Title: Director of Operations, Protect Democracy; At-Large Member, Lynchburg City Council
One of the big reasons you ran for City Council—Lynchburg is in your blood.
It really is. My family has been in Lynchburg for three generations and eight in the Central Virginia region. I feel a deep sense of place here, of belonging, and I’m grateful for that, because I know from talking with others that that’s not necessarily a given, that some people never find that sense of place. Lynchburg is special and being from here is a big part of my identity.
You ventured off for a little while after high school. Where did life take you then?
After college—I attended William & Mary—I moved up to DC to intern at the White House. For whatever reason, they kept me around, and I ended up spending nearly six years there, from 2011 to 2017, in a variety of offices and roles. But I came home as often as I could, and after my job ended (I was a political staff member, and the political people change every administration), I decided there was no other place I wanted to live but Lynchburg.
What kinds of skills, particularly leadership skills, did you learn or develop while working at the White House?
I’m grateful for that experience because it taught me so much. I learned the mechanics of government; how large institutions operate, on a fundamental level; how to develop, interpret, and implement budgets; and how to get things done in a challenging, bureaucratic environment.
When it comes to leadership, though, I learned that leadership is not a zero-sum game—everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the mission and just because one person is demonstrating leadership, that doesn’t diminish someone else’s contribution. In other words, leadership is additive; we’re all building on each other’s contributions, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, so long as the job gets done.
Even as you returned to your hometown, you still have ties to Washington.
Right. I work remotely for Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to the preservation of the norms and institutions of democracy—good government, basically.
What caused you to run for City Council this year?
Exciting things are happening in Lynchburg. We’re growing, new businesses are opening, schools are adding programs, neighborhoods are being revitalized; there’s a lot to love about the direction of our community. But we still have some challenges. I believe our focus right now needs to be on our schools, our economy, and improving the quality of life for everyone in the community, and that we need to work especially hard on tackling poverty. I ran because I want to be part of this effort,
to make Lynchburg as wonderful a place as possible. With my background in budgeting, I think I’ve got a useful skill set to contribute, and I think it’s important to have a young person’s voice at the table.
Why do you think it’s important to have a voice for millennials as a part of the city’s leadership?
I think it’s important for two reasons: one, people under the age of 35 make up over 50 percent of Lynchburg’s population, and two, Council is making decisions that will affect this community for decades—30, 40, 50 years from now. Having that perspective on Council adds something different, and I think necessary, to the conversation.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My style is definitely a work in progress, but I believe that a leader’s job is to foster a collaborative environment with a clear line of responsibility. Everyone knows where the buck stops, but everyone also knows that they are expected to contribute ideas and feedback. Fundamentally, I think leadership—whether that’s as a manager, co-worker, neighbor, whatever—is about suspending judgment as much as possible and treating others with respect.
What types of things do you do on a day-to-day basis to stay organized?
The first thing I do after breakfast each morning is make a list of what I need to do that day. I don’t always get through everything I list out—actually, that almost never happens—but it’s helpful for me because it forces me to prioritize tasks.
Looking back at your mentors, what is the best piece of advice you have received that still sticks with you today?
There are two pieces of advice that have stuck with me, but I think they go hand in hand: “be an active listener” and “don’t forget that everyone has a story.” I think that’s why I enjoy meeting and getting to know people so much, because everyone really does have a unique experience and story to share, which you can only get by really listening.
What do you think is the best way to handle conflict in the workplace… or even in scenarios such as City Council?
Don’t act while triggered. Slow down, think, talk it through, and be respectful.
What’s life like for you outside of work?
I’m trying to improve my cooking skills—it’s slow going. I’ll be honest… still can’t figure out how to use paprika. I also love to hike and get outdoors, and I spend as much time as I can with family and friends—you can never have too much of that.