Westmont Magazine Making Modesto Family-Friendly
Kristin Olsen ’96 hates to wait for doors to open — she’d rather push and see what happens. But last summer, a door swung open unexpectedly for her.
In August, just days before the filing deadline, friends urged her to run for the city council in Modesto, her hometown. She’d been a planning commissioner there for two years. “I talked with the key people in my life over a 24-hour period and decided it was the right thing to do,” she says. Despite the late start, she won the election and was sworn in Dec. 21 for a four-year term.
“I never thought I’d run for political office so soon,” she says. “I’ve always been more interested in policy and public administration.”
A communication studies major, Kristin applied for the Senate Associates Program after graduation and worked in Senator Tim Leslie’s office. He hired her as his legislative aid and press secretary when her fellowship ended. After more than three years in his Sacramento office, she became communications director for the California Restaurant Association. When her first child was born, she started working from home; eventually she left to raise her children.
By that time, she and her husband, Rod, had moved to Modesto, where he had a job in sales and marketing. The couple met in Leslie’s office and share a passion for public service. “If anyone had told me 10 years ago that I would end up in Modesto, I would have laughed out loud,” she says.
As the mother of two young children (a son, 4, and a daughter, 18 months), Kristin wants to make the city a good place for families. “I’ve not been happy with the way Modesto has grown,” she says. “Despite the tremendous increase in population — it’s now 200,000 — Modesto still acts like it’s a town of 50,000. The infrastructure and parks haven’t kept pace. We have new areas where there are no sidewalks for the children who walk to school. One of my goals is to reduce traffic congestion by building new roads, especially a crosstown freeway. We’re the only city in the valley without one.”
Public safety is another concern. “We have a shortage of police officers and firefighters, and I’m looking for more efficient and creative ways to take advantage of our resources,” she says.
Noting that Modesto was once known for its tree-lined streets and parks, Kristin also supports beautification efforts. “We need to create an attractive, appealing place for both residents and visitors,” she says.
“I have a passion for seeing Modesto become a great community,” she explains. “I’m excited about setting policy for the city. That was something I couldn’t do as a planning commissioner.” She’s not in it for the money. The $800 monthly stipend doesn’t even cover the cost of childcare.
Kristin says the environment at Westmont encouraged her drive. “It helped me strive for excellence,” she adds. “But I have workaholic tendencies, and I also learned about balance, about growing as a person and a Christian.”
Another door is opening for Kristin these days: speaking to women and girls and urging them to pursue their dreams. “I hope to inspire them to go after their goals with everything they’ve got,” she says.