opportunities and experiences provided to him by participating in the 20/20 Leadership program, he will begin classes at Kansas City Kansas Community College in August 2017, as a Kansas City Royals Charities Scholar.

As scholarship winners were announced on April 20, William heard pieces of his essay and knew he in fact won the $10,000 scholarship.  “I knew those were my words, but I was still in shock,” he remembers.  He also remembers the sense of confidence he had even before being notified that he was in fact one of the top ten finalists.  The sense of confidence was instilled in William by his older brother, who reminded him of these words, “If you want things to happen, they will.”

He thinks back to when he first learned of 20/20 as a sophomore at Turner High School and admittedly, wasn’t as involved in other extracurricular activities. William saw 20/20 Leadership as a program that provided new experiences, such as meeting with professionals at the annual Business Expo and an opportunity to give back to his community through the 20/20 Olympics projects.  William and his team worked for two years to secure $7,500 in funding for their project, Brightening Turner.  The money raised will be used toward the lighting of a futsal court at Midland Trail Elementary School. 

William plans to stay local after graduation, a move he describes as “cost-efficient.”  He will complete his general education courses at Kansas City Kansas Community College and transfer to the University of Kansas to earn a degree in journalism.  His next goal is to start a blog, sharing a variety of personal interests, including sports.  William also looks forward to working as a correspondent during international conflicts, with the ability to report back to viewers in the United States.  He also plans to use his platform to raise awareness about autism.  William’s youngest sister is autistic and he is inspired by his mother’s work with Autism Speaks.

The KC Royals scholarship is made possible by a generous donation from the Royals Charities.  Participants in 20/20 Leadership are eligible to apply for the scholarship.
1 month 6 days ago

As a sophomore at J.C. Harmon High School, Alicia Alonso wasn’t initially informed about the 20/20 Leadership program until teachers encouraged her to apply.  She was intrigued by the opportunity to develop leadership skills, plus the program’s tout of providing assistance with college preparation. After hearing that, Alicia was sold and bought in even more after learning of the scholarship opportunities.  She made it a goal to be named as one of the five Royals Charities Scholars as a senior and her dedication paid off.  “I started working on my essay as soon as the questions were available and even had five teachers review it for me,” she said.

On the evening of the Shining Stars Awards Celebration, the event where scholarship winners are announced, the soccer captain had a game. “I was hoping I missed the game for a good reason,” she said with a smile.

Alicia is the oldest of three and will be the first in her family to attend college.  As the oldest, she has always been tasked with the responsibility of setting the example for her 16-year-old sister and four-year-old brother.  “It is my job to show them the right way,” she said.

Those leadership skills that began within her home translated to her ability to lead Harmon’s 20/20 Olympics project for the last two years.  In 2016, the project team took third place for their idea of having an outdoor classroom on campus, another phase of the Harmon Hub.  Fundraising challenges for the project lead the students to an idea that could be completed before graduation: getting futsal courts.  As it turns out, city government officials were debating on a location and Harmon students met with commissioners, convincing them to put the court on their campus.  The second phase includes adding lights so that the courts can be used after dark.  The experience of talking and meeting with commissioners has also helped Alicia grow as a leader. “Before 20/20 Leadership, I didn’t even know who the commissioners were and now, I’ve gotten a chance to know them and my community even better as a result of the program.”

Even though her parents did not attend college, education has always been a focal point in their household.  Alicia remembers that her mother has always been involved in her educational endeavors, ensuring that she was taking the hardest courses that would be helpful for her in the future.  Her father was also the one who introduced her to Kansas State University.  The university, home to one of the top veterinary schools, has always been at the forefront of Alicia’s mind, so much so that she reluctantly applied to other colleges.  “I only applied to others because I had to,” she reflects. 

Alicia will be spending the summer working as an intern for CEVA Animal Health, an organization that makes vaccines for animals.  When she heads to Manhattan in August with all expenses covered after earning more than 10 scholarships, she anticipates minor challenges, but is more excited about the opportunities.  “I am fulfilling a lifelong dream, along with the ability to have new experiences and meet new people,” she said.

