I seldom pass on an opportunity to brag on my community. This I do for two very important reasons. First, no matter where you live, there is always enough bad press. It seems like if people have a compliment they tell someone, but if they have a complaint they tell everyone. I guess I can understand that, negative experiences seem to impact us intensely. When we have a great experience it tends to be appreciated and quickly forgotten. I like to capture and share all the good things that happen inside of a community that everyone may not know about. I encourage you to do the same for your community. Growing a feeling of positivity can give all of your neighbors something nice to talk about instead of what is not working in the community, unless of course it is to come up with solutions.
The second reason I enjoy sharing what is great about the city of West Allis, where I live with my beautiful lady Margie, is there are quite a few people who need to get a fair share of credit. Case in point, the subject of this post. This morning I attended ‘Coffee with the mayor’. For those of you who did not see my last post about this amazing event, allow me to give you a recap. Our mayor, Dan Devine, takes time out of his busy schedule roughly once a month to meet with the citizens of the city. This is an informal gathering that anyone is allowed to attend. The mayor informs you of events happening in the city and you are free to ask questions. It is very informative and interactive. It is one of the many impressive things our mayor does to make our city great.
Today, however, there were even more reasons to be grateful for attending such an event. First on the list was the venue. It was held at a place aptly called “West Allis Cheese and Sausage”. This restaurant is owned by a gentleman named Mark Lutz. Mark has invested in his community in many ways. First he purchased several properties in the area including a restaurant he leases across the street, a butcher shop that will be open this year and he has just purchased the building next door. Last I heard he planned to use this for catering, but I am not certain. Mr. Lutz also invests in the community with his time and organizational skills. While we were there I counted no less than 3 events they are a part of that benefit everything from food pantries to the coming dog park. Mark Lutz is a great pillar of the community.
Next up was Jon Cervantes. Jon is the head of the East Allis Neighborhood Association. It is a neighborhood group that I am proud to be a member of. In addition to various projects throughout the neighborhood, that association is a catalyst for those looking to better get to know their neighbors. To that end, Mr. Cervantes hosts monthly coffee gatherings of his own and parks and other places in the neighborhood where people can meet and share stories of the neighborhood.
Lastly, in attendance was my good friend Alice Behnke. Alice runs the Facebook group, ‘West Allis News, Events & Stuff.’. It is all things West Allis. She keeps it both informative and positive. There is news of whatever is happening in the city, with a rule to make sure there is no negative bashing of the city. Alice works tirelessly to interview businesses, communicate with elected officials and share news to keep everyone informed.
In addition to these amazing people, there were lots of concerned neighbors filled with both curiosity and questions. Margie, my mother and I all enjoyed a great meal and learned a lot of information about the city.
I live in the small city (pop. 60,000) of West Allis, Wisconsin. In this town we have a mayor by the name of Dan Devine. He is the man standing who is ironically facing away from the camera. Those of you who follow this blog with regularity may recall mention of him this past July in a post titled Secret to a Healthy Community. In which the mayor led a neighborhood walk to encourage the community to engage in a healthier lifestyle. To me it was a great example of a person who leads by example.
The picture above is from an event I attended this morning called ‘Coffee with the mayor’. The premise is a simple one, the mayor chooses a local business and meets informally with anyone who shows up. Not only does this offer a unique chance to connect with the community for those who may be too intimidated to attend meetings at city hall, but also brings a lot of business to a local establishment. In this case the venue was Urban Joe Café and Bar. Although their questionable decision to have minimum staff on such a busy morning, the young lady who was working named Tina, did a marvelous job keeping everyone happy.
Through the course of this gathering, the mayor informed us on the status of ongoing projects as well as new developments. As you can imagine the people attending ranged in age from young to old. They also ranged from being cheerful and excited to jaded and generally full of complaints. What impressed me most was that Mayor Devine not only subjected himself to some conversation that bordered on unpleasant, but responded to everyone in a cheerful and encouraging fashion.
When the scheduled hour was up the mayor still gave time for those in attendance. He was also joined by an alderman and the fire chief.
The reason for me sharing the story of this gathering is to show what is possible when leaders genuinely care for the people and seek to engage them from many different angles. We have a city website, newsletter and formal meetings of course, but this informal gathering really gave the citizens a chance to feel included in what is happening in their city. Not to mention our good friends at Urban Joe Café & Bar were introduced to several more customers.
It is my sincere hope that leaders in other communities take this example and bring it to their cities and towns as well. In addition, I hope citizens take advantage of such opportunities to have their voices heard and become more engaged in the community. I find myself feeling very grateful that I live in a city with leaders who care and are willing to work to make a difference.