Before the craziness…

Melanie JongsmaBefore the craziness of next week, I just want to take a moment to express my thanks.

Thank you for staying subscribed to this blog, even after I focused its purpose on local politics. Thank you for letting me use this platform to express my hopes and vision for my hometown. Thank you for affirming that words are powerful, and communication is important.

And thank you for your encouragement, prayers, questions, advice, and conversation throughout this journey—online and face-to-face. No matter what the outcome of Lansing’s April 4 election is, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this adventure. And I’m grateful to you for sharing it with me.

Thank you!

Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and returned here after earning a BA in English from Calvin College (Michigan). She began her political advocacy when her neighbors expressed frustration with the condition of their road. Over the next three years, meetings with the Mayor, various Trustees, and Village Department Heads informed her vision for effective government. Her reputation for integrity, and her commitment to community and diversity helped earn an endorsement from Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli. She is running as an Independent candidate for Village Trustee.

Community, History, Diversity, Opportunity—remarks from this week’s Candidates Forum

Lansing, Illinois – Our local library hosted a candidates forum this week that gave residents an opportunity to see and hear from both Mayor candidates, both Clerk candidates, and all seven Trustee candidates. In preparation, we were all asked to be able to answer the question, “Why are you running for office?” I answered that question in my opening remarks, and then I reinforced the message in my closing remarks. The transcript below combines both my opening and closing statements:

Love of Community
candidates forumMy name is Melanie Jongsma, and I’m running as an Independent candidate for Village Trustee because I love Lansing! I grew up here, and I’ve lived in several different neighborhoods throughout my lifetime here. It’s fun to see people from those neighborhoods in the crowd tonight–from Escanaba Avenue, where I spent my childhood, to the Villas of Lansing, where I live now.

History and Destiny
These good people who are part of my history with Lansing affirm for me what a strong history we have. I love our history, and I’m grateful for it. I’m also excited about our future. In fact, I think the best way to honor the hard work of the generations who built this town is to keep building it, to keep moving forward, just as they did generations ago.

Diversity and Opportunity
Perhaps what most differentiates me, particularly from the party candidates, is that I consider Lansing’s increasing diversity not a handicap to be accommodated, but a strength to be leveraged. For example, my young Korean neighbor is managing three successful businesses–one is in Lansing. Her mother would like to open a little shop as well–how can we help her? There’s a young black man down the street from me who has a successful music business. He plays gigs in Chicago and all over the country–but he hasn’t played at Autumn Fest yet. How can we get Lansing on his radar? How can we make sure our Spanish-speaking residents feel welcome and have access to the resources they need? These are hard-working people who want to build businesses and contribute to our community. They are a resource. They bring value to Lansing. And I want to make sure we’re not missing out on the opportunities they represent.

I’d like to see us be more intentional about reaching out and learning from each other. I have some unique experience building cross-cultural relationships. I have skills that I learned in my work with an international organization as well as in the multi-cultural church family I belong to in Glenwood. I’m excited to bring these skills to the role of Trustee because I think they will benefit Lansing economically, socially, and culturally.

Exciting Possibilities
These are exciting times in Lansing, Illinois! And I may be biased, but I think this is an important election. The choice will be up to you. You can try and stay where we are; you can try to head back to where we were–or…you can choose to build on the work that’s been done–and move forward.

We have come through some tough economic times, and now we are financially healthier than we’ve ever been. We’ve worked hard to climb out of millions of dollars of debt, and now we’re starting to see the results of that hard work. We have some excellent, professional, qualified department heads in place who are collaborating with each other to serve Lansing. Cronyism is out. Territorialism is out. Inconsistency is out. What’s in is accountability, results, and exciting possibilities.

I want to be part of that. I want to contribute my skills and my time to keep moving forward. I’m asking for your vote on April 4.

Community and Diversity: a transcript of my remarks

On Thursday, April 16, 2017, five Independent candidates combined forces to hold a “meet-and-greet” event at the Knights of Columbus banquet hall in Lansing, Illinois. An estimated 150–174 guests showed up to meet us and get a sense of the kind of people we are.

Each candidate gave a short speech (3–6 minutes), and then we dispersed into the crowd to answer questions personally. Guests hung around for about an hour and a half to talk and listen. It was an energizing evening.

I wrote out my little speech ahead of time, and I’m posting it here for anyone who wants to review it. It’s not an exact transcript of how I worded things during the live event, but it will give you a sense of the “community” and “diversity” parts of my platform that I chose to highlight that evening.

community diversity

Community and Diversity
My name is Melanie Jongsma. I am running as an Independent candidate for Village Trustee.