5 months 2 weeks ago


After graduating from Northwest Missouri State University, Dimitric Edwards welcomes the opportunity to return the halls of Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.  The school is not only his alma mater, but it is the place where he was inspired to become a teacher by one he looked up to as a student, Mr. Kevin Conway.  Becoming an educator is just one way he looks to pay it forward after many teachers, advisors and professors have paved the way for him.

Dimitric is not the first in his family to leave Kansas City for Maryville, Missouri as his older sister began attending the university before him.  Visiting her helped his familiarity with campus, but it was the relationships he was most concerned about.  “I didn’t want to be in my sister’s shadow, so my biggest worry had to do with making new friends,” he said. 

As it turns out, getting involved and meeting new people was not an issue for the English Education major, entering his junior year at the university. 

Dimitric has been involved with yearbook for the past two years.  He also serves as the president of the Student Missouri State Teachers Association and the Minority Men’s Club.  His advice to rising college students is simple: “You’ll get out as much as you put in. You’re not experiencing college if you just go to class and go to your room,” he said.

The advice of being active and engaged is another lesson he deems important for current 20/20 Leadership participants.  Dimitric joined the program after being recommended by a teacher and says that participating in the program was the best thing he did as a high school student.  His increased engagement played a role in him being named a KC Royals Scholar in 2014, along with an opportunity to be introduced on the field at a Royals game.

It seems that no matter where Dimitric lands, educating others is in his blood, both formally and informally.  While his initial goal is to work within a classroom, he welcomes the idea of teaching on the college level with the goal of inspiring future teachers.  “Return the favor and be a role model” are words that were imparted on him and represent thoughts that have not left his mind since. 

7 months 2 days ago

Stephanie DeSpain graduated from J.C. Harmon High School in 2009 and began attending Kansas State University immediately afterward.  While she enjoyed the experience on campus, finances dictated that she needed to return home to Kansas City, Kansas.  Stephanie started taking courses at Johnson County Community College, working toward a business degree.  However, she soon discovered a new passion and path: cooking.

Almost 10 years after completing high school, Stephanie is now an entrepreneur and owner of Pyet’s Plate.  She says the most rewarding part is the ability to be as creative as she wants.  “My name is behind my food, talent, sweat and tears,” she said.  She recognizes the challenges that come with building clientele, but overall, she is happy with her decision to start her own business.

Recognizing, understanding and overcoming challenges is something that Stephanie says she learned from her two years as a 20/20 Leadership participant.  “My favorite part is that we didn’t just see successful people.  We saw what happens when you make mistakes or don’t meet your full potential,” she said. 

Stephanie was introduced to the program by her high school advisor and at first, she was unsure of what the experience would bring. She says her peers thought it was just a program to get out of school, but she saw it as an additional learning opportunity.  “I was surprised, impressed and I truly enjoyed everything,” she remembers.

She was part of the group that started the discussion about the Harmon Hub, a ½ mile trail that was built in 2014.  Stephanie and the other 20/20 Leadership students were interested in leaving a legacy at their school, even after they graduated.  As a 20/20 alumna, Stephanie regularly gives of her time and talents to the organization.  Most notably, she has served on the scholarship selection committee for the past few years, assisting other alumni with evaluating scholarship applications and naming winners. 

7 months 3 days ago

The night before Del’Sha Roberts received a call from 20/20 Leadership about the Kansas City Royals Scholarship, she had been researching scholarship applications.  She applied for the scholarship as a senior at F.L. Schlagle and when her name was not called during the 2015 Shining Stars program, she thought the opportunity passed. While she had received other scholarship awards as she entered Kansas State University as a freshman in the fall of 2015, Del’Sha found herself in need of more money to continue her education. “If it wasn’t for this scholarship, I would not be able to continue at Kansas State,” she said.

Education is something that was stressed in Del’Sha’s household as she grew up.  She has three older sisters, as well as one younger brother. While one of her sisters started college, she did not have the opportunity to finish.  As a first generation college student, she understands that education is not optional.  The future doctor understands the time she will have to continue to invest in her education to pursue her dream.

