We lived. We loved. We embodied the change that life threw at us. We turned that change into powerful actions for the betterment of our fellow Charlotteans.
Jerry Coughter
LC Class 33
Executive Director, UNC Charlotte Center City

Before LC, Jerry Coughter’s community involvement was focused on things related to his job or his kids. “LC exposed me to a very different type of community involvement,” he says. Sometimes serving others takes the form of charitable donations or volunteering to serve breakfast or lunch. “But sometimes it’s more important to sit and eat that breakfast or lunch with the folks you’re serving,” Jerry says. “Every Thanksgiving my office hosts a pot luck lunch for some of our neighbors from the Urban Ministry Center. While everyone has a great meal, the best part is chatting with the guests and everyone joining in to sing Christmas carols.” Jerry says that the secret to effecting change is being engaged, seeing issues, and having a willingness to get involved. “At the end of the LC program day, we were asked to sum up the day in a single phrase, maybe five or six words. Thinking of it that way, my LC experience drove home the idea that ‘it’s all connected; I can help.’”


Marilyn Dotson
LC Class 3

Although Marilyn Dotson, former IT director at the U.S. Probation Office, is retired, the adjective “retired” is misleading. Marilyn is incredibly active in her community. She’s deeply involved in her small neighborhood of Dunedin, serving twice as president of the neighborhood association and currently serving as treasurer. She is her neighborhood’s designated contact with the city on two major projects—replacing dangerous and outdated gas street lights and designing storm water management structures. She works the polls on election day and she helps the UNCC College of Computing and Informatics raise and provide scholarships to promote gender equality in the discipline. “One thing LC did was give its participants guidance and information on how to access city and county government services,” Marilyn says. “LC helped me by teaching me how to be polite, persistent, and to remember to say ‘Thank you’ when trying to solve community problems that need city or county staff participation.”

Sara Thomas
LC Class 37
Board Vice Chair, Pine Lake Preparatory

When Sara Thomas says LC changed her “perspective, lifestyle, and focus on community,” she means it quite literally. After learning about the impact and connection between housing, education, and upward mobility during LC, Sara sold her home on the golf course. She then moved into a more diverse neighborhood that offers workforce and senior housing, apartment rentals, and single-family homes. “I have never felt a greater sense of community,” Sara says. After learning about her eco-footprint during LC, she sold her gas-powered car. “I took the express bus for 18 months before purchasing a 100% electric vehicle,” she adds. After LC’s Education Day, Sara decided to run for school board. “I am now the board vice chair for North Carolina’s largest public charter school impacting the lives of thousands of students and families.” She says that this has been the most rewarding work she’s ever done. “I am forever grateful for LC, my company who sent me, and my classmates who I will be friends with for life.”

Melissa Boone
LC Class 33
Office Managing Partner, CohnReznick, LLP

Before joining LC, Melissa Boone had lived and worked in the surrounding Charlotte suburbs for many years. And yet, she says her view of the issues Charlotte faced were very limited. “While I was involved in some organizations within the city I wasn’t really getting the big picture.” LC gave Melissa direct knowledge of the most important issues affecting the city. It also helped her understand how the city works and where she could get involved. “I have been able to use that information to help others understand the issues and find outlets that encourage them to get involved as well,” she says. “The LC program left a lasting impression with me and helped me to slow down, pause, and think things thoroughly with greater intention so that my reactions and responses are more thoughtful rather than hasty.”

Scott Fligel
LC Class 34
Wealth Manager Advisor, Fligel Financial Services (Northestern Mutual)

Scott Fligel says that the key to making an impact is giving time. “The problem is finding time while juggling a host of responsibilities. That said, Charlotte has so much to offer and I decided to just make a commitment.” In Scott’s case, he found opportunities in his own life to give back. “I think LC made me more intentional about listening and really trying to understand the people around me,” he says. “I own my firm within Northwestern Mutual and lead employees and clients on a daily basis.” The former University of Alabama tennis player also mentors high school students with aspirations of playing college tennis. “I have served on various non-profit committees and expanded my sponsorship of local charities. Now, I am excited to join the Leadership Charlotte board,” Scott says.

Derick Close
LC Class 21
CEO, Springs Creative

Derick Close first learned about LC from an ad in the Charlotte Observer. The program looked interesting so he sent in an application not really knowing what he was getting himself into. “I saw a wonderful organization in the making. My classmates Mary Vickers Koch, Lou Soloman, and many others helped take LC to another level,” he says. “It inspired all of us to serve and get involved.” For Derick specifically, it inspired him to chair the CRVA Board and serve on the board for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and Johnson and Wales. “I always say LC introduces you to 50 wonderful and talented folks you would otherwise never have met and therefore impacts your life times 50!” he says. “Those interactions last a lifetime and forever will make Charlotte a more intentional city.”