Before I tell you a little about myself, could I just take a moment to give a shout-out to my parents, who are here tonight? Many of you know them–Allen and Patti Jongsma. They will be celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary next week, so I wanted to publicly embarrass them a little. Seriously, my parents are in their 70s, both just recently retired, and they offered to come out tonight and help me as well as the other candidates. That’s just the kind of people they are. Everything I know about hard work and selfless service, I learned from my parents’ example. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

You know, I love Lansing. I grew up here, and I’ve lived in several different Lansing neighborhoods throughout my lifetime here. I spent my childhood on Escanaba Avenue, near Lan-Oak Park. Moved to Sherman Street, right near the train tracks. I lived on Lake Street near Lansing Christian School, and 182nd Place behind the Chase Bank. And now I live in the Villas of Lansing, at 186th and Oakwood.

My experience has been that all these neighborhoods are filled with wonderful people–people who know each other’s names, who look out for each other, who shovel each other’s driveways during winters when we actually get snow! These are people who play together and laugh together and enjoy real community together. To me, that’s Lansing–that genuine community. I love that.

Now, our communities today are more diverse than they were when I was growing up–and I find that exciting! I think this community diversity is an opportunity, a strength to be celebrated. In fact, Lansing’s diversity is a valuable resource we should be leveraging as we make plans for a vibrant future.

Of course, diversity makes some people uncomfortable, even afraid. I understand that. Whenever you’re meeting people who look different from you and sound different from you, that can feel a little risky. And no matter what color you are, when you feel at risk, fear is a natural reaction. I do understand that. But I also know there are ways to acknowledge those fears and navigate through them to build real relationships based on trust and mutual respect. I have experience with this, and I want to bring that experience to my role as Trustee.

In fact, my cross-cultural, relationship-building, team-building skills are an asset on a Board like ours where there is hard work to be done and real problems to be solved and big goals to be accomplished. We need our Board to function as a team, and I am eager to get to work and do my part.

As your Trustee, I will do much more than show up for meetings twice a month. I want to be a resource for the Department Heads I’m assigned to–asking them questions, offering ideas, and really understanding the work they do. And I want to be accessible to the people I represent–the regular, everyday people who fill our neighborhoods and attend our schools and shop our businesses. I also want to make sure communication flows both ways, so that when people ask a question, they get an answer. There are a lot of good things going on in Lansing, but people aren’t aware of them because communication needs to be improved. I can help with that.

There are more details in the “Melanie” flyer on your tables, and if you want the even longer version of my platform that I published online, I will be happy to email a link to you. Make sure you give me your contact information before you leave.

I would love to have your vote on April 4, and I would love for you to vote for all the Independent candidates you’ve heard from tonight! We would make a great team, and we are eager to get to work for Lansing.

Related links

My political platform:
Issues, Ideas, and Ideals

political platform

Listening to learn

One of the skills I can bring to the office of Village Trustee is listening. (This may not seem like much of a skill, but when was the last time you really felt listened to?) When I go around meeting people, I spend more time listening than talking. When I’m on social media, I do more reading than posting. That’s how I learn what Lansing residents are proud of, what they’d like to see improved, and what skills they might be willing to contribute to the process. That’s how I developed this platform.

What we’re proud of

Sometimes newcomers to Lansing find it easier to point out the positives. They chose Lansing, and they can tell you why! Things to love about Lansing include:

  • Convenient transportation—Easy highway access, plenty of bus stops, nearby train stations, and even an airport make it easy to get to the city or across the country.
  • Genuine community— “Everyone is so friendly!” I’ve heard this more than once from people who appreciate the hospitality of their neighbors, their schools, and their churches.
  • Established organizations—The Patti Leach Youth Center, the Lansing Association for Community Events, churches with deep roots and open pantries, a park district that not only maintains 23 parks, but also offers a fitness center and a catalog full of classes and programs—those of us who grew up here might take all this for granted. Newer members of our community recognize that this is a unique wealth of services.
  • Meaningful history—We’ve been around long enough to have “good ol’ days” that we can feel nostalgic about, and the Lansing Historical Society is actively involved in the community. Their insights inform many of the decisions that are made about events, commerce, and construction.
  • Long-term thinking—Particularly during recent times of economic strain, our leaders have been willing to make tough short-term decisions in order to keep us healthy for generations to come. That kind of selflessness we should not take for granted.

