As the nation honors Black History Month, the City of Cedar Falls would like to recognize the impact local leaders of color have in our community every day.
Cedar Falls is known throughout Iowa as a city that provides outstanding local events and activities, powered by engaged community members. The impact of volunteerism in the area is a key foundation for our growth and success. As a member of the Cedar Falls Civil Service Commission, Paul Lee has made it a personal mission to educate and inform people of the difference they can make for their neighbors, friends, and family by remaining an active public participant.
"I grew up in St. Louis and moved to Cedar Falls to attend the University of Northern Iowa," Paul recalls. "I have a degree in Public Administration and Policy so the work of City government has always been more than a hobby to me, although not quite a career. I fundamentally believe that most daily decisions are made at the local level and unless you are willing to help, there is no point in complaining. Some people choose to impact public change by participating in City Council meetings and some by running for elected office. I have taken the path of participation by contributing to City boards which are comprised of local volunteers who are seeking to make a difference in their community."
Professionally, Paul serves as the director at St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center which works with students at the University of Northern Iowa, Hawkeye Community College, and Allen College.
"I've been involved in the ministry for the last fifteen years and St. Stephen has remained a pivotal piece of my life. It is where I first met my wife, where we had our first date, and where we got married."
During his time at St. Stephen, Paul has regularly seen the barriers that face young people today and is hopeful his own experiences can help them continue to grow.
"I believe the biggest challenge to these future leaders is the perception of young people in college," Paul said. "I see hundreds of young people exercise their beliefs and I know they are good people, but society and the social media narrative paint them negatively."
In particular, Paul has seen how this impacts young people of color.
"My biggest advice to these individuals is to find an ally and be willing to do the work. You can earn a degree, but this does not make you instantly successful. You have to find the right ally to get in the door and, above all, be willing to work hard. Sometimes that means finding a new path because the path society tells you to follow does not work.”
This desire to connect and help his community continues to drive Paul forward both in his work at St. Stephen and through active participation in the Civil Service Commission.
"I've served on the Civil Service Commission since 2019 and I truly believe that commission volunteers are the unsung heroes of the entire City operation. The Civil Service Commission members review policies set forth by the City Council and the state to confirm that nothing is being added to it or taken away. Our role is to ensure that the practices related to the hiring or demotion of City employees are done fairly and without bias."
"Volunteerism is the backbone of the American way of life. Everyone has some responsibility to give back. We all have to find our niche. This may be small or large. It may be behind-the-scenes work or it could be high profile and subject to intense scrutiny. No matter what, though, we all have a role to play."
Learn how you can get involved and make an impact in our community by joining a Cedar Falls board or commission at https://www.cedarfalls.com/63/Boards-Commissions.