By Anya Arndt
As many of you may know, I am leaving Citizens Project after 15 amazing and rewarding months on staff. At the end of this month, I will be embarking on a journey to spend a year (and maybe more) working in Beirut, Lebanon. It has long been a goal of mine to spend time living and working in the Middle East to expand my own knowledge appreciation of different cultures and ways of life in the world. I am excited for this adventure, but sad to leave my current position; but before I go, I’d like to share with you a little bit about my time here at CP.
When I first came to Citizens Project as an intern in the summer of 2012, I didn’t know much about Colorado Springs, its political climate, or its population as a whole. All I knew about Colorado Springs was the narrative that had been fed to me about the city when I came here for college. As many of you probably know, that narrative isn’t pretty, and it can be very hard to escape.
Fortunately, that summer Citizens Project showed me what was wrong with this narrative, and I began to see Colorado Springs in a new light. In 2013, I started working at Citizens Project full time as the Public Interest Fellow, and since then I have only grown to love Citizens Project and the community it works for even more.
This year’s awareness campaign, “It’s A Springs Thing,” serves to highlight what we love about Colorado Springs in an effort to transform the narrative the city tells about itself to one that is more positive, and accurately reflective of our community. What the awareness campaign does not tell you about is all the work that has been done to create this community that we can be proud of.
Citizens Project, along with our many partner organizations, works tirelessly to ensure that Colorado Springs is a community that values diversity, equality, religious freedom, and civic engagement. There is a lot to be proud of in all this work, because the Citizens Project family is one that is deeply committed to its vision and is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish it.
As I prepare to leave Citizens Project and Colorado Springs, I have been reflecting back on my time with this amazing organization. From this reflection, I have come up with a few things that I love most about Citizens Project that I would like to share with you:
- I believe that Citizens Project serves as a promise for this community. When things get difficult, when there is discrimination or injustice, Citizens Project promises that these things will not go unnoticed. And not only does it promise that injustices will be addressed, but it also promises that there will always be people working to end them. For example, Citizens Project works to make sure our students are not discriminated against because of race, religion, sexual orientation, or for any other reason. We both respond to instances of discrimination, and we also educate teachers, administrators, coaches, and parents, about how to prevent such discrimination. We promise to keep working in this way until all students feel safe, and no matter how long that takes, we will not falter from our commitment. If there is work to be done, we will be doing it.
- Citizens Project has a broad mission. When I am asked what we do, and I list our four core values, and the ways in which we accomplish them, people often look at me like I’m crazy. “Wow, that’s a lot. But sounds cool,” they say somewhat incredulously. But what they may not realize immediately is that our four core values are intimately connected. In order to have one, we must have the other three, which is why our vision necessitates such a seemingly broad mission. If we want a more diverse and equal community, we need all people engaged in the workings of that community. For our community to value religious freedom, all members must understand that our diversity is what makes us stronger. Since a vibrant community means that all members feel safe, welcome, and equal, we have to ensure that our community is informed about voting, current happenings, and ways in which we can work together to make a difference.
- Finally, Citizens Project has shown me how truly amazing Colorado Springs is, because Citizens Project is a living, breathing example of what happens when a “small group of thoughtful, committed, individuals” come together to change the world (or the city of Colorado Springs). The Citizens Project community has shown me that no matter how pervasive the negative narrative about our city can be, it’s not true. Colorado Springs is unique, and there is still a lot of work to be done to make our community truly equal, but that work is being done, and at Citizens Project, I have had the privilege of watching this group of committed individuals affect change day in and day out.
Leaving this organization was a difficult choice. The Citizens Project family is big, but each member contributes something special to the organization and the community. I have been so fortunate to be able to work with all these people, and I am sad to leave, but I feel buoyed by the knowledge that this work will not stop, even though I won’t be around to witness it first-hand. In fact, I cannot wait for the day I come back to Colorado Springs and see how much has been accomplished in my absence. I will look around and see diversity being celebrated, more community members engaging in government, and students feeling safer and valued in schools as a result of continued tireless efforts. How do I know this? Because It’s A Springs Thing, of course!
Executive Director’s Note: Anya Arndt has made great things possible for Citizens Project and we applaud her accomplishments – and her courage – as she embarks on this new chapter of her life. I invite you to send your well-wishes and thoughts to Anya@citizensproject.org.