Recently, Claudia Garcia Rojas, Chicago Co-Regional Manager, had the opportunity to touch base with Teresa Powell, Village Clerk of Oak Park, Illinois and Chicago core seminar OpEd alum. Though her seminar was months prior, Teresa fondly remembers her experience and acts upon it in her promise to “write some, too.”
CGR: How did you learn about The OpEd Project ? What inspired your involvement in the seminar?
TP: I currently serve as the Village Clerk of Oak Park, which is an elected position. I’ve written some pieces for our local paper about topics like renewing your vehicle stickers and why you should get involved in advisory boards, informational pieces rather than advocacy pieces for the most part. I was at the home of Theresa Amato, who had previously participated in OEP and had invited some of the organizers, who were visiting, to come to her home. She opened it up for a soiree and invited people she thought might be interested in the program. I asked her to let me know when the next seminar was coming up. I registered.
I remember the presenters said that people tend to minimize their accomplishments and then we went around in the room and introduced ourselves and that’s exactly what happened. These people [in the room] were amazing! They said “well I did a little of this and a little of that” but then you realized they’d really made a major impact in one way or another. And that was exciting to hear from everyone. It was last winter and I still haven’t written my piece yet, but I have ideas that I’ve certainly started to work on. I have lots I’d like to say about various topics and I just need to make the time in my busy schedule to write about them.
CGR: How do you feel the seminar shifted who you are as a person?
TP: I think it gave me the confidence to realize that I have a voice and that, especially with the kinds of support OEP offers, I have the capacity to get something before the public and potentially help to influence public opinion one way or another. I don’t think I believed that beyond my own little area of Oak Park, Illinois that I would be able to reach people. But the stories about other people who have reached out and have had an influence and have even changed the way people think about one subject or another were inspiring. Especially for those of us who felt like “Well, who cares what we think “ or “women just don’t get a chance to speak up as men do.”
One thing I’m really passionate about is helping nonprofit boards professionalize so they can do their art more effectively with the right kind of support from people who are knowledgeable and who can put together the resources they need. I mentioned that at the meeting. During the break, a professor who runs a national professional organization came up to me and talked about the challenges she’d faced and I realized, I really do know something about this! I worked with many different nonprofits over the years; I’ve actually been a consultant in that area. It was very affirming to get a question from someone who I thought “Wow! she has really done something amazing and has something to offer.” That was my little moment in a day filled with inspiring and amazing stories about the ideas that people could share with the world by getting stories out before the public.
CGR: How do you use your voice as a Village Clerk?
TP: I’ve worked in government and academia much of my life. I worked for a congressman when I was in my twenties and went on from there, when I was home with kids, to be involved with the Illinois Women’s Political Caucus. I was a delegate to the DNC in 1980 and after the Equal Rights Amendment. I focused more on the local, volunteering and working with organizations. I later had an opportunity to get training from the Arts and Business Council of Chicago where I went through their board training program and served as member and then head of the Chicago Dramatists–a playwright theater in Chicago. Five years after I left that position, I was invited to be a part of the Board Development Team of the Arts and Business Council, where I worked with several different organizations to strengthen their boards, clarify their missions, and help them access a better range of resources so they could be more effective in the world.
As a public official, I’ve been able to connect people with the resources they need, whether it’s to get a tree branch removed or deal with an electrical wire in a storm or bring people together and network. I ran the census in Oak Park in 2010 and facilitated new ways to raise awareness about its importance.
I’m also in charge of 17 different advisory boards that advise the village board about preservation, the farmers market, public art, and more. I encourage people to get involved in their local government and join advisory boards. Having a voice as a public official allows me to pick up the phone, ask for help from people who know who I am, and get people together who can do things more effectively than they can by themselves. I get women elected officials together so they have the chance to talk and share initiatives.
CGR: Is there any unique hobby or activity you want to share with our community?
TP: I used to be a music major. I used to play the piano, violin and viola. I am involved in Community Theater. People ask me if I miss acting, and I say well, I’m playing the role of clerk all the time. But one of these days I’m going to write some too.