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Lunch With Leaders Series at ACA

ACA's Lunch with Leaders program allows middle schoolers to learn from local speakers.

David Beckman speaking to our Lunch with Leaders group

The popular monthly program revolves around the acronym GREAT, which defines ACA’s core staff values of Grit, Redefine Possible, Expect Excellence, Accountability and Thoughtfulness

Once a month at (ACA, the first 30 middle schoolers through the door of the Design Thinking Lab are served a tasty pizza lunch, which they enjoy while listening to a local business person or other leader share his or her inspirational personal story.

The program, which is called Lunch with Leaders, was first launched 4 years ago, said Minette Klenner, who teaches sixth and eighth grade social studies at ACA.

“The speakers are recruited to share how they have arrived at their current role in life. They share their story while the students eat, and then we designate 10 minutes for questions and answers,” Klenner said.

ACA Middle School Students asking questions at our Lunch with Leaders

Each month, the speakers focus on one of the words that makes up the acronym GREAT, which Klenner said reflects the core values of the staff at ACA: Grit, Redefine Possible, Expect Excellence, Accountability and Thoughtfulness.

“This year we choose to focus on the values as a whole, so each speaker is recruited based on how they can fulfill the value during their month,” Klenner said.

For example, when Othell Newbill, the Emergency Manager for the City of Goodyear and a local pastor, spoke at the Lunch with Leaders program, Klenner said he focused his talk on “Expect Excellence.”

“He had a great dialogue with the kids about Expecting Excellence for themselves and why this is important,” she said.

When David Beckman, an IT Audit Manager in American Express's Internal Audit Group, spoke at a recent Lunch with Leaders program, he was assigned “G for Grit.”

“I talked to the kids about the difficult experiences I've had in my life; including growing up poor in a tough home, being wounded in Iraq and transitioning from the military life into life as a college student and now a professional,” Beckman said, adding that he has been proud to participate in the Lunch with Leaders program every year since it first started in 2014.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. John Mazza after speaking to a group of Middle School boys

“What I spoke about was no matter what your circumstances may be, if you have Grit, you almost always can change your situation in life and become who you want to be and where you want to go. But it may take a lot of Grit, drive and determination to get there. I also stressed that I am where I am in life today because I've had a lot of support along the way - you can't go it alone.”

While Klenner said she and ACA’s Chief Executive Officer Melissa Holdaway used to have to “wrack our brains and phones to get people to come in for something that has never been done before,” Klenner is proud to report they now have a waiting list of people who want to be part of Lunch with Leaders.

“Word got out how impactful this can be on our students,” Klenner said.

Beckman said he is pleased to be part of Lunch with Leaders, and is looking forward to coming back again.

“I think it's a great program. It's important for the students to get a different perspective, even at an early age, and I found that the students were enthusiastic and asked a lot of questions.”

Klenner said the middle schoolers definitely are excited to take part in the program.

“They love meeting new people and hearing different stories. Most try and be first in line each month,” she said.

If you know anyone interested in growing future leaders and want to participate please contact Mrs. Klenner at


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