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CR City Councilmember Ashley Vanorny is hosting weekly webinars to connect with constituents, provide information about COVID-19

COVID-19 Conversations: Environmental impact and climate

Wednesday, May 13 at 7 p.m. on Zoom and Facebook Live

COVID-19 Conversations: Tiger King and animal rights advocacy

Thursday, May 14 at 7 p.m. on Zoom and Facebook Live

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photo courtesy of Ashley Vanorny

Cedar Rapids City Councilmember Ashley Vanorny had been considering for some time doing a podcast or webinar series as an additional way to connect with her District 5 constituents. The COVID-19 pandemic was the “catalyst” for Vanorny to start her COVID-19 Conversations webinars.

“I realized that I needed to have an opportunity to communicate differently with my constituents,” said Vanorny, who is in the third year of her first term on city council. On Tuesday, she was the only elected leader from Iowa named to the Young Elected Officials 35 Under 35 list for this year.

“Coronavirus changed that even more so because as many events as I was regularly attending pre-social distancing, I no longer have that. In my mind, I owe that to my constituents to replicate in a different way.”

“I see my role as an elected official as intentionally trying to get information out to the public. When I can’t be there in person anymore, I think it is my responsibility to find different ways to still reach where they are, and that’s in their homes, so that means online.”

For the past month, Vanorny has been hosting at least one webinar a week on Zoom and has also done livestreams on Facebook with guests from the community. She’s had webinars covering challenges faced by small businesses, elementary schools and child care providers, as well as a conversation addressing drug use during the pandemic.

She has additional webinars scheduled for the coming weeks. On Wednesday evening, Vanorny will have a discussion about COVID-19’s impact on the environment with three Cedar Rapids activists. The following night, Vanorny will host a webinar about animal advocacy.

Next week, there will be webinars on the effects of COVID-19 on middle schools, and a separate one talking about the impact on higher education.

“Each one of these aspects were things that I was personally curious about,” Vanorny said, adding that as a councilmember or committee member it’s not always possible to have an open-ended conversation about a topic.

“I was trying to replicate things I wanted my government to talk about, and so I decided to do it as a party of one and see if I can provide some insight and value to constituents in Cedar Rapids.”

The pandemic’s impact on higher education is an issue that Vanorny has experienced first hand. She’s currently finishing up a master’s degree in health care administration from Des Moines University. She had to take incompletes for some of her coursework because of the workload at her job at Mercy Cedar Rapids increased during the pandemic.

“The day when my cap and gown came in the mail was the day that I found out that graduation was canceled,” Vanorny said. “I also was working extremely long hours at the hospital developing [COVID-19] protocols to keep my registration staff safe, so I wasn’t in a position where I could reasonably concentrate or take that on.”

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But despite the negative consequences of the pandemic, Vanorny wants to challenge individuals to try to look for positives. She pointed to changes companies have made, including Twitter, to allow employees to work from home even after offices are open, and how insurance companies are reimbursing telemedicine.

“It’s a time to be thoughtful and re-evaluate — What have we learned? What should we keep? What should we try to get back? — and just have perspective in a different way.”


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