Shawn Saulsberry
LC Class 27
Manager, Ernst & Young

After college, marriage, and fatherhood, LC was one of the major points of inflection in Shaw Saulsberry’s life. “Not only did I learn so much about Charlotte, but I also learned the most about my faith,” he says. Shaw was struck by the parallels between Jesus’ commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” and his LC experience. He discovered that he needed to lead himself in the ways he wanted to lead others. “LC taught me to give and serve out of who I already am instead of what I was trying to convince others that I am. The greatest gift of the program has been lifelong friendships that model the values of the program and keep me sharp as I sharpen them. I am more than proud to be associated with LC as a graduate, example, and volunteer.”

Audra Toussaint
LC Class 39
Tier 1 Manager, Accesso

The desire to lead is often proceeded by an impetus. “I always felt like I would give back to our community in some way, but LC gave me the opportunity to use my difficult experience in a positive way,” says Audra Toussaint. Toussaint, a survivor of domestic violence, was enrolled in LC when she crossed paths with Laura Lawrence, Legal Counsel at Safe Alliance and a fellow LC alumni. “Since that day I have been involved with Safe Alliance as a Survivor Advocate.” Toussaint credits LC for broadening her view of her community. Her advocacy work has connected her with law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office, and countless agencies who all want to see victims of domestic violence become survivors. Toussaint is involved in efforts to bring a family justice center to Charlotte-Mecklenburg and she’s working with the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage to help educate young people about domestic violence. “Speaking to people about my experience—speaking my truth—has allowed me to further heal and to feel a sense of belonging in our community,” says Toussaint. “LC changed my life and gave me a voice in the community that allows me to use my experience to make this a better place and to help others.”

Hyong Yi
LC Class 29
Public Manager

Although Hyong Yi’s job as a public manager put him in contact with people every day, he says his understanding of people was focused on how they made his job easier or harder. “People were numbers, calculations for tax purposes,” he says. “LC showed me empathy. People are members of a community with dreams and aspirations that I can help achieve.” After LC, Hyong came to see that every person can make a change to impact the community. “In my job as a public manager, I worked to improve Charlotte every day. In my life as a father, I showed Charlotte how important love is to making life meaningful.”

Tim McCleary
LC Class 38
Managing Director, The Involvement Practice

When Tim McCleary and his family relocated to Charlotte, he asked around about the best way to get plugged into Charlotte. He wound up in LC’s Encounter program. “After completing that day, I knew I had to apply to participate in the LC program,” Tim says. “LC opened my eyes to the great things that happen in our community, as well as the hidden needs we have every day.” After graduating LC, Tim turned his focus to gun violence prevention. His involvement with the non-profit Sandy Hook Promise led to him becoming North Carolina’s Promise Leader Ambassador. “LC built connections to leaders in our community, many of whom I am working directly with today, on a volunteer basis.”

Tony Salazar
LC Class 31
Title 1 Literacy Tutor/Family Liaison, Shamrock Gardens Elementary Owner, Spanish Marketing Communications

Sometimes instead of discovering a new passion for service, we discover new depths to our existing passions. This was the case for Tony Salazar. Tony spent over 20 years working in the oil and natural gas industry, publishing a Spanish trade magazine for 10 of those years. As an adult, he always cared about creating opportunities within the Hispanic community. Early on, he joined the ASPIRA Association, a nonprofit organization that provides high school and college students with the support to succeed academically and professionally. After LC, Tony discovered news ways to support the Hispanic community. “LC reinvigorated my interests in assisting minority small businesses, especially women-owned and Hispanic entrepreneurs, with their business planning to improve their financing opportunities,” he says. He continues to be an advocate for students, using his leadership role as chair for the ASPIRA Association to bring after-school STEM programs and leadership opportunities to students.

Cindy Pearson
LC Class 33
Title 1 Literacy Tutor/Family Liaison, Shamrock Gardens Elementary

It was during a LC class that Cindy Pearson saw the number that would change everything: 54. In 2012, 54 was the percentage of students that graduated from West Charlotte High School. “What are we going to do about the remaining 46%?” Cindy later asked her husband. LC taught Cindy about the servant-leader mindset. “Nothing that needs to be done is too small and nothing that needs to be done is too big,” she says. Cindy moved her family across town and enrolled her children in Shamrock Gardens Elementary, a letter grade D school that was labeled “failing.” She began working at the school, giving tours, raising money, teaching kids to read, and advocating for her new community. Five years later, Shamrock is now a letter grade B school that continues to improve. “Turning around a struggling school required the hands, hearts, and minds of many,” Cindy says. Working collaboratively with your community is something Cindy remembers learning during the LC rope course. “It was a beautiful lesson in being part of something where risk taking is required, being part of something where no one can be left behind, being part of something that cannot be accomplished alone.”