Story by Elizabeth Smith
It's difficult to fathom that Alison Rapping, the woman who now leads Valley Leadership as its executive director was initially not accepted into the elite organization that is known for developing some of the Valley's most prominent and inspiring leaders.
The prestigious program, founded in 1979, boasts as alumni dynamos including former Scottsdale mayor Sam Campana; three Phoenix city council members: Greg Stanton, Tom Simplot and Peggy Neely; and individuals like Rusty Foley, Grady Gammage, Jr. and Ken Cheuvront. Valley Leadership graduates have run for prominent elected offices; founded other local leadership organizations; assisted in the renovation of the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Phoenix; chaired groups like the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission, Mesa Family Way, the Goldwater Institute, Phoenix Arts Board, and Phoenix Planning and Zoning Commission; and served on the boards of hundreds of nonprofit organizations in our community.
For Rapping, who was accepted upon her second attempt into class XX (“The one you're in is the one you're supposed to be in," she jokes), the experience was "catalytic" to her desire—as well as her ability—to stay in Phoenix and make a difference within it.
Making a difference is something of a career signature for Rapping, who, prior to assuming her position at Valley Leadership, served as President and C.E.O. of Make a Difference (now Hands On Greater Phoenix), an organization devoted to spearheading volunteer activities and community programs throughout the Valley. Rapping attributes the call to serve her community to the advice of her father, a professor of economics, who often advised her, "Your role in this world is to leave society better than you found it."
With a master's degree in public administration from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Rapping's own community involvement includes posts as vice chair of the City of Phoenix Commission on Housing and Neighborhoods, Member of the City of Phoenix Bond Committee, chair of the Effective Citizenry and Leadership Task Force and a board member for HandsOn Network, legislative fellow in the House of Representatives and member of Valley Leadership's Recruitment Committee.
For its part, Valley Leadership benefits and strengthens the community by developing and inspiring leaders. "It's a remarkable organization because it takes individuals who are already leaders and it enriches them," she says.
The 10-month program begins with a highly competitive application, interview and selection process. A two-day over- night retreat is followed by monthly leadership development sessions on topics like Valley history, government, education, nonprofits, health and wellness, neighborhoods, urban growth and the environment. Throughout the term, chosen candidates participate in intense team projects from which they develop community recommendations. Rapping sums up the mission, “It was really indoctrinated into us that you’re here to make the Valley a better place."
Through her own involvement in Valley Leadership, Rapping had the opportunity to meet the Gandhi family and see Gandhi's birthplace. Moved by that experience, she traveled to Africa, where she performed hands-on leadership training for Shape Zimbabwe and Nelson Mandela Bay Cares. To this day, she keeps and holds close to her heart a thanks from the Paul Terry, C.E.O. of the Park Nicollet Institute that she received complimenting her work there.
Today, Rapping finds fulfillment leading a key organization cultivating the Valley's up-and-coming leaders. "Leadership is a collective effort," Rapping says. "You will only succeed if everyone is leading in their own way."