How a Local YP Juggles Multiple Positions in DSM USA
Recently, Young Professionals Connection (YPC) visited with member Lauren Johnson, who has already made a big impact in her time in Greater Des Moines (DSM). Learn more about her involvement in the community and passion for politics below:
Moving to DSM
I was born and raised in Clive, Iowa. When it was time to choose a college, I was offered a scholarship to play jazz bass in Charleston, South Carolina. During my final semester, I made the decision that DSM was the place that I wanted to start my career. I had interned at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund for two summers in 2015 and 2016 and was fortunate to be offered a full-time position after graduation. All of the stars aligned!
What is Your Current Role and Involvement in the Community?
I am the Director of Communications and Community Outreach at Polk County Housing Trust Fund. I also serve as the State Director of Our Homes, Our Votes, Our Iowa and recently launched Caucus Watch, which allows Iowa citizens to stay up-to-date on presidential race events, news and more.
What Type of Work Do You Do at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund and Our Homes Our Votes, Our Iowa?
Polk County Housing Trust Fund provides comprehensive planning, funding and advocacy for affordable housing in our communities. We feel everyone should have safe, stable and affordable housing. We advocate at the state, federal and city levels. Current topics that come to mind include more favorable city ordinances and codes and greater funding at the state and federal levels.
At Our Homes, Our Votes, Our Iowa, our main purpose is to make housing a key issue in the 2020 election and for candidates to talk about it while they’re here in Iowa. We invite and coordinate opportunities for potential presidential nominees to speak about affordable housing in our community and their plans to address the housing crisis with federal legislation. Our second focus is on encouraging local nominees to advocate and talk about affordable housing and engaging 2020 presidential campaign staff by coordinating service opportunities with our local housing providers such as the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus and Habitat for Humanity.
How Do You Manage Multiple Positions?
Some of my duties at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund and Our Homes, Our Votes, Our Iowa overlap, but my full-time responsibilities are with the Polk County Housing Trust Fund. Managing all of the work certainly makes for some long hours, but at the end of the day, I feel it’s worth the extra effort. I try to balance my duties each week while also managing caucuswatch.com in my spare time.
What Was Your Inspiration for Starting Caucus Watch?
Earlier this year I wanted to attend an event with Kirsten Gillibrand and had to search across the internet to find details about the event. I saw a great need to streamline the process for Iowans to find information about the who, what, where and when of this crazy caucus cycle. I was able to purchase the URL for the website on that day for just $12 and have managed the site to this point.
I have even had offers to advertise across the platform due to its success, but I feel that would be a bit disingenuous as it’s designed to be a public service. Currently, there are close to 30k regular users in Iowa. Recently there has been lots of hype around the nominee races in Iowa due to the Iowa State Fair and I am trying to provide updates to our subscribers by posting content across our website, newsletter and Twitter.
[Learn more information about the 2020 Caucuses and the Iowa Caucus Consortium.]
Why Are You So Actively Involved in Iowa Politics?
I am passionate about helping citizens engaged in the electoral process and on the local level. I want to ensure people vote, that they are educated, and that they have the opportunity to speak up. I want everyone to be civically engaged.
What Advice Would You Have for New YPs in DSM?
If you have an idea, don’t wait, go for it! There is incredible support in this community and someone will lend you a helping hand. People will help to lift you up — take advantage of it. Prominent members of the DSM community will give much needed advice. Reach out to people who inspire you! Talk with your friends and neighbors about what is going on in the community. It is interesting to see what other people think about what’s going on here. The dialogue is strong in DSM; people are educated, aware of local topics and you will always learn something new.
What Advice Do You Have for YPs as They Navigate the Political Environment?
You may have differing opinions than your parents or people close to you. Do your research and come to your own conclusions. The duty of a caucus-goer is to show up, listen to all points of view and draw your own conclusions. Go out and listen to the folks and topics that interest you. Don't worry too much about having differing opinions from your friends and family members.
[Find out about how to become active in YPC’s Civic Committee.]
Why Should YPs Join YPC? Why Should YPs Stay in DSM?
YPs have a growing influence on this community. The collaborative spirit is amazing — there is a support system in YPC. For someone moving to DSM for the first time it can be intimidating if you don’t know anyone. Having a large group of people your age that you can turn to for feedback or advice is extremely beneficial. You don't know what could turn into a fruitful partnership down the line.
I am fortunate enough to run a state-wide campaign. I wanted to be politically active, but didn’t know if I would be given the opportunity at this point in my career. I am leading the life I hoped I could lead. I can attribute my own personal success to DSM and the level of access and opportunity in this community.
Learn more about the Polk County Housing Trust Fund here and be sure to visit CaucusWatch.com to stay abreast of political news and events in Iowa.
Young Professionals Connection (YPC) aims to attract and retain young professionals in Greater Des Moines (DSM) by connecting emerging leaders to each other and to the community through social, civic, charitable and professional development endeavors. Learn how you can get involved.
Lauren Johnson is policy and communications director for the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, director for Our Homes, Our Votes, Our Iowa and managed Iowa Caucus Watch. She is a graduate of the College of Charleston.