Erin Stanhouse and SPARK Boston Bring Millennials Closer to the Community

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Originally from Connecticut, Erin says she always wanted to be part of the Boston community when she would come up for visits.”There was always a culture of real intelligence and seriousness about the community that was always very attractive to me. I really liked the energy of the people here and how much they care about their city.” She went to Northeastern for political science and, through the co-op program there, she was able to do internships with some non-profits. “Once I started getting involved in state and local campaigns I was sent to neighborhoods in Boston I never would have otherwise been to and meeting people I never would have otherwise met. It made me feel like I wanted to stay here and be part of the civic landscape.”

img_2247“When I graduated I met a couple other campaign people that led me to Marty Walsh’s campaign for mayor. It was a huge deal, because Mayor Menino was retiring. Many new positions were open for the first time in twenty years after he was elected. I wasn’t really familiar with Marty Walsh, but once I met him, I loved his vision of the city and how quickly he was able to connect with the residents. When you meet him and get to know him, it becomes apparent how genuine he is and that he really cares about people. The way he is able to take that to such a huge scale is by trusting people, taking their advice, listening and promoting for a more collaborative environment, not just in City Hall, but in the city itself. There are different groups with competing interests and his background comes from working with the building trades. He understands the humanity from different sides of every issue and he loves to get people across the table talking and create real connections.”

“I started on his campaign and when we won, I came to work in City Hall. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I wanted to be in a place where I could learn everything about the city and how it works. During the transition from Mayor Menino and Mayor Walsh, there was so much going on and I ended up working in the Mayors’ scheduling office. It was insanely busy and the mayor gets hundreds of requests every single day. It feels never ending and you learn how to manage giving good news and bad news. Through that process I really started to see the mayors’ vision take shape. A mayor’s schedule is really a reflection of where the mayors’ priorities are.”

We asked Erin how she deals with time management. “I’ve been here a little over a year now and I’m just starting to really understand what my role is after a year of experimenting and try new things. There’s never going to be enough time. You have to accept the fact that you’re never going to feel done at the end of the day. The mayor’s schedule is constantly changing and growing and things are always being moved around. Its hard in a new administration to establish consistent patterns. The mayor became the mayor because he has so many relationships and friends around the city, so you just do the best you can. Think of how much impact you can have in any role.”

We asked about how SPARK Boston connects millennials to local government better.  “I think that millennials are often not part of the conversation about the future of the city and I would love to take more of the mayors’ vision and bring it to them. One in three people in the city of Boston are between the ages of 21 and 34. That’s a huge demographic. People tend to group us with a broad brush and say, ‘millennials issues are keeping the bars open later and making the city more fun’, but they often also care about transportation, our schools and having a more equitable society. The program has always been very successful in connecting young professionals to the community. I wanted the program to look more like the population itself, which is incredibly diverse.”

“The program is always going to evolving as long as we have that energy coming in every year. We re-branded so it would be more accepting and representative and also so it would have a more civic engagement focus. We are doing more to create opportunities for people to network and meet each other. We have early voting coming up and I read a lot of studies that say early voting doesn’t really increase turnout unless its accompanied by an educational and marketing campaign. We wanted to make sure millennials are being reached in a specific way for the demographic to be reached, not just through social media, but also through peer to peer networking.”

To check out how you can get more involved with SPARK Boston, head to sparkbos.com

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