Del’Sha originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but is studying biology and pre-med with the goal of becoming a surgeon.  She has known that she wanted to be a doctor since the age of eight and the feeling intensified after a close friend passed away during her high school career. 

Her sights were initially set on attending Spelman College, a historically Black college in Atlanta, but after visiting Kansas State on a 20/20 Leadership program day, plus being offered a scholarship, Del’Sha’s plans shifted.  As she nears the end of her third semester at the university, Del’Sha has become active and involved in student life.  She joined the Black Student Union and was able to practice the skill of networking, something she learned as a participant in 20/20 Leadership.  

In reflection, Del’Sha says she thought college would be hard, but by taking college courses as a high school student, she believes that she was better prepared.  She took a placement test as a sophomore and because of her high scores in math and reading, Del’Sha was able to earn 25 credits that would transfer upon graduation.  She also learned how to read a syllabus.  More importantly, she already understood the importance of sitting in the front of the room, another lesson impressed upon her by 20/20 Leadership.

“Hard work and dedication has paid off and now I’m able to be at the school that I would like to be at,” she said.

The KC Royals scholarship is made possible by a generous donation from the Kansas City Royals and Royals Charities.  Participants in 20/20 Leadership are eligible to apply for the scholarship. 

8 months 2 weeks ago

Before moving to Colorado in 2014, Annetta and Louis Potts lived in the Kansas City area for 43 years. In that time, they had their respective careers: Lou as a professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and Annetta found her way into non-profit work. They also became supporters of 20/20 Leadership.

Annetta first met Marilyn Alstrom, founder and executive director of 20/20 Leadership through the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City. She initially took on the role of visiting with high school principals and inviting students to apply for the program. Lou also provided assistance by using his role at UMKC to help facilitate on campus visits by 20/20 Leadership students.

Another relationship that has impacted 20/20 Leadership is the one Lou and Annetta had with Gene Denton. They attended church with Gene and once they began sharing the impact of 20/20, he was on board with his support. “He seemed like the perfect fit and was very supportive of young people,” Annetta said.

At the time, Gene was serving as the County Administrator for Johnson County, Kansas. Once 20/20 Leadership was established as its own 501©3 organization, Gene served on its first board of directors. He passed away in 2011 and in memory of his service to 20/20 Leadership, a scholarship was named in his honor. The Gene Denton Memorial Scholarship is awarded each year to a graduating senior pursuing a career in public service. Lou and Annetta, along with Gene’s widow, Gigi, make annual donations to the scholarship fund.

Lou and Annetta continue to believe in the power of 20/20 Leadership and its ability to impact the lives of teenagers in the Kansas City area. “The students are gaining an awareness of the community on a larger scale and their eyes are being opened to opportunity.”

8 months 4 weeks ago

Each year, Dr. Linna Place, along with other trustees from the R.A. Long Foundation are invited to enjoy lunch with students, alumni and staff of 20/20 Leadership.  Each year, the lunch is a reminder for her just how much the program has grown since 2003.  The foundation was part of the first cohort of funders when 20/20 Leadership crossed state lines from Kansas to Missouri.  “I see that it is an established part of secondary schools now,” she says.

The annual lunch is not the only opportunity Linna has had to see students in action.  Linna and other trustees also are invited to program days and those experiences are equally impressive.  “The students in the program are leaders and they are not necessarily always the class president,” she says.

R.A. Long, a lumberman and philanthropist, became wealthy in the 1900’s and a foundation was established.  The foundation also looks to provide support to organizations that target youth in the Kansas City area and that fits in line with the work of 20/20 Leadership. 

On behalf of the foundation, Linna continues to support the program for a number of reasons, including the feeling of appreciation she feels as a funder.  “We always receive thank you letters in a timely fashion and as funders, we are always informed and engaged,” she says. 

Despite growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Linna has had a lasting impact on the Kansas City area in a variety of roles.  She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and began teaching history at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.   She now serves as the Director of International Academic Programs at UMKC.  Her initial introduction to the program came from a colleague and supporter of 20/20 Leadership, Lou Potts, who encouraged her involvement and the support has continued.   Lou and his wife, Annetta still support 20/20 as well with an annual donation to the Gene Denton Memorial Scholarship. 

