When I lost my father in 2011, I was looking for a way to reconnect with my community by volunteering my time with various nonprofit and philanthropic efforts. It was during these efforts that I started to reimagine my life. My future had been so planned out, as it had for each generation before. My father was planning to retire from his union job and work my family’s Century farmland that my ancestors staked claim on after emigrating from Czechoslovakia. He was within years of retirement when he passed away after spending nine months in a coma following a traumatic brain injury sustained in a motorcycle accident.
In the wake of my father’s death, I determined that service to my community was not just an obligation I felt compelled to as a citizen, it was what brought me joy. At the time, I was working with the Social Security Administration as a Pathways Intern. I was also there to help people navigate life’s challenges — paperwork for marriages, adoptions, and naturalizations. They came to me when a loved one passed, or when they needed to process a disability claim—it gave me an intimate look into what the needs were of my community. Public service became deeply embedded into the fabric of my being, with early starts credited to my many years in Girl Scouts. When I had resolved my father’s estate, I returned to the University of Iowa and completed my undergraduate degrees.
After I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Iowa, and an Associate of Science in Criminal Justice from Kirkwood Community College, I sought to return to public service. One of my first jobs was working in direct patient care with Four Oaks in Cedar Rapids as a Youth Worker. This job was tough. I strived to support clients with trauma-informed care principles. It helped me better understand some of the needs of our community, particularly those surrounding children in foster care. My appreciation started there, but when I left to take employment at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, it did anything but diminish. Instead, my desire to help children in foster care grew, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn about and join Junior League of Cedar Rapids, whose mission was to assist in supporting children transitioning out of Foster Care with their Bridging the G.A.P. Project. I likened it to a Tough Mudder race I participated in, seeing it as a community responsibility to lift up those around me when I was in a secure enough place to help. This sense of community and responsibility to answer the call of duty felt very natural to me. I championed the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. I also joined a partnering group called Families Helping Families of Iowa to serve on their Board. This later led me to study for, and become sworn onto the Linn County Foster Care Review Board.
Running for office, was an organic evolution. I noticed that although a non-partisan issue, representatives and elected officials did not seem to be engaged in the dialogue surrounding children in foster care. I would reach out and invite them to events and would rarely get a response. Few showed up to lend their support. I didn’t need their dollars, I just needed them to listen. After many efforts, I decided to go to them–to meet them where they were–to learn why these issues were not being addressed or embraced as passionately as they should. I started taking greater note of what was happening on the municipal level in Cedar Rapids. I began following School Board and City Council meetings. At the time, I found it odd to see only two women representing the community in our city council when more than half of Iowa’s population is female. I did not feel that my voice was being represented, and I knew others felt the same way. When important issues regarding panhandling and affordable housing came up, and many councilmembers seemed to vote against the needs vocalized by the community, I became more emboldened to speak up. I started reaching out to others to see if people were happy with their representation. I wanted to know if they felt like their councilmembers were accessible and accountable. Now was the time to rise to the occasion for my community.
As a millennial, I know that my generation, just like my neighborhood on the west side of Cedar Rapids is far too often overlooked. My servant leadership throughout the years taught me that when presented with a challenge it was my duty to serve. It is important that we all realize that we are each change makers in our own right. Every day we are faced with decisions that can begin to shape and change the conversation. We must believe in our abilities and the strength we have within ourselves to rise to the challenge and stand up for what we believe in. I continue to strive to be the voice that Cedar Rapids needs. Having grown up a farmer’s daughter, I am no stranger to hard work. In fact, hard work was always the expectation, not the exception. I find purpose in working hard in service to my community; this is what brings me joy. I work to be accessible to constituents and advocate for greater transparency and accountability in government. My full-time role in healthcare administration allows me to continue to dedicate my life to the wellbeing of my community.
When I won my run-off election in 2017, I became the second youngest person to serve Iowa’s second largest city. I have not taken any day for granted, and continue to look for new ways to hear my fellow citizens, and to serve my neighbors. I am so grateful to the citizens of Cedar Rapids who afforded me the ability to serve my hometown. I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve you.