For many students at Westminster College, civic engagement and community involvement are essential parts of both their education and future career plans.
“Civic engagement is not just service,” said first-year student Lia Baez, who volunteers at the Center for Civic Engagement on campus. “Service is great, but it’s about being politically engaged — knowing the issues going around certain populations in your community. It’s about being informed and getting involved.”
For Lara Jones, the community content manager at the local radio station KRCL, that focus on giving back to the community is a major part of her job. Five nights a week, Jones runs a show called RadioActive, which highlights local activists, artists and community leaders.
The Forum caught up with Jones via email to find out how she merges community involvement with her career and to hear her advice for students who want to become more engaged. Her responses have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
Q: How do you decide what the Utah community needs to hear about?
A: You have to read, watch and listen widely — local news, regional, national and international. I hate the word ‘junkie’ in relation to anything, but I do consume a lot of news from traditional sources as well as blogs and social media. Trying to keep it ‘balanced’ is always tricky, as we’re a community station founded out of the lack of news about the war in Vietnam available here in Utah. Back then, mainstream media was all one had to read, watch [and] listen. I tell folks [who are] unfamiliar with KRCL or RadioActive that we lean ‘left’ the way KSL leans ‘right.’
Q: How do you stay involved with local current events?
A: RadioActive has been busy building a reputation as the place to meet up with hyper-local grassroots activists and community builders. As such, we receive a lot of press releases from organizations and media-savvy activists. Plus, I’m constantly keeping an eye out for Facebook events. We’ve started a rallies and resources page on our website featuring items that we feel would be of interest to activists. It’s starting to be a self-perpetuating list. The challenge is to look beyond what Facebook’s algorithms pull to you and seek a variety of community events.
Q: How can an everyday citizen support local businesses and community?
A: Pay attention. Consciously spend your dollars and your time. Local media is part of the eco-system, so check out community radio stations, like KRCL, and pay attention to the local businesses that support them. A single dollar spent locally re-circulates as much as four times in the local economy, which is more than the national average. Your dollars and your time are valuable.
Q: Why are you involved in the community?
A: It creates a sense of belonging that I otherwise don’t get — especially because I don’t go to church or bars anymore. So, where can I meet like-minded people? In volunteering for causes that I care about.
Q: What advice would you give to young people who want to become involved in their communities?
A: If you get really passionate about something, you get involved. You look around, you see, ‘Who are the folks posting on social media, but who’s actually out there doing it?’ You get involved. You don’t have to get involved to lead. People need the bodies to get the work done.
Q: How do you make that leap from posting online about issues to actually showing up?
A: Everything’s a tool. Still, the tried and true way, you’ve gotta communicate. Every generation has to figure it out for themselves. When you sit at home and get your view of the world from this tiny screen… it’s not real. You expect real life to be this frictionless thing that you can pull in or shut out as you choose. Life is about showing up. If you never leave your bedroom, it’s not much of a life.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: You do not need permission anymore. You don’t need someone to say, ‘I will hire you, this is how you do it.’ You’ve got your own blogs, your vlogs, your podcasts, YouTube. Start communicating about what you care about. Tell the truth, though.