In 1993, Jeff Stephens joined a program that changed his life, teaching him about the
importance of being part of community change. Now, Stephens is being recognized for
inspiring community change and through his work reaching others to continue the same trend.

Stephens, founder of SAYlove and owner of Stephens Farmhouse, was selected as the 2021
Profiles in Leadership Award recipient for his commitment to community service in the YubaSutter area, an award presented by the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation and the
Ag Leadership Alumni Council.

“SAYlove received many awards for community service,” said Stephens. “This one means a lot to
me because it lets the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation know what the
organization is doing is making a difference in people’s lives. This award is coming from an
organization that changed my life.”

The award recognizes alumni from the Agricultural Leadership Program, an intensive 17-month
program focused on leadership topics and numerous skills, who have been or are engaged in
contributing roles to enhance the community.

Stephens, part of Class 24, began the program in 1993 and graduated in 1995. The cost of the
program is covered by donations to the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, said Liza
Teixeira, writer and editor of the California Ag Leadership Foundation. According to Teixeira,
the first class for the Agricultural Leadership Program was selected in November 1970. Each
year a new class is selected and numbered according to the ascending number group of order,
this year the 51 class of participants was chosen.

Stephens, to this very day, still participates in the program as an alumni by attending class
reunions and being part of the interview panels for applicants.
“During one of our First Fridays, monthly alumni learning webinars, Jeff presented about
community service,” said Teixeira. “He has served on the screening committees which interview
and help select fellows for the new classes and volunteered during D.C. Exchange.”
The program dives into leadership theory, strategic agility, effective communication, critical
thinking, change management, complex and cultural social issues to help participating
members strengthen their leadership skills and contribute to the success of their farms,
ranches, allied businesses and organizations.

“They try to take you out of your comfort level into a different level of exposure,” said Stephens.
“You process what goes into the problem and how leadership can make a difference.”

Prior to applying to the program, Stephens remembers never being comfortable as a public
speaker. He heard of the program through word of mouth in the agricultural field, through
schools and the Farm Bureau. Stephens recognized the importance of employment and family
support during the program because of the major commitment due to its extensive seminars
and international and domestic travel flights that participants take.

“Some of my long-term best friends come from that program,” said Stephens. “The outcome of
the program, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Stephens attended monthly seminars throughout the program for two years, except during the
summer. Seminars took place in different university locations like UC Davis, where he
remembers learning about economics. Cal Poly Pomona, a participating university, had a
seminar on social issues where Ag Leadership Foundation members were taken into the urban
areas of Los Angeles to volunteer at homeless shelters and met with police officials to discuss
violence. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo focused on a communications course, said Stephens.

As he traveled domestically, he remembers the program exposing them to different lifechanging environments. In Detroit, Stephens and class 24 attended a seminar involving a group of women who had just lost their children to gang violence but were passionate in helping the youth get out of it. Stephens witnessed how these women who were coming from such loss were determined to come up with solutions to get kids off the streets and away from violence.
“I attended a different community leadership in Washington, D.C., that left me feeling empty
toward leadership,” said Stephens. “What I saw back in Washington was not true leadership. It
was a lot about self-interest and power. That’s when I realized that real leadership comes from
the community.”

On his trip in Washington, Stephens visited the Supreme Court, the Pentagon and met with
senators and different leaders but felt that his experience in Washington did not match the
experiences he had when he visited Bangkok in 1995 during his international travel to
Southeast Asia countries. During this trip he witnessed children eating off of scraps because
they could not afford food.

“It took me a while to process and to know what I had experienced and put it in perspective,”
said Stephens. “It really impacted me, and made me realize there are many more situations out
there, that are more complicated and out of our control and that’s why we have to do what we
can do.”

With his experiences throughout the program, Stephens put into action what he learned and
formed SAYlove in 2019, an organization that addressed dumping of trash in rural areas and
inspired community cleanups and enhancements. About 100-300 volunteers come out every
month and serve the community, said Stephens. Community involvement differs from park
cleanups, the beautification of Yuba College, the cleaning of homeless encampments and the
volunteering in homeless shelters.
On Sept. 25, SAYlove had a cleanup event at Beckwourth Riverfront Park in Marysville. Stephens
volunteers anywhere he is made aware that needs help. This upcoming month SAYlove will
focus on cleanups of parks and planting trees.
“This program changed my life and direction of my life. What I have been able to accomplish is
to do them,” said Stephens. “I love to partner with other organizations that need help, or
different clubs to multiply the effects by working together, I love that.”

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