What we could improve on

Building on the foundations laid by current elected officials and department heads, these are some changes that would serve Lansing well now and position us for future growth. First, some basic, tangible things:

  • Beyond road repairs—In a 2015 Streets Assessment by Robinson Engineering, on a scale from “Failed” to “Excellent,” about 9% of Lansing roads were rated either “Failed” or “Poor.” Another 20% were rated “Inferior.” It would cost an estimated $20 million to fix all these roads, and the fact is, Lansing is not able to take on that level of debt right now, so it would be irresponsible to promise immediate road repaving. Moreover, roads are only one part of Lansing’s infrastructure, which also includes water management, sewers, electrical grids, and other less visible elements that most of us don’t even think about. By considering the overall infrastructure and making a comprehensive plan, we can avoid fixing a bad road only to have to tear it up again next year to replace a water main. Lansing has professional, trained staff leading key departments, and they do have an overall plan in place. They are also careful to follow funding guidelines related to TIFs, bonds, and other revenue sources—an important factor in Lansing’s fiscal health. Good work is being done, and wise decisions are being made to upgrade our entire infrastructure, but there is not enough communication with the general population about what’s being done. By electing Trustees who are intentionally inclusive and committed to communication, we can develop a system where community members give input about needs and priorities, and department heads report regular progress and updates. We’ve engaged in this kind of collaboration with special projects like Fox Pointe and the History Plaza. Active, engaged Trustees can make that kind of communication standard operating procedure.
  • Website improvements—The current Village of Lansing website has a lot of capabilities, but its design needs to be updated, and the content needs to be reorganized into categories that are more logical to the average user. A reorganization will serve current residents well and may help in marketing Lansing to prospective residents and businesses. We already have staff in place with the technology skills to accomplish this. In a work atmosphere that is collaborative, we can make changes without making anyone feel threatened. My communications background, marketing experience, and website skills would be an asset in this area as well.
  • How ’bout a dog park? Or other creative brainstorming?—In an online brainstorming session about a need first expressed offline, Lansing residents collaborated to offer innovative suggestions for creating a dog park based on a for-profit business model rather than a typical Parks Department model. The resulting concept could compete with dog parks in neighboring communities, put an empty lot to good use, serve Lansing dog owners, earn a profit for the business owners, and generate revenue for the Village. Perhaps more important, that one discussion became an exercise in creative problem-solving, so even if this specific project doesn’t become reality, those skills can be applied to other opportunities throughout our community. I’d love to see our Trustee Board add another meeting to their monthly calendars—a meeting devoted to brainstorming and ideation, with a requirement that every Trustee contribute to the agenda one item, one idea, that comes from a conversation with a member of the community.

Improving the culture

There are other, more abstract, cultural changes that would improve Lansing as well:

  • Being more intentionally inclusive—The old, established, predominantly white Lansing and the new, younger, more diverse Lansing both have much to offer. Our diversity of ages, races, and experiences is a strength to be celebrated! I want to find ways to involve not only the experience of our Dutch senior citizens, but also the energy of our Latino youth. I want our savvy African-American teachers and our inquisitive Chinese exchange students to feel equally welcome here. I want old-timers to remember what it felt like to be new in a place, and reach out to newcomers with information and help and connections. Where there are racist misunderstandings, I want to encourage honest conversation that leads to healing and mutual respect. I have some experience with this through my professional work with an international organization, and through my volunteer work with Common Ground, a racial conversation program I have led as part of my multi-cultural church in Glenwood. By being intentional, we can make sure that all of Lansing is represented in traditions such as Autumn Fest and the Good Neighbor Parade, as well as in elected and appointed leadership positions.
  • Being more intentionally positive—It is much easier to be critical than constructive. It’s much easier to spark fear than hope. But a culture of encouragement and innovation—in social media and in real life—attracts continual growth. I’d like to replace intimidation with innovation. I’d like to address challenges with a realism that acknowledges risk, and a hope that is willing to try new solutions. Being intentionally positive doesn’t mean we ignore problems; it means we address them energetically because we know they can be solved! Lansing is filled with people from all walks of life who are optimistic, eager, and hardworking. I’d love to be part of a leadership team who understands the power of positivity.
  • Finding ways to work together—Lansing’s churches, businesses, schools, and government are all a rich source of expertise and assets. Looking for ways to collaborate rather than compete with each other benefits not only these institutions, but our entire community. For example:

1. What if Lansing schools and churches worked together to connect savvy students with senior citizens who want to learn Facebook?
2. What if Lansing church members “adopted” a business and not only shopped there, but also referred others and even advertised it in their church bulletin?
3. What if Lansing businesses submitted real-world problems to high school classes and offered a reward for creative solutions?

Trustees who are actively engaged with local churches and schools—not just traditional high-profile organizations—and who are regularly meeting with their assigned department heads, would serve as a natural connection between needs as well as resources. Trustees who are willing to brainstorm, discuss, collaborate, and encourage? They create a culture of creative problem-solving that reaches all the way to the grass roots.

Ideas and ideals

Is it idealistic to believe that a message of hope and vision is compelling enough to get me elected as your Trustee? That remains to be seen. Fear and blame seem louder and stronger. But I believe there is a quiet majority of Lansing residents who are eager for positivity, possibility, and integrity. I believe this platform resonates with them!

If it resonates with you, and you want to see it happen, vote for me. In fact, vote for all the Independent candidates, so this kind of thinking will have a majority on our next Board!

Please share this vision with others. It’s going to take all of us to not only win this election, but also do the hard work of implementing these ideas!