Why I Volunteer: Centurions Leadership Program

By Marc Shaffer

Our Motto: Learn. Serve. Lead.

From the first time I heard about the Centurions Leadership Program through The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, I was intrigued. It’s a two-year leadership development program, started in 1976, designed to train future Kansas City leaders, but that’s just the description in a nutshell. It’s also a place to learn in-depth about your community, make lifelong friends and grow more than you’d ever think possible.

Why I Applied

Centurions 1I applied for the Centurions Leadership Program to gain a better understanding of the city I call home. I work less than five miles from where I live, so I spend a considerable amount of my time in Overland Park. But there’s so much more to this city than my suburb, and I wanted a deep dive into the makeup of our entire metro.

Being a part of this program has been an amazing opportunity to learn about the metro’s tourism, economic development, transportation, healthcare, the arts and more, especially in a time that many consider Kansas City’s renaissance.

Having not spent much time on the Missouri side of the metro, the Centurions program taught me the history of Kansas City’s downtown and how fascinating this place is, making me feel even luckier to call it home.

Within the last few years, the downtown scene in KC has started to prosper with new living options, a vibrant entertainment scene and a streetcar with plans to extend stops farther south. Within a few years, we are even supposed to have a new airport! All of this cannot be done without the city leaders working together to move progress forward.

Connecting with New People

Centurions 18The Centurions Leadership Program has done an awesome job of connecting existing and emerging leaders to each other and revealing the people that get these types of projects, both public and private, completed. The program is organized by the Chamber but put on by the Centurions themselves. Our members organize the committees, task force days, benchmarking trips and volunteering opportunities for each other. The work is intended to provide opportunities to learn, serve and lead. It is a large time commitment but, like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it.

The diversity in the Centurions Leadership Program is wonderful. It brings together people from different backgrounds, each with a goal of improving our metro for those that live in it. These men and women represent all races, ethnicities, large and small businesses and for profit and non-profit companies. Every leader in the program thinks differently about their surroundings and what needs to be done to better the city and, coming from Johnson County, it has been refreshing to learn about different ideas and programs that are important to my peers in other parts of our city.

My Favorite Trip with Centurions

I was able to attend the annual benchmarking trip where we visit another city and compare it to ours to find opportunities for growth and improvement. We visited Cincinnati, which I learned is a lot like Kansas City.

It is a metropolitan area expanding across two states, Ohio and Kentucky, and divided by a river. The city struggles with a history of segregation and is very diverse, much like KC. In fact, they have the National Underground Railroad Museum and many called Cincinnati “Up South.” A few things we noted were:

  • The downtown is thriving with an area called Over the Rhine (OTR), comparable to our Crossroads
  • Their new airport is gaining national attention and jobs
  • Their sports stadiums are downtown (NFL Team Bengals and the MLB Team Reds)
  • Their streetcar that was opened about the same time as KC’s streetcar is failing

We were able to discuss the pros and cons with Cincinnati’s leaders, how each city is doing some things better, and bring ideas back to improve Kansas City.

My Most Eye-Opening Experience: Project Uplift

Centurions 2Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, Project Uplift delivers items to the homeless in KC. Their goal is to deliver those basic human needs, care and compassion that are not usually received from other organizations.

I volunteered with Project Uplift on a cold, Monday night in January and was amazed at the homeless population in our metro; particularly in areas I’d been to downtown regularly but where the homeless population was hidden. I was hard to believe that these people didn’t have a home or anywhere else to go to avoid the cold. The only things they had were the things on them and they weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from. It was a joy to serve them. Even though they had unfortunate circumstances, they were all very kind, positive and thankful for those that were volunteering to help them.

Why You Should Apply

The Centurions Leadership Program gives those who participate a broad overview of how the city functions. It highlights the good, bad and ugly of KC in an effort to bring people together for the good of the community. It connects people from different backgrounds, different industries and different leadership roles and styles to more fully engage in improving what and where we call home in the metro.

Even though the program only lasts two years, the impact on the graduates lasts a lifetime and their work going forward oftentimes leaves a legacy. If this intrigues you and you are interested in learning more, please consider applying. Due to demand, in 2018 the program expanded into a new cohort so there are opportunities to apply twice a year. Please see the website below for additional information.

If you’re interested in staying connected to current Centurion activities, please consider following the social media pages below.

I’m going to miss the active participation but look forward to staying involved as an Alumni.

Volunteer Projects I Experienced Through Centurions

Centurions 13First Year

  • Greater Kansas City FIRST Robotics Competition
  • Gala FashionAbility with Inclusion Connections
  • Greater Kansas City Days Selling Newspapers
  • Happy Bottoms Packaging Diapers
  • Tiny Tim Holiday Fantasy Event for the Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center
  • Project Uplift Delivering Food to the Homeless
  • Downtown Outreach Meal Preparation at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
  • Friday Night Community Meal with Reconciliation Services
  • Kansas City Kids Marathon
  • Excelsior Springs Nursing & Rebab Center
  • Centurions Legacy Golf Tournament

Second Year

  • KCUYA Queens of the Diamond at Urban Youth Academy
  • Good Samaritan Center at Retreat
  • Fall Community LINC Rent Party
  • Kappa Kappa Gamma Holiday Homes Tour
  • Project Uplift
  • Legacy Project with Community LINC

Task Force Days I Experienced Through Centurions

  • Government Impact
  • Education
  • Tourism
  • Healthcare & Medicine
  • STEM & Innovating KC- I Served on the Planning Committee
  • Arts, Culture & Entertainment
  • Design
  • Benchmarking Trip to Cincinnati
  • KC History
  • Economic Development
  • Law & Justice
  • Transportation
  • Philanthropy & Work of Non-Profits
  • Innovators and Disruptors – Made in KC – I Served on the Planning Committee
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Benchmarking Trip to Austin


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Published for the blog on April 5, 2019 by Searcy Financial Services, your Overland Park, Kansas Fee-Only Financial Planner and Investment Manager.