At age 17 – younger than the 50-plus Heidelberg students to whom he was speaking – Aaron Montz had already run for office for the first time. Today, at age 27, he is in his second year as mayor of the city of Tiffin.
As a recent guest in the new Heidelberg Leadership Experience (HLE) series speaking on the topic of civic responsibility, Montz, ’08, had two strong messages for the students: Get involved and make a difference.
“I love this community, so (running for public office) really struck me as something important to do,” he said. Public service is one way to have an impact, but it isn’t for everyone. Montz told the students that their ideas alone could make a difference in the community they call home for four years.
“We need your input,” he said. “We need your ideas if we want to make this a fun, successful and exciting community for everyone. … If you don’t get involved, you’re going t miss out on a lot of cool things.”
Montz has a progressive attitude and wants to move the city forward. But he can’t do it alone. “If you really want to make a difference, stay informed, up to date and informed,” he advised. The result may help to begin to break down walls of negativity that pervade the attitudes of many.
Montz cited negativity as the most significant challenge he faces as mayor. “That really surprises me,” said the Tiffin native. “But I really want to try to get people to start to think positively about the city and move the community forward.”
And students can help by offering input into various events such as the Heritage Festival and Jazzin’ Tiffin
The message of involvement was reinforced by Pat DeMonte, executive director of the Tiffin-Seneca United Way, who shared the HLE program with Montz.
Civic engagement, she said, “is all about making your world better, my world better, our world better.”
DeMonte was raised in Tiffin but her family moved frequently with her husband, who was in the military. When she returned for good, she found a caring community, filled with volunteers willing to go the extra mile to help those in need.
“We’re all familiar with volunteering, but what’s the reason behind doing it? Do we feel good about ourselves. Yes, but there it has to be something deeper inside,” she said.
She suggested the “something deeper” is the spirit of giving back, and challenged the students to “step off campus and get involved.”
“Each one of you has the skills and talent to think beyond yourselves and figure out ways to get involved to make the community better,” DeMonte said. “When you do, a whole new world opens up for you.”
As Montz and DeMonte shared the personal journeys that led them to become engaged citizens, the goals of the HLE came into focus.
“Let’s take Mayor Montz and Pat up on their challenge and make the world better,” said Andrea Wensowitch, director of student engagement who organized the HLE program.