Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Amber Versola, trainer and community organizer, answers The Pitch's questionnaire

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 7:02 AM

click to enlarge Amber Versola - SABRINA STAIRES
  • Sabrina Staires
  • Amber Versola

Name: Amber Versola

Occupation: Trainer and community organizer

Hometown: Galva, Kansas

Current neighborhood: JoCo - specifically, Shawnee

What I do (in 140 characters): If I'm doing my job right, I educate, engage, empower, inspire, organize and win ... and train others to do the same.

What's your addiction? Being present in the space that exists between social justice and public policy.

What's your game? Running. (I don't know if this counts as a game or an illness.)

What's your drink? Salted-caramel latte or a skinny Brookside Bob from the Roasterie

Where's dinner? Genovese in Lawrence, Tapatio in KCK, Chipotle, Cheesecake Factory, or any of the great delis/bistros around the city

What's on your KC postcard? A picture of Union Station and the KC skyline at night. Cliché, I know, but this view never gets old.

Finish this sentence: "Kansas City got it right when ... " We stopped having only dialogue and started getting active regarding the education of our children (on both sides of the metro).

"Kansas City screwed up when ... " We traded Tony Gonzalez. If I am going a little deeper, I would say we get it wrong every single time we look at the boundaries of our neighborhood as walls. There has got to be a time when we realize that where we are makes up just one piece of the puzzle that is our community.

"Kansas City needs ... " To be a welcoming community to those aspiring Americans who contribute to our economy and enrich the social fabric of our city.

"In five years, I'll be ... " Influencing public policy on a deeper level.

"I always laugh at ... " The quick, snarky wit and antics of my 10-year-old son. He leaves me no shortage of what I call "diary of a single mom" stories. For instance, the other day he seriously attempted to build an argument around why vacuuming is bad for his back.

"I've been known to binge-watch ... " Scandal.

"I can't stop listening to ... " Mary J. Blige, classic Motown, pop icons of the '80s and early '90s.

"I just read ... " The New Jim Crow.

The best advice I ever got: I was really struggling at one point in my life, and my mom told me, in her stern but loving Italian-mom kind of way, that nothing lasts forever and I can do anything if even for only a little while. While not particularly profound, her message of perseverance and persistence reminds me not to give up when the fight isn't comfortable ... and really, when I'm working for those who often don't have the opportunity to have their voices heard, the fight should never be comfortable.

Worst advice: Some of the worst advice I've ever taken has resulted in some of my most powerful lessons.

My sidekick: Easy - my son.

My brush with fame: I have had a few incredible and sometimes surreal experiences of meeting famous politicians and celebrities - from President Obama to George Lopez to Dolores Huerta. My personal goal isn't to achieve fame for myself but to harness the power to make positive changes in our communities.

My 140-character soapbox: Live as though you are one part of a larger community. Step outside of your comfort zone. And for the love of all things good ... vote!

What was the last thing you had to apologize for? Probably my mouth. Sometimes I get a bad case of the inserting-my-foot-directly-into-my-mouth disease.

Who's sorry now? In general, I think the "sorriest" thing we face today is the ineffective policies of congressional members and state legislators whose well-meaning policies adversely affect the very constituents they represent.

My recent triumph: My current contract is as a trainer for a statewide fellows program where I am helping a new generation of passionate, intelligent organizers learn the best practices of community organizing, media relations and grassroots fundraising. Collectively, this group had little or no experience in this field. Following their initial training, I gave them a week to plan an action around minimum-wage reform. I tried to be as hands-off as possible with the event (as difficult as this was for me), intervening only when I felt they were in danger of losing the message or were going to fail miserably. They took this important issue and came up with an action where they could thank local small-business owners who were committed to paying a living wage.

At the action, they presented the employers with symbolic bouquets of bacon as a way of recognizing their choice to help their employees bring home the bacon. They made sure that those in attendance could bring home the bacon as well by handing out baggies of the fried pork with facts about the minimum wage. Their very first action attracted the attention of The Washington Post, which did a great story on the message that no one who works full time in this country should live in poverty. Seeing my trainees succeed and feel empowered to effectively engage their community was not only my most recent triumph but also one of my favorites.

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