Greater Tucson Leadership Celebrates 40 Years

By Romi Carrell Wittman 

Turning 40 is a momentous, though not always eagerly anticipated milestone. At Greater Tucson Leadership, it’s cause for celebration. 

“We are so excited to mark this occasion,” said Kasey Hill, GTL’s executive director. “Though in-person celebrations are postponed, we can’t wait to bring together our alumni and past board members.” 

A nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing leadership education, community development and civic engagement for the Tucson community, GTL is the only formal, local civic leadership educational program of its kind in Southern Arizona.

Founded in 1980, GTL had its beginnings as a Tucson Metro Chamber program called Leadership Tucson. However, the organization broke away in 1986 and rebranded itself as Greater Tucson Leadership, an independent nonprofit organization. The organization experienced some ups and downs in the years that followed and eventually rejoined the Chamber in 2012 as a partner program. 

Under the leadership of Suzanne McFarlin and, later, Hill, GTL has become the go-to resource for people in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds to hone their leadership skills. While GTL is best known for its flagship leadership training program, it also hosts the annual Man, Woman and Founder of the Year awards. 

This year, it launched a third element  – the Civic and Political Leadership Program, an eight-month, non-partisan program which aims to help people determine how to run for office, how to effectively govern and how to get legislation passed at the local and state levels. 

GTL alumna Kate Hoffman is the founder, creator and executive director of Earn to Learn, a program that teaches financial literacy and assists students in saving money for college. Hoffman, who graduated from the GTL Class of 2008, said GTL was instrumental in helping her make her vision a reality. “GTL opened my eyes up,” Hoffman said. “It opened my eyes to so many issues in the community and helped me see ways I could make a positive impact.” 

Hoffman, who had previously worked in the financial services industry, found a new calling: supporting students in graduating with financial literacy and no student loans. “GTL gave me the knowledge, the insight to make Earn to Learn a reality,” she said. The Earn to Learn program is now poised to be rolled out nationwide. 

When former Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild wanted to create a resource to help people become more civically engaged, he turned to GTL. “In my eight years in office, as well as the many years I spent assisting people in getting elected or involved in the electoral process, I came to the conclusion that I could help the future of our community by offering them a course, not just a course telling them how to get elected, but also what to expect when you get there,” Rothschild said. “I had the idea but I needed people to make it happen. GTL was the first group I thought of.” 

McFarlin, a GTL alumna in addition to past executive director, said, “As a student, I really felt GTL allowed me to understand and claim my voice. That was enormous to me as a woman. It made me realize that what I have to offer is valuable, that my contribution is valuable.” 

Another part of GTL classes stuck with her: “The real significance for me was the realization of ‘If not me, then who?’ ” McFarlin said. “I felt an ownership of the community, that I am the community and I can create an impact.” 

Hill, who joined GTL as its first full-time executive director in 2016, is excited not only to celebrate GTL’s anniversary, but also its future.

“During the past year, we’ve seen tremendous growth in our organization,” Hill said. “We have hired a full-time development director, and a Public Ally, who is helping us with capacity building and program development. In addition to the Civic and Political Leadership Academy, we’ve also developed workshops to help organizations with strategic planning and team building, and are working to develop additional leadership programs in the future.” 

“GTL is such a wonderful, dynamic organization that has become an integral part of the community,” she said. “I look forward to our future.” 

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