I fell in love with Worcester as an undergraduate at Clark University and knew that I wanted to make this City my home and place where I would work while in Susan Smith’s (Founder of Foothills Theatre), Audience Development class in 2009.

As part of that class, every week Susan brought in a different Community Leader to speak about their career journey, and experience, and offer a group of Master’s students some advice as we began our careers. We heard from speakers like Jim Moughan (DCU Center), Kate McEvoy (now with Synergy), and Linda Looft (who was at WPI). I remember listening to them talk about their experiences, and thinking I want that one day, I want to be someone who has a job I love, be involved in the community and can share my passion with others.

If you ask anyone who has participated in Leadership Worcester what one of the best things about the program is, I am sure the number one (or at least in the top three responses) will be the people you meet. I can confidently say that I added 25 people to my contact list that I can reach out to should I have any questions or need their assistance – plus I can call them friends. That is just the people in my cohort, and doesn’t even count the tons of community organizers, City leaders, and other really smart people that I could say “I was a member of last year’s Leadership Worcester class, and have a few questions do you have some time to chat?”

If I ever have the opportunity to run a class using the format I experienced in that Audience Development class, my entire roster would be filled with Leadership Worcester alumni.

In addition to the people – the experiences we were offered as part of Leadership Worcester were eye-opening, brain-expanding, and truly unique. This is my second favorite part of the program. Each month we went somewhere different, learned from great speakers, and truly saw the future of Worcester.

Our first “true” Leadership Worcester day (we started with a two-day retreat), was focused on Public Health. This day we were told was often one of the most intense days of the program as we toured the Worcester County Jail and spent the day talking about the systemic issues facing the City with Dr. Matilde Castile the Commission of Health and Human Services for Worcester. Our morning kicked off with Sherri Gentile (Project Manager, UMass Memorial Health & UMass Chan Medical School) sharing the following statistic that has stayed with me since that morning:

  • The average life expectancy of someone living in the Salisbury Street area is: 84 years
  • The average life expectancy of someone living in the Kelley Square area is: 72.9 years

We were driven to explore, what systems are in place so that people living four miles apart have such different life expectancies.

While that day set the tone, this conversation came up each week. Not just how do we fix the problem, but to take a step back and find out why it exists in the first place.  What can we do as leaders that will impact the city for years and generations to come?

Not every session was this intense though. On other days we spent the day outside when talking about Worcester’s blue and green spaces, and in a different month spent the morning at JMAC listening to artists, and performers, talk about arts and culture. We looked at the budget for the Worcester Public Schools and visited the Worcester Food Bank to talk about food security. Each month we were challenged to think and learn.

My brain was exhausted at the end of every session but in the best way. I was learning from peers, from experts, and seeing parts of the City I didn’t know about. It was incredible, and I wish I could do it every month still. This is why I tell everyone I know about the program and encourage them to apply. (If you are reading this and it sounds interesting – do it! Apply!)

At the end of the program, each of us was challenged to write our Six Word Memoir. If you aren’t familiar with this challenge, story has it that Ernest Hemingway was once asked to write a story in only six words. He did, and it is very poignant. I encourage you to look it up. The day we were presenting our memoir I had it narrowed down to four that I had written, but when it was my turn to share I knew that the right one for me was: Left the Valley, for Seven Hills.

It has been a year since I graduated from this program, and daily I am reminded of the lessons I learned and am committed to seeing our City continue to grow and thrive.

Billie Kenyon is the Chief Operating Officer at Ladybugz Interactive Agency. She, along with Founder & CEO Lysa Miller, and a team of experts create and elevate companies’ websites and digital marketing with a focus on biotech, non-profits, education, and B2B businesses. In addition, she is the current President of the Board of Directors for the Worcester JCC, Worcester Business Journal 40 Under 40 Honoree 2022, and Leadership Worcester alumni class of 2023. Billie is married to fellow Clarkie Cory Kenyon, and they along with their five-year-old daughter Devyn live in Worcester.