When students graduate from high school as participants of 20/20 Leadership, Dr. Linna Place hopes they leave with at least two things: an awareness of self and an awareness of the larger community.  “I also hope they leave the program as energetic and confident individuals,” she says.

9 months 3 weeks ago

The year was 1993 and 20 residents of Wyandotte County were participating in Leadership 2000, an adult leadership program designed to cultivate emerging leaders in the area.  The participants in the class, that included the superintendent of the Piper School District, came up with the idea to create a program similar to what they experienced.  The twist? The program would be for high school students. 

“There were questions of how many students would participate and would they even be interested,” Sara Gillespie, one of the participants in the Leadership 2000 program, responsible for the development of what is now known as 20/20 Leadership, said.  “We’ve had the only project that has stood the test of time,” she said.

Sara reflects on the establishment of the program with awe on how it has been sustained over the years.  The program that now boasts participation from hundreds of students in two counties, four grade levels and multiple school districts, began with a total of 36 students from schools in Wyandotte County.  Sara’s initial role for the first two years was to coordinate transportation, lunch and secure locations for students to visit on each day.   At the time, she worked for Lee Jeans and the company supported employees participating in volunteer and community activities.

Sara attended college, studied to be a teacher and after leaving Lee Jeans, she went back to the classroom.  She began as a substitute teacher, but decided to return to school herself, earning a master’s degree in special education.  Sara currently works as a special education teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District and is still a strong advocate for 20/20 Leadership.  Both of her daughters participated in the program as students at Turner High School. 

The seeds of growth, education and opportunity were planted over 20 years ago and they continue to bloom with each class of new 20/20 Leadership participants. Leadership 2000 taught participants like Sara things they did not know about Wyandotte County and that continues today for the student leaders today.  “It was great to see students from different parts of the county meeting each other.  It was cool to do something for kids and I never imagined that it would morph across state lines,” she said.

10 months 1 week ago

Life after high school was once a fleeting thought for KC Royals Scholar Colton Russell.  As a high school sophomore being introduced to the 20/20 Leadership program, Colton simply thought it was an opportunity to get out of school.  Once he realized he needed to focus, he began preparing for his future and hasn’t looked back since.

After graduating from Turner High School in 2015, Colton began studying electrical engineering at Wichita State University.  He says a love for math steered him toward the major and the feeling of belonging helped him decide on the campus.  “It was a friendly environment and it felt like home.  I enjoy the one to one interactions that I am able to have with my professors,” he said. 

As a rising sophomore, Colton is involved in a number of activities on campus, including the Honors College, Emerging Leaders and recently landed a stint as a DJ.  The role he enjoys the most is within the Student Ambassador Society, where he has the opportunity to showcase his school to prospective students.  “I enjoy giving back and this one opportunity that I have to do so with high school students,” he said.

In the spirit of giving, Colton frequently provides some of his time to the program.  Last summer, Colton, along with other 20/20 Leadership alums were asked to present at the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) meeting and at that time, he talked to a board member about internship opportunities.  Colton was connected with human resources.  Fast-forward to summer 2016 and he is now an electrical engineering intern at BPU.  “Without 20/20, I would not have been able to make that connection,” he said. 

And without 20/20 Leadership, Colton would have also missed a royal opportunity: being one of five students presented with a $10,000 scholarship from the Kansas City Royals.  “I would describe the opportunity as life-changing.  Without it, I would not be able to do as well in school.  For me, it is nice to know that someone is behind you,” he said.

In addition to earning a scholarship from the KC Royals, Colton was also named a Koch Scholar and received an award of $22,000.  Only ten students from Wichita State are selected for this award.  Colton is honored to take part and attributes this distinction to his continued hard work and focus.  “I was eligible for the scholarship as a result of my grades and it feels great to know that out of 16,000 students, I was selected,” he said.

The KC Royals scholarship is made possible by a generous donation from the Kansas City Royals and Royals Charities.  Participants in 20/20 Leadership are eligible to apply for the scholarship.