Lane changes, diaper changes

Full-time mom finds time to help shape I-35W access project at Lake Street

Jeanne Massey sits on the carpeted floor of her living room in Kingfield, changing diapers for her 5-month-old daughter Lauren. The Christmas tree is up, and lots of toys are stored underneath for Lauren and her older brother Mitchell, 3. It’s a warm and informal house, with a shabby chic couch overