Ashley Vanorny Is Ready To Lead
When I lost my dad six years ago, I was looking for a way to reconnect with my community by volunteering my time with various nonprofit organizations and philanthropic efforts. While this work was fulfilling, I reached a point where I had to reimagine my life. My future had been so planned out as it had for each generation before. My father was set to inherit the farmland that my ancestors staked claim on after emigrating from Czechoslovakia, and would retire to work it for the rest of his days. He was likely three to five years from 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 only an obligation as a citizen; it was what brought me joy. I was further inspired by Mitch Albom’s famous book, Tuesdays with Morie, having been encouraged to read it by a friend to help me through the grieving process. At the time, I was working at the Social Security Administration as a Pathways Intern. I was able to help people with paperwork for marriages, adoptions, and naturalizations. I was also there to help people navigate life’s challenges. They came to me when a loved one died, or when they needed to process a disability claim. Public service became deeply embedded into the fabric of my being. When I was in a good enough place following probate court proceedings of my late father’s estate, I returned to the University of Iowa and completed my schooling.
After graduating 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 help clients work through their trauma to meet agency expectations. It also 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 good enough place to help. This sense of community and responsibility to answer the call of duty felt very natural to me. I embraced the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, and was most comfortable in this role. I also joined a partnering group called Families Helping Families of Iowa. This non-profit organization provides holistic support to children in or adopted from foster care.
I started to reach out to others in my community, hoping to engage them in this conversation. This is what led me to run for office. I noticed that although a non-partisan issue, representatives and elected officials did not seem to be engaged in this dialogue. 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 needed them to listen. After many efforts, I decided to go to them– to meet them where they were at – 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 started following School Board and City Council meetings. I found it odd to see only two women representing the community in our city council when Iowa is 53% female. I did not feel that my voice was being considered, 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 of the community, I became more emboldened to speak up on behalf of my community. 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 changemakers 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 believe that it’s time for Cedar Rapids’ District 5 to have new energy that will avail itself to the people. I strive to be the voice that Cedar Rapids is missing and needs. Having grown up a farmer’s daughter, I am no stranger to hard work. I find purpose in working hard in service to my community; this is what brings me joy. I will be accessible to constituents and I will advocate for greater transparency and accountability in government. I will bring the same passion and energy I have for supporting foster children in my hometown, to the halls of city council. This November 7, I am inviting you all to join me. I am asking for your vote to elect me to Cedar Rapids City Council to represent District 5. The time is now, and I am ready to serve.