Columbia Council Candidate Spotlight: Ashley Vaughan of Harper's Choice
In April, residents in each of the 10 villages in Columbia elect representatives to their village boards, which direct the business affairs of the associations, as well as a representative to the Columbia Council to serve as one of the 10 members of the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors. CA is a nonprofit public benefit organization, created to nurture the Columbia vision and to enhance the quality of life for people living and working here. As I wrote about earlier this week, while many villages have uncontested elections; two villages, Harper's Choice and Oakland Mills, have contested elections for the Columbia Council seat. While these Columbia Council elections may not receive as much attention as other elections, they are so important in helping shape the future of Columbia, including issues that impact transforming the downtown core of Columbia into a great place to live, work and play.
In Harper's Choice, Ashley Vaughan will bring a fresh savvy perspective to the Columbia Council. She has been actively campaigning via social media and has many bright ideas that can continue to make Columbia a great place to live. If you live in Harper's Choice, please take a moment to vote via mail or online by the April 24 deadline. To spotlight Ashley's candidacy, I exchanged emails with Ashley asking her about her perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing Columbia and her village of Harper's Choice.
What are the biggest challenges facing the Columbia Association right now?
Columbia Association is facing the same challenges that the rest of the world is – we all need a cautious return to healthy active living. My most important focus is how to keep Columbia residents and our team members safe and healthy. We have almost 1,700 team members and had more than 2.1 million visits to our facilities just last year. I will make sure that we implement best practices for cleanliness, incorporate virtual resources, limit class sizes, and educate residents on health safety. I have been providing educational resources and local updates to residents online since the pandemic began.
As a millennial (and founding member of the Columbia Millennial Advisory Committee), I will bring a new perspective to every challenge faced by the Columbia Association. I would be one of the only 30 somethings on the CA Board in years. It is vital that the leaders of this community be as varied as its people, and I will help more residents to campaign in the future.
What are the most important issues facing the Village of Harper's Choice and what can done to address them?
My plan is to attend every Harper's Choice Village meeting and consistently personally communicate with the Village Board about all development news, policy changes, and other matters of interest. I will continue to share updates with the community through my Facebook page, both from Columbia Association and other relevant information. Harper’s Choice has a caring, capable Village Board that stays active in the community. I will foster the relationship between Columbia Association and Harper’s Choice and advocate on behalf of our Village Board and residents. Open transparent communication and advocacy are the best ways that the Columbia Council representative can assist their village.
From a financial perspective, where do you think CA is putting too much money? Where should more resources be allocated?
I have lived in Columbia for 24 years. My best and most common memories are spending time in the summer sun at Merriweather Post Pavilion listening to live music, or attending lakefront festivals with friends. As my career in marketing communications and event planning has grown here, I have come to keenly understand how much work is required behind the scenes for all these amazing local events. Given this, I was surprised to learn that CA, the foundation of our community, does not have a dedicated social media team or employee. In today's age, we are accustomed to getting information quickly and through any desired platform. In this respect, CA has fallen behind. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources CA can begin using to better communicate with residents.
I'm the "connector" in my groups of friends, and when I don't know something my curiosity drives me to research and learn. I have been using Facebook to educate and inform Columbia residents on topical events for years. When a person needs help, I connect them to the person they need (rather than simply directing them). My curiosity paired with my interest in interpersonal communication makes me a natural problem solver. I've made my contact information public (phone, text, email, Facebook, and so on), and set aside hours every week for residents. My fundamental goal is to improve clarity and communications with residents and those that work in or visit Columbia. Community Services is near and dear to my heart, as I worked in that department for five years before joining a Columbia marketing company a decade ago. I want to find a way to increase funding for their indispensable community offerings like the Volunteer Center and the Teen Center.
As a millennial candidate campaigning on having people under 40 represented on the Columbia Council, what specific events, programs, or ideas do you have to better engage young adults in the count?
Columbia Association is well known for its benefits to families and senior citizens, but there's enormous untapped potential for connecting locals without minor children and helping young working professionals to network. The number one thing I am asked by locals is, “how did you hear about that?”. I want to fix the disconnect between the plethora of events and programs our city has to offer and the audience they were designed for. My first step is to increase awareness of what we have to offer through expanding communications. Columbia Association would benefit greatly from utilizing other local organizations, like the Downtown Columbia Partnership, on getting the word out.
Affordability is another key concern, especially for the millennial generation, as we struggle with student and home loans. We must create budget-friendly programs and events, as we do for our senior citizens. Cost was the number one reason cited in the CA Millennials Work Group report for being unable to join CA. Columbia Association’s vision is to create and support solutions to meet the evolving needs of a dynamic and inclusive community. We will only be inclusive once we have made it attainable for everyone.