Political passion drives Julia Spoerry to serve the underserved

Julia Spoerry

Julia Spoerry is working toward her MPPA at UMSL while she serves the residents of Florissant as the city’s community development specialist. She has also taken part in professional development opportunities such as the Partners in Governance Conference, the Future of My City Project and Coro Women in Leadership Fellowship. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Julia Spoerry has had a “political fire” in her belly since the 2000 presidential election.

She recalls staying up to watch the election results for an extra credit assignment.

“I remember sitting in front of my grandma’s TV,” Spoerry says. “Watching and coloring all the states and then being distraught that I wasn’t going to get the points because Florida had turned purple – because I had colored it blue and then red.”

She was enraptured by the process and knew something had been awakened.

Now Spoerry is using that fire to complete a master’s in public policy administration at the University of Missouri–St. Louis while working as a community development specialist for the city of Florissant – and balancing her family responsibilities.

Graduating high school at the height of the financial collapse, Spoerry delayed college and, several years later, began taking classes at St. Louis Community College. Her path forward wasn’t clearly formed, but it had to include two things: hard skills and the ability to help people.

After graduating with her associate degree, another election had a profound effect on Spoerry. She watched the results of the 2016 presidential election and was spurred to work harder, starting her BSPPA coursework at UMSL to fight to protect those who felt vulnerable.

“I knew that there was no more going forward at a comfortable pace,” she says.

Spoerry became involved with professional development opportunities outside of school. In April of 2017, she attended the Partners in Governance Conference in Columbia, Missouri. It led her to contact the director of community development for Florissant, Missouri. Soon she had a job.

Then in 2018, Spoerry landed the Coro Women in Leadership Fellowship from FOCUS St. Louis. The three-month program helps women refine their leadership competencies. She appreciated the opportunity to speak with regional business and civic leaders.

“They are a phenomenal organization that really encourages us to think regionally and to ask good questions,” she says.

Last spring, Spoerry thought globally at UMSL as part of the Future of My City Project, which promotes intercultural research between American Rust Belt cities and those in the Ruhr area of Germany. Todd Swanstrom, E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Community Collaboration and Public Policy, led Spoerry’s team, which won first place for research on equitable redevelopment in legacy cities such as St. Louis and Dortmund, Germany.

“I am very grateful to my professors in the MPPA program,” she says. “They understand that the point is to put good leadership – for local government, for nonprofit, for research professionals – into St. Louis and our region.”

Now, Spoerry uses those skills to serve the residents of Florissant. Her office facilitates programs related to community development block grants, including home improvement loans; emergency heating and cooling grants; mortgage, rent and utility assistance; volunteer efforts; down payment assistance and other housing resources.

These programs benefit residents, and for Spoerry, that’s the job. For her, public policy should make people’s lives better and cultivate opportunities for the citizenry.

“I feel a lot of compassion because I know that if you run the simulation of my life 100 times, I don’t end up here many of those,” Spoerry says. “If any one of the cards on my house of cards had buckled, I wouldn’t be here. I want to make sure that other people get the opportunities, the leg up, that I got.”

This story was originally published in the fall 2019 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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