Executive Director, 20/20 Leadership
Marnie Morgan currently serves as the Executive Director of 20/20 Leadership having taken over for the organization’s founder, Marilyn Alstrom in 2018. Morgan has a BS in Education and an MS in Human Development and Family Studies both from the University of Missouri – Columbia where she also provided leadership to youth development and family support programming for nearly 10 years.
For those who may not be familiar with 20/20 Leadership, can you explain the program and how your serve students in Kansas City?
20/20 Leadership pursues programming that contributes to the overall well-being of young people. We recognize that an individual’s access to critical assets such as education significantly impact their physical, mental, and social well-being. Our work is dedicated not only to ensuring that our participants adequately capitalize on their access to a high school education but also position themselves for post-secondary success. It is through this work that we contribute not only to the well-being of the young people we serve but also to the Kansas City community in which they live.
Since 1993, 20/20 Leadership has been dedicated to providing experiential learning and leadership opportunities for students who might not otherwise have this type of experience. We currently serve more than 700 students from 18 area high schools and have over 4200 alumni who have completed our program. Our model provides students experiences in three critical pillars:
- Agility/Competency and Workforce Development Training – Our team works with local experts and agencies to identify the critical competencies that prepare students for future success regardless of the career path they choose. From communication skills, problem solving and teamwork, to leadership and critical thinking, 20/20 students are engaging in opportunities that set them apart in the areas that truly position them for success.
- Community Engagement – Our program immerses students in their communities. From meetings with community leaders to partnerships with community agencies, our participants leave knowing more about their communities and how they fit in. Our capstone experience engages students in a project to leave a legacy in their communities. Since 2012, students have raised more than $400,000 to improve the lives of those around them. This pillar of our program supports students in becoming more aware of their communities, more familiar with policies from local to state and ignites activism and a growth mindset.
- Career and College Preparation – Our mission is to prepare students for the future and this pillar of our program is critical to this mission. For many of our students, college/technical school visits would not be a reality without our program, and we are proud to support students in everything from career exploration to preparing for the financial aspects of post-secondary education.
Educational best practices are shifting towards different types of learning, including Real World Learning. How does Real World Learning benefit students and prepare them for the workforce?
I’d like to think that 20/20 Leadership was ahead of the curve when it comes to bringing Real World Learning to students in the Kansas City Area! Since 1993, we have been immersing students in authentic, experiential learning opportunities that prepare them for work and post-secondary life. We engage them in experiences with their communities, local businesses and organizations in ways that allow them to develop and practice the skills and characteristics that are attractive to 21st century employers. I believe that when you engage students as active participants in their own learning that you create lifelong learners with a foundation of skills and characteristics that position them for success. In my perspective, Real World Learning, like our organization offers, creates young professionals with confidence, problem-solving experience, critical thinking skills and an entrepreneurial mindset that sets them apart as individuals that can tackle real problems and have a genuine impact on their communities. Real-world learners are the kind of people we all want on our teams, in our companies and as members of our communities.
How does 20/20 Leadership prepare students for post-secondary success?
20/20 Leadership is the premiere Kansas City youth development program dedicated to preparing students for life after high school. We believe that our success is grounded in a framework of providing students with opportunities to explore careers and interests, to gain and practice critical skills and agilities and to interact with professionals and the community. Our goal is to support each student in developing a great post-secondary plan that they can lean on as they move beyond high school. We do these things through a diverse set of experiences. For instance, each year we host a Career Expo which allows students to interact with more than 50 local professionals from diverse career paths, giving them the opportunity to learn about different careers, practice important communication skills and gain feedback on the resumes they have created during our programming. Similarly, we host an education fair each spring where students can learn about the types of post-secondary educational institutions that are available to them. We also conduct annual visits to local colleges, universities, and trade schools for additional exploration. But much of the transformational work takes place in our monthly program days where students engage in diverse experiences where they can practice skills that make them stand out from their peers. From developing personal elevator pitches to understanding how to research a target audience before a speaking engagement, 20/20 Leadership students gain hands on experience that expands their horizons and positions them for success. One experience we are particularly proud of is our capstone project which we call the 20/20 Olympics. There is nothing quite like watching high school students practice amazing skills like budgeting, negotiating and problem-solving while also having a true impact on their communities. Whether it’s a clothing closet, a school library renovation, or a student-driven program to address mental health, I could brag about these projects all day and I know that our students take a great deal away from the experiences as well.
What success are you most proud of? Can you give some examples of your success stories and “local celebrities” that are out in the community working?
It would be difficult to narrow down the organization’s successes to just one! I will say that our students are the best testament to our work! We are very proud to say that 100% of our students graduate from high school and that more than 90% of the students we have in our program for at least two years, go on to pursue additional post-secondary training or education. Some of our more notable alumni include Kalen Allen who is now an actor and television personality on shows like the Ellen Show and the Food Network. We are also very proud of Kimberly Chexnayder who has moved on from our program to find an amazing career as an on-air personality for the National Football League. Kimberly has been named to The Athletics’ NFL 40 under 40 and Front Office Sports Rising 25. But honestly, we have alumni all over the country and specifically the Kansas City Area doing such wonderful things and we take great pride in the fact that so many have remained empowered to truly have an impact on their communities.
I think it is also work noting that we are very proud of our work during this pandemic. Despite the challenges of pivoting to virtual and learning to work with students in new ways and with new barriers, the organization has thrived and grown through the process. I’m proud of our team for being flexible and for doing whatever needed to be done to maintain focus on preparing students the future.
What’s next for 20/20 Leadership in 2022? How can the KC community support your work?
These are unprecedented times in our world and our organization recognizes that this pandemic has significantly impacted the lives of our participants. Our first priority in 2022 will be to continue to partner with students as they navigate the challenges that have emerged due to the events going on around them. We have remained agile and flexible during the last 18 months so that we could be responsive to our students and our school partners, and we will continue to do so in 2022. We remained laser-focused on providing students with authentic experiences that prepare them for life after high school and will continue to do so in the upcoming year. We are proud to have been able to add two new schools during this academic year and look forward to talking with other interested school districts as we move forward.
20/20 Leadership is truly dependent on the Kansas City community to do our work! Our programming is grounded in the ability to put students into real-world situations where they can learn about themselves and practice critical skills. Kansas City continues to rise to the occasion, providing our students amazing opportunities. For instance, businesses and organizations open their doors to us every day so that students can learn about what they do! Over 50 professionals join us every year at the Career Expo so students can explore careers and practice their networking skills. From creating these types of opportunities to providing expertise in resume writing and scholarship applications, community members make all this possible! Of course, we are also very grateful for the foundations, corporations and individuals that choose to invest in our students every year. Thanks to generous support we can continue this work with minimal cost to our partner schools. We truly owe a debt of gratitude to the Kansas City community for offering its time, talents and treasures to our work and would welcome any individuals, corporations, and organizations with a drive to truly make a difference to join us in this work in they feel most comfortable.