20/20 Leadership Blog

3 months 3 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. 

5 months 1 week 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. 

5 months 1 week 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. 

6 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.”

7 months 4 days 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.

8 months 2 days 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.

8 months 2 weeks 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.

9 months 1 day ago

For KC Royals Scholar Michelle Thatsanithone, staying close to home has translated into opportunity.  She is currently a marketing intern at CBIZ and has been since last summer.  The internship was only supposed to last for a few months, but Michelle proved herself and was asked to continue working part-time during the academic year and full-time during the summer.  “I’ve learned so much as an intern such as event planning, email etiquette, how to have conversations with people and how to be more prepared,” she said.

In hindsight, Michelle had been prepared for her college experience since she was a student at Lincoln College Prep.  In her English course, she was required to write a 2,000-word essay every two weeks and while her peers struggled, Michelle took the work in stride.  “That was something I had already done in high school, so it was as simple as making a plan, writing the paper and turning it in,” she said.

The experiences from 20/20 Leadership have also proven to be beneficial for the rising sophomore, who received encouragement to apply for the program from Nyree Smith, a counselor at Lincoln.  She graduated in 2015 as salutatorian and because of that, Michelle had the opportunity to deliver a speech at graduation.  She credits her experience in 20/20 for teaching her how to handle that moment. “Without 20/20 Leadership, I wouldn’t know how to stand up and project my voice with confidence.  I also wouldn’t know simple things, such as how to have a firm handshake or know that name tags always go on the right side,” she said.

Michelle attends Park University in Parkville, Missouri, a campus with smaller class sizes, the diversity she says was looking for and scholarship opportunities she didn’t find at other institutions.  While she is only entering her second year this fall, Michelle is on track to earn two undergraduate degrees, as well as a graduate degree by the year 2020.   She is the first in her family to attend a university and the pressure to succeed is one that she takes in stride.

Michelle was not initially named a KC Royals Scholar when she graduated last year and said she was shocked when she received communication from 20/20 Leadership earlier this year with the news.  “All I could say was thank you,” she recalls.   The additional scholarship will support her as she looks to move on campus in the fall.  With the move, she hopes to have the opportunity to be more involved on campus, as she was in high school. 

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.

9 months 2 weeks ago

Since she can remember, KC Royals Scholar Claire Mansur has somehow participated in activities that involve children, ranging from babysitting to working at summer camps.  All of the roles are fitting for the future educator, who will graduate in December 2016 from Missouri State University in Springfield with a degree in elementary education.  Soon after, she will hold a master’s degree in literacy, due to a program that allows students to complete both degrees within five years.

Claire is currently spending the summer working a youth program at Union Station.  This fall, she will complete her student teaching and look forward to substitute teaching next spring.  In preparation, she contemplates the type of teacher she would like to be. “I want to challenge kids, be hands on and not just pass out worksheets,” she says.

Hands-on is likely an understatement for the 2012 Lincoln College Prep graduate who describes herself as a calm and a go with the flow type of person.  During her junior year of college, Claire served as the lead coordinator for an alternative spring break trip to Dallas.  The purpose of the trip was to provide a safe place for kids in the area to go during their spring break. Her role was to coordinate all logistics for the trip, including the selection of the other students that would attend, the curriculum and activities for the week, along with transportation and lodging.  

None of the planning process for the alternative spring break trip could have been accomplished without professionalism and networking, skills Claire says she gained as a result of participating in 20/20 Leadership.  Participating in the program also helped her begin the process of branching out, as she says she didn’t initially know many other students in the program.   “The field trips also served as opportunities to learn things, such as how to shake someone’s hand and meet professionals,” she said.

Finally, she is also grateful for the opportunity to be named a KC Royals Scholar, a scholarship that has helped her family now that her younger brother begins his college journey this fall.  “I was shocked when my name was called, but I thank my mom for even encouraging me to apply.”

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.

9 months 3 weeks ago

“The more you give, the more you get.”

These words are somewhat of a life motto for Danyale Anthony and it is fitting for the college senior with a listening ear and a passion for helping others.  She will graduate in December from the University of Missouri – Kansas City with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.  Her post-graduation plan is to work as a victim’s advocate. “I’d definitely like to help at home in Wyandotte County first, but I also want to be there to support any kid that needs it,” she says.

Home wasn’t always a stable place for Danyale, who by the time she graduated from Wyandotte High School in 2012, was living with her uncle.  She had a goal of attending Jackson State University in Mississippi, but decided it was best to stay close to look after her younger brother.  Earning a $10,000 scholarship from the Kansas City Royals also helped cement her decision.  “At first, I didn’t think I would win and didn’t even realize my name was called.  I wondered why my counselor kept asking me if I was planning to attend the Shining Stars Celebration and afterward, it all made sense.”

The opportunity to participate in 20/20 Leadership was presented to her by that same counselor, Mrs. Leslie Simons.  “She said, ‘sign this, you’re going to be in the program’.  She also described it as an opportunity to learn professionalism.” 

Professionalism was just the beginning of the lessons Danyale was able to learn and take away from the program.  It was something that first was viewed as a day out of school, but she said, “I learned organization through the program, as well as how to act in professional settings.” 

Between balancing school, a full-time job, family and friends, Danyale still makes volunteering a priority.  She gives time to Veronica’s Voice, a local organization that works with victims of human trafficking.  She has also appreciated the opportunities of continued engagement that have come as a result of participation in 20/20 Leadership and being named a KC Royals Scholar.  “My advice to students is to be appreciative and to give back.”


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.