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PLS Gifted Me a Profound Journey

August 3, 2017 6 minute Read
by Gabriel Albornoz
Gabriel Albornoz, Director of the Department of Recreation in Montgomery County, Maryland, shares his personal experience as a participant in the 2017 class of Presidential Leadership Scholars (PLS).

For the last seven months, I have been on a remarkable journey that I never expected. It included breaking bread and receiving personal advice from the 42nd and 43rd Presidents of the United States, becoming intimate friends with the most inspiring professionals I have ever met, and coming away feeling more hope for the future of our country than ever before. I was given a profoundly important gift by being selected to the 2017 Presidential Leadership Scholars Program (PLS).

I learned about PLS from my close friend, Ana Lopez van Balen (PLS Class of ’16). We worked together as cabinet members in the administration of County Executive Ike Leggett in Montgomery County, Maryland, and before that as colleagues at the Latin American Youth Center in Washington, DC. We have both dedicated our careers to service and share a deep passion for social justice.

When Ana described the program, the bi-partisan vision that led to its formation, the curriculum, relationships, and the deep impact on her personally, I knew immediately that PLS was something I wanted to be a part of.

It included breaking bread and receiving personal advice from the 42nd and 43rd Presidents of the United States, becoming intimate friends with the most inspiring professionals I have ever met, and coming away feeling more hope for the future of our country than ever before.

The timing of this opportunity was perfect. I was discerning how best to utilize my talents to make a deeper impact on our local community. That discernment included whether to go back to the non-profit sector, continue as a public official, or consider a new opportunity. I also found myself frustrated with our current political environment and needed something to reinvigorate my hope in our democracy, and my belief that our nation can come together for the common good.

When addressing Congress in 2015, Pope Francis said of the challenges facing our world today that, “these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.” Presidents George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George W. Bush in partnership with the foundation of Lyndon B. Johnson intimately understand those challenges and created a movement in PLS that addresses them head on.

Our training included instruction from some of the top minds in our country and focused on the leadership qualities of all four presidents: vision and communication, decision-making, persuasion and influence, and strategic partnerships.

I absorbed a tremendous amount of information from our visits to the four presidential libraries. In fact, I’m still processing all of it and suspect I will be for quite some time. Among the lessons that had the greatest impacts on me were a review of the qualities of a strong servant leader. Those include humility, integrity and the notion that goals must be shared and communicated effectively and clearly.

Our training included instruction from some of the top minds in our country and focused on the leadership qualities of all four presidents: vision and communication, decision-making, persuasion and influence, and strategic partnerships.

A critical component of the PLS experience is the Personal Leadership Project (PLP). I worked on developing the TechConnect initiative, which partners with local senior centers and organizations, youth development agencies, and technology service organizations to develop a youth-led technology-training program for senior citizens. To date, more than 600 seniors have learned to access county services and resources online, creating a stronger social support network for participants and more employment training opportunities for the youth. And the program is growing. Bill Moyer, who spoke at our module in Austin, wrote me a personal note that read, “thank you for working towards bridging our generations.” This note is a something I value greatly and gives me inspiration to keep moving forward.  

Ana told me that the most rewarding part of the program would be the connection to my classmates. She was right, but I didn’t understand just how deep those relationships would be. My classmates come from completely different backgrounds, and represent the best and brightest minds in our country. We have challenged each other, learned from one another, laughed and even cried together. There is not much I wouldn’t do to support the 59 new members of my family and by extension the 120 men and women that preceded us. These individuals give me profound hope for our country’s future.

My PLS journey was enriching and inspiring. And it doesn’t end with graduation. I can’t wait to see what lies in the future as we shape our communities and country as we continue all of our journeys.

For more information about PLS and how to apply, please visit the website. Applications will be accepted until August 31, 2017. Follow us on Twitter @PLSprogram.