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.