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CivicLex pancake breakfast engages community in local government

This story has been updated as of Jan. 31, 2024.

Hosted by CivicLex, Lexington locals and district representatives gathered to educate themselves on government issues over pancakes and coffee.

Adults and children met with local officials at the Woodhill Community Center on Jan. 27 with activities to keep children occupied, information on how to register to vote and a presentation. 

CivicLex is a “nonprofit civic health organization working to increase civic health in Lexington,” according to Haley Wartell, CivicLex Communications Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). 

The people in Lexington should have a say in how it (civic health) looks,” Wartell said. 

The event was open to Lexington’s residents and representatives to engage the community with their local government, giving voters an opportunity to express themselves to their district reps. 

“This is a very community-focused event, so there’s a lot of different opportunities for people to meet each other and connect with other people in the community that they maybe might not have met before over issues that they care about in Lexington,” Wartell said. 

CivicLex works to improve civic health by teaching six different concepts: civic education, local news and reporting, convening and bridging, public realm and civic transformation, according to Wartell and the organization’s website.

CivicLex events aim to share this information with the public in a more laid-back setting than a council meeting, Wartell said. 

“We really want this information to be really accessible, so we have different workshops about how local government’s set up, how you advocate for an issue successfully within city hall and the city budget,” Wartell said. 

Jillian Riseman, a public information officer for Lexington City Council and former CivicLex Americorps VISTA discussed changes that had been made in Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) in 2023 and what’s coming up this year for the community on local and federal levels. 

“We’re hoping with this event that we can meet people where they’re at in their community, bring information to them, to help them feel like they have the resources that they need to get involved really without doing any work at all,” Riseman said. 

Emma Curtis and Preston Worley were both in attendance at the event. Curtis is a member of CivicLex and candidate for Lexington’s fourth Council District and Worley is the seventh District Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government councilmember. 

Curtis said the event confirmed her suspicions of Lexington citizens’ passion for their government. 

“It’s a wonderful turnout and I am so glad that we have an organization like CivicLex that is focused on the civic health of our city and that they’re so dedicated to bringing people together and having conversations that otherwise might not be facilitated,” Curtis said. 

Curtis said she sees CivicLex as a “gateway drug” to civic engagement for people who want to get involved. 

“Coming to an event like this is a fundamental act of optimism because it suggests that community building is possible and that regular folks can have an impact on what the local government does,” Curtis said. 

“One thing that was really exciting was to see people who really truly wanted to get together and learn about local government and be involved in the process,” Worley said. “Sometimes people get disenfranchised and don’t want to participate in the government process, so you saw a lot of energy from people wanting to learn about local government and get to know people in local government.”

Worley said he studied history as an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky before earning his juris doctor from his alma mater. 

“CivicLex is so engaged with trying to get people to understand more about local government and how our community works because a lot of people don’t understand,” Worley said. “They see the politics on TV, but they don’t see how we make things work like filling potholes, picking up trash, having a well-trained and equipped police force, a well-trained and equipped fire department. Those are the things that affect our daily lives in a much bigger way than the politics we see on TV.”

Like Worley, other council members attend each CivicLex event to engage with the community. 

“We also want to make sure that our students and people that whether they’re from Lexington or not, they’re likely going to be in Lexington for a while, or maybe for the rest of their lives,” Worley said. 

CivicLex is the current UK Community Innovation Parter (CIP), according to Ashley Castorena, marketing and program coordinator for UK’s economic development and real estate and CIP coordinator.

They are working with UK to create a space for civic education at the Cornerstone building.

Castorena said CivicLex plans to use their space in Cornerstone to “host civic engagement workshops, community events and educational data installations.”

To learn more about CivicLex and their mission, visit their website here.

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