Making Connections and Building Community
If a Hollywood director wanted to shoot a superhero movie here, Jennifer Vasicek might easily grab the leading role as Tigard’s unstoppable Wonder Woman.
“A lot of what I do comes down to my kids, and making a great place for them to live,” says Vasicek, one of the city’s most prolific volunteers and parent activists. “It’s one of the most important gifts you can give—the gift of your time. It’s really when you participate that you see change.”
When the mother of two isn’t leading a biking and walking group to her nearby elementary school, she volunteers her time on the Tigard Library Foundation and Pedestrian and Bicyclist Subcommittee.
“We live here deliberately,” says Vasicek. “I like that you get all the great things about Portland, but you’re still in a smaller town. I like a lot of the programs they’ve come up with—the annual Egg Hunt, tree lighting, things you can enjoy with your family. I love the Fanno Creek Trail. I love the Downtown Farmers Markets. I love the city’s mission.”
Building Community in Tigard
Family plays a big part of Vasicek’s community activities. On school days, she bikes to Mary Woodward Elementary School with her son, a second-grader, and her daughter, who is still in pre-kindergarten but old enough to ride a bike.
Her love of biking and active transportation attracted her to the city’s Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS). With the city’s SRTS coordinator and Mary Woodward Elementary parents and staff, they have organized successful bike and walk to school days and a new effort called Celebrity Walks, with a special guest each month. She thinks people participate because it’s fun, improves the health of students and lets parents meet on otherwise busy days.
Challenges and Opportunities
As a member of the city’s Pedestrian and Bicyclist Subcommittee, Vasicek can also take a closer look at the city’s challenges with sidewalk projects, including one not completed is near her son’s school. She notes she would like to see more projects that support walkability and connections, but that many projects to improve walking can’t be funded because of resource constraints.
She also hopes the city will maintain and expand programs and improvements, from walkable neighborhoods to more family events organized by Tigard’s Parks & Recreation program.
“They create a sense of community; you know people there,” she says. “They are giving people something to have fun and create a memory together.”
Task Force Co-Chair Works to Improve the City She Loves
Darlene Dick’s life has been a wild ride from early on. The petite blonde, who has lived in Tigard for the past 32 years and co-chairs Tigard’s Levy and Bond Task Force, once lasted eight-seconds on a bucking bronco. Her tailbone broke that day, but not her spirit.
“I’ve lead many lives within my life,” she says. “I traded my chore boots for high heels to be a wife and mother for a while, worked full time and then, at 50, went back to school—while working full time—to get my B.A. in accounting from Linfield College.”
A Dean’s List student, Darlene received her M.B.A. in Finance from George Fox University; she absolutely loved her work. Then she retired.
“At first, I was excited. But shortly after I realized I’m not ready to retire, however I am ready to be more involved with my community,” she explains. “I love living in Tigard. I visit the parks and walk the trails every day. In the last five years or so, I’ve really noticed a difference.”
What she noticed was a decrease in park maintenance. Brush covering paths and trails instead of being cleared. The grass wasn’t being mowed as often or as well.
A gregarious woman, she began talking with others about the changes she was seeing and learned that they, too, saw signs of deterioration. That’s when she decided it was time to saddle up again.
“I got involved to see how I could help Tigard maintain the hometown feel that everyone loves,” she says. “When I heard the city was looking for Levy and Bond Task Force members, I decided to use my knowledge and experience in accounting to make a difference.”
Task Force Spent Months Studying City’s Finances
The Task Force, which began meeting in July, is made up of 16 Tigard residents. About half of the members serve on other city committees, like the Budget Committee; the others, like Darlene, had no previous city experience.
Darlene says the diversity of the Task Force members’ backgrounds has generated new ideas and helped members understand different perspectives. For example, as one who commuted by car, Darlene was unaware of the sidewalk gaps that can be found throughout the city. She was also unaware of increasing police response times. Her experience on the task force broadened both her awareness of these issues and her perspective.
The Task Force members began with a deep dive into Tigard’s budget—where the revenues come from, how they’re spent, effects of growth and projections for the future. It was eye-opening for Darlene, who had read the budget documents beforehand—all of which are available online.
“Tigard has stretched each dollar much farther than a dollar should go; and they’ve been doing it for a long time,” she says. “I worked with larger budgets throughout my career. It’s amazing and sad what the city has been able to do with such a small budget.”
“People move to Tigard because it’s a beautiful community, but things have changed over the years,” she continues. “The changes started small, so people may not have noticed at first—like me with the changes in the parks and on the trails. By the time people notice, it’s too late or too expensive to return to the way they were when we were attracted by them and moved here.”
Go to the Voters, Says Task Force
In November the members of the Task Force took steps to help Tigard maintain and strengthen its community reputation. The task force recommended that the City Council refer an operating levy to voters, which will enable the city to maintain and improve current service levels.
“The Task Force includes people from all levels—individuals on fixed incomes, business owners, renters, homeowners—and we all came to the same conclusion. It was pretty powerful,” she says.
The Task Force members want the levy to focus on sidewalks, parks maintenance and police—all of which, they feel, are tangible and tie directly to public safety.
Darlene adds that the Task Force also wants the public to see how the levy money is being spent through quarterly reports.
“Tigard is transparent with its budget information; everything is available on the city’s website, and we expect that to continue to help people understand the situation and ask the right questions of their local government.”
The Levy Bond Task Force will make its official recommendation to the council at its meeting on Dec. 12. If the council decides to refer a levy to the voters, Darlene notes there will be a lot of education necessary, but her outlook for the path ahead is positive.
“We can make this happen. We’re going to do this because we love our city and this is an opportunity to make it even better.”