As the fall weather envelops Central Florida, the daily grind continues – albeit with a jacket during the commute. For some Kissimmee residents however, the idea of bundling was not simply putting on a light coat in the evenings. Instead, they got a short, bundled expedition through the various departments and services offered by the city government. About two dozen of these participants took part in a festive graduation ceremony of the City of Kissimmee School of Government on the evening of Thursday, November 15th inside the Berlinsky Community House to celebrate the conclusion of their nine week exploration of local government operations.
The City of Kissimmee School of Government is a free program operated and coordinated by the city’s Communications & Public Affairs office. Anyone over the age of 18 who lives or works in Kissimmee is eligible to participate. The program runs for nine consecutive Thursday evenings where participants get to experience a different department with each session through hands-on activities, tours and demonstrations by city employees and administrative staff.
“It was nine weeks full of information,”said Melissa Zayas-Moreno, the City of Kissimmee Communications & Public Affairs Officer. “All the information needed for them to succeed and also become part of an advisory board here in the City of Kissimmee – this gives them the knowledge in order to become a member.”
From being a Public Information Officer for a day to seeing day-to-day operations at the Kissimmee Gateway Airport (which is operated by the city) to even shooting weapons at the Kissimmee Police Department training range – the idea is to get locals engaged with their government and its servants as well as to increase civic participation by putting faces to the names they have heard about and understanding how it all comes together to keep the city running smoothly day after day. The interactions also provide valuable networking within the community and encourage questions and feedback from the participants. And those participants come from all different walks of life with the one unifying factor being their connection to the City of Kissimmee.
“This was really our way to get, sort of, that word out – get people within various neighborhoods to talk about the things that they saw and get their friends involved,” said Mike Steigerwald, the current city manager. “To us keeping it going, even in the age of social media, you only get sound bites and I think this program gives you a little bit more of an in depth look at how the city works”
The annual program is considered a resounding success, boasting over 200 graduates since its inception in the early 2000’s. As was intended when the program launched, some of the graduates of the program went on to serve on advisory boards, volunteer committees and at least one of them is now a city commissioner. And though the fall class has graduated, already there are preparations underway for a spring class.