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Creating engaged citizens

Three years in, Citizens Academy showing fruits of its labor

SUBMITTED PHOTO - At the first Wilsonville Community Health Fair put on by the 2016 Citizens Academy, residents from around Wilsonville came to tour the booths, despite the 100-plus degree temperatures. Organizers of the second annual Community Health Fair are hoping for cooler temperatures at this years July 15 event.

After five months of immersing themselves in city affairs, 23 Wilsonville residents are preparing themselves for graduating from the 2017 Wilsonville Citizens Academy cohort.

Now in its third year, the Wilsonville Citizens Academy has recently undergone a mini-rebranding. According to Program Manager Angela Handran, the original name "Wilsonville Leadership Academy" wasn't quite conveying what the program had grown into, which is an interactive way of becoming a more knowledgeable, engaged citizen. In response, the 2017 cohort was downsized from 30 to 25 participants and renamed the Citizens Academy.

"The first two years were kind of like trial years where we were trying to figure out what was going to work for Wilsonville and what was going to work for our staff,'" Handran says. "We really wanted to be clear with what they were getting themselves into and that we're creating citizens, so we renamed it the Citizens Academy."

Academy participants learn a variety of leadership skills, including strong communication, networking with City leadership and ways to get involved in the community. The academy also covers public meetings requirements, City staff responsibilities and services while offering field trips to the State Capitol, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and the Wilsonville Water Treatment Plant.

"The Academy was a great platform to propel myself into the Wilsonville community," says upcoming graduate and recent Oregon transplant Katy Sullivan. "I think that it's important that communities remain connected because so often they get broken and we become myopic and self-serving, which isn't a good thing because we all need each other."

One of the ways that participants achieve this is through collaborating on a project that benefits the community. For each project, the cohort was divided into three smaller, project-driven groups. This year, two of the groups will be continuing and growing past projects — The Community Health Fair and the parks Pathfinders Passport program — and one new project, a Spaghetti Dinner Feed benefiting Wilsonville Community Sharing.

"We're keeping the same foundation and expanding it," Sullivan says of her project, the Community Health Fair. "Due to the support that we're receiving from our team and the City, things are moving ahead... to broaden our base and be more inclusive."

With the additional support being garnered, the fair has beefed up its marketing and outreach campaigns and been able to make more connections with local demographics, businesses and vendors. Among those being reached out to more intently this year are the elderly and Latino communities.

"We've met so many people and it's just a great way to pull the community together on so many levels," Sullivan says. "I plan to continue on and become a mentor for the next class."

In addition to the Community Health Fair, the 2017 cohort is continuing the Pathfinders Passport project.

"We're going to have the passport booklets made, and the way that I envision it is that people are going to be able to walk into our Parks and Rec building and there will be some sort of little stand where there's a booklet and a list of the sponsors," Handran says. "As they start working their way through the book, it's really just a visit to each of our parks in the City of Wilsonville and they also put in the Farmers Market and Movies in the Park and a Rotary Concert."

From collecting specific rubbings in the park to getting a stamp for riding a SMART bus, Pathfinder participants who complete 10 activities in the passport booklet will receive a prize and be entered into a larger drawing for three to five larger prizes provided by sponsors.

There will also be a Spaghetti Dinner Feed benefiting Wilsonville Community Sharing that has yet to set a date.

Although the Academy has only been operational since 2015, Handran says that there have already been a slew of graduates who have come out of the program and made a difference in the community.

"I have been the program manager of the Citizens Academy for three years now and I would have to say that the highlight is seeing the participants move on to bigger things," Handran says. "I have one graduate whose passion was really supporting women in domestic violence situations and now she's an active volunteer for (Clackamas County District Attorney's Office as a Victims Advocate), so she went that route. She actually told me that she never would have done it without going through this program."

The graduate, Kathryn Martinez Gilbertson, is from the first cohort of the Citizens Academy. As a victim's advocate, Gilbertson works with a wide range of victims — from domestic violence to molestation and rape.

"We're a liaison for the victim to the entire judicial and court system," Gilbertson says. "We are the one constant piece throughout that entire process."

Although Gilbertson has a history with volunteer work, she says that she wouldn't necessarily have made the jump to become a victim's advocate without the Citizens Academy.

"I absolutely think that joining the Citizens Academy changed my trajectory, my career and my life," Gilbertson says. "I view volunteer work as my way of connecting with the world and being a good person. There's a saying, 'The happiest people are the ones that are making other people happy' and I find that volunteer work is what drives my joy in life."

Gilbertson has also gone on to become a part of the Budget Committee for the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

"My life would not be where it is without the Citizens Academy," Gilbert says. "It helped make me a more well-rounded citizen and to be more involved in the community."

At the end of the program, Handran says that this sense of connection and motivation to get further involved is what the program is all about.

"We don't expect everyone to run for mayor," Handran says with a laugh. "But just to get involved in the community and do something."

The 2017 cohort will be graduating during the June 19 City Council meeting.

"I think that any time that you involve yourself in community service that it's a really great thing," Sullivan says. "Everyone has a piece, and my piece is small and I'm no Mother Teresa by a longshot, but it benefits me and it benefits my community.

Contact Wilsonville Spokesman reporter Claire Green at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..