When Jackie Gray asked me to lead a session at the annual Miami County Youth Leadership Summit in 2009, I gladly accepted. For me, it was an honor.
The young people who attended my two (repeat) 40-minute presentations liked me enough that Gray invited me back for 2010. And I participated again in 2011.
But there was no summit in 2012 and 2013. In all likelihood, there won’t be a summit this year, either.
The summit teaches leadership skills to the eighth- and ninth-graders from the three school corporations chosen to attend.
Not having a summit is a real shame. The one-day event needs to be revived, because it plays a vital role in building character and leadership traits in young people.
Two things need to happen for a revival: 1) sufficient funding, and 2) the three Miami County school corporations must buy into the event, as they did in the past.
Jackquan "Jackie" Gray, Peru’s clerk-treasurer, was the driving force behind the summit, the primary person who made it happen.
She is willing to make it happen again if the needed funding is contributed and if the school corporations are willing to allow some of their students to spend a day away from school.
The summit began as a dream, Gray told me in an email interview, seemingly as a “grandiose adventure” she wasn’t sure would fly.
But it too wings, and the first summit occurred in March 2006.
Gray estimates more than 900 students have attended the events that started in the morning with a keynote speaker, followed by back-to-back, 40-minute breakout sessions conducted by community leaders in Miami County. Then the students broke for a pizza lunch, after which they attended a closing talk by the morning speaker before boarding buses for home.
“We [she, Mayor Jim Walker and then-Peru school superintendent Tom McKaig] had received information that Kokomo was holding such an event [at IUK],” Gray said. “We decided to take the day and spend our time learning how Kokomo had been successful and what we needed to do in order to replicate such an event.”
After the visit, the three “truly felt like there was some benefit to getting these students onto a college campus,” she recalled.
The Peru team asked IU Kokomo if it would be willing to “show us the same graciousness and afford us the opportunity to utilize the campus.”
IUK was “very gracious about extending that invitation,” Gray said.
“From that point, we put together a committee and began fundraising, and the rest is history,” she continued.
The summits were held in March, during IUK’s spring break. Lots of planning preceded the events, including fundraising that was ongoing.
The committee and schools met regularly to talk about fundraising, the speakers, the students and other details, Gray said, adding that immediately after a summit was held, planning began on the next one.
Funding came from golf outings, the Mayor’s Gala, local businesses, miscellaneous events and grants.
But recent economic conditions made it harder to raise funds, Gray said.
“This is the key reason why we have not had the summit since 2011,” Gray noted. “The total budget was about $7,000. This is a large number to try to raise by simply asking for donations.”
The themes were devised by committee members “who had very artistic minds and would sit around the table and just throw out some ideas … that seemed appropriate for 8th and 9th grade students,” Gray said.
In 2006, the theme was “Treasure Hunt 4 Success,” followed by “Success is in Your Hand” in 2007, “Oceans of Opportunity” in 2008, “Your Life in Lights” in 2009, “Success is No Mystery” in 2010, and “Design Your Destiny” in 2011.
Breakout session speakers were selected by the committee. Gray described the process:
“We would make a list of past and present leaders in the community, talk about their interaction with young people in the community, talk about how they could be influential to the attendees and narrow it down to those selected.”
Committee members changed over the years, but Gray said there were some who saw the summit through. She cited Tom Gustin, Christy Householder, Kenneth Hanson, Craig Jernagen, Ron Kirkpatrick, Bonnie Doran, Linda Guthrie, Aaron Thompson, Lacey Wise, McKaig and Walker.
Looking back, Gray said: “It was always such a joy to watch the students very timidly unload off of the bus, enter the auditorium at Havens with many unsure looks on their faces and turn into students full of joy and excitement.
“They began their day with lots of uncertainty but ended the day with knowledge and an attitude for becoming a leader.”
So who is Jackie Gray and how did she become equipped to lead a leadership summit?
To start with, she has been Peru’s City Clerk Treasurer since Jan. 1, 2000.
Life experiences suit her well for the office and taking charge of a project.
She developed a work ethic at Kokomo High School, toiling at Noble Romans Pizza. She stayed on there from 1986-1993 while attending IU Kokomo, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1994.
While attending IUK, she also worked as a caregiver at IUK daycare from 1989-1993. She got an opportunity to develop her leadership skills in 1993, when she was promoted to assistant director, a position she held for two years.
As a substitute teacher with Peru Community Schools in 1995-96, she gained insight into young people.
Then came two years — 1996-1998 — as the bookkeeper for Bellar Construction Management.
That job led to the Clerk Treasurer position.
“I had a friendship with a local individual who knew that I had a background in accounting,” Gray said. “She approached me about running for the office due to my experience in such a field. My son was at the age where I felt comfortable leaving him with a caregiver so I began to research the job and found that it was something that sounded intriguing to me and decided to go for it and run for election.
“I have always been intrigued with government; in fact, government class was one of my favorite classes in high school.”
As clerk-treasurer, her office is in charge of city funds. The office oversees accounts that identify the sources from which funds have been received and to whom payments have been made. Other functions include handling payroll for all departments, preparing budget estimates on state-prescribed budget forms, administering oaths and serving as clerk at city council meetings.
Gray’s geographical background is an asset in dealing with those duties. She was born in Tipton and raised in Kokomo. Her mother, Rhonda Buttice, works for the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library.
Jackie is a twin. Her sister is Connie Simpson, and they have a brother, Ezariah Bricknell.
Gray has high praise for her twin, saying, “I would not be the person I am today had she not been beside me every step of the way, picking me up and booting me along when I needed it.”
Along with Connie, Gray says, her grandfather, Tony Buttice, was a hero. “He was a hard worker, was always there for me and showed me what it meant to set a goal and achieve it.”
Gray and her husband, Pat — they own Gray’s Tree Service — have been passing those values on to their three children.
The Grays’ oldest daughter, Sherri, is married and lives in Illinois as a farmer’s wife with the Grays’ grandson, Blaine. Madisyn is a senior and Wyatt is a sophomore at Peru High School.
Gray has used her leadership ability by serving on the Peru Little League board as treasurer, being a member of Psi Iota Xi, participating in Peru Schools Tiger University, serving on the Miami County College and Success Coalition, and volunteering for Birthright of Peru.
For leisure, the Grays enjoy weekends in the summer at the family’s lake house. “We love to jet ski, water ski, float on the pontoon, and ride ATVs,” she says. “We are always ready for a new adventure.”
But for Gray, her greatest enjoyment is watching her children grow up “and being there every step of the way to be sure that I don’t miss a thing!”
Wyatt plays football and wrestles for Peru High. Madisyn is a cheerleader and dances with Ballet Arts, so Gray is in the high school auditorium every time the doors open for a recital.
Still, with all that’s going on with her kids, her position with the city, her help with the family business, her attendance at Zion Chapel in Peru — Jackie Gray has time for a lot of other kids, too.
Now, if only some people will step forward and provide the funding to revive the leadership summit …. It will take only a few thousand bucks — and the people who make contributions will benefit, too.
If that happens, I’m sure the schools will come on board again.
As my late friend Dave Tipton would say, “That would be peachy.”
Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com.