An intense nine-month course taught five Ahwatukee Foothills residents everything there is to know about Arizona and a lot about themselves, too.

"It's cliché to say it is life changing but it really is," said Kim Cofer, an IT consultant. "It changes your opinions and opens your mind to celebrating new people."

The journey started with a tough application process. There's an application, letters of recommendation and an interview before a panel. In the end 54 applicants were chosen to participate in the Valley Leadership Training as Class 32. Among them were Ahwatukee residents Kim Cofer, Kari Vanderslice, Cathy Cormier, Kelli Smith and Anthony Valencia.

Then the fun began. After a get-to-know-you weekend at a resort the group was asked to take a personality test. They were divided into groups with a fair balance of each personality type and then assigned a project to work on throughout the course. They had monthly education days focused on different areas of the state and on top of that they were asked to attend at least five of the more than 30 tours suggested by Valley Leadership. Some tours included a crime lab, Tent City, a sweat lodge, the archives, an Indian reservation and a trauma center.

In the end, the class was all about educating people in Arizona to become leaders.

"I learned so much about so much," Smith said. "I'm an educated person, I've lived here for 25 years, I pay attention, and I could not believe how little I knew about water and power and education, how our government is structured, how it works. It's amazing."

The Ahwatukee residents were all excited to walk away with so many contacts from the class. Their classmates came from all different backgrounds and they believe the people alone made all the time in the class worth it.

"We've got people to call," Vanderslice said. "If we ever wanted to do something for a cause we have so many people we know. There's an extraordinary range of people who have been through the class. We're a part of that group now. It's crazy."

Class 32 has set up a plan to have one-on-one lunches with each other and monthly happy hours to continue to get to know one another.

"It was like having a key to the city for nine months and I think all of that was just a bonus compared to the people you meet," Cofer said. "That was the true take-away. I don't think I would have run into these people otherwise. It was diverse by design in every way. You know you're not in a room with people like you."

As for what they're going to do with the training, the group is not sure. They have a lot of choices ahead of them.

"We had a speaker who had been through this," Smith said. "He said the Peace Corp has a program where they send you out to the field and they recommend going to the place they send you and don't decide for a few months.

"They want you to just think and read and watch and listen and then decide what to do. I think that's the road I'm on right now. I'm really thinking back to how many things I found interesting. You really do grow. Whatever level you're at it will take you to the next level."

A new class begins training in August but applications are due in February. For more information on the course and to apply, visit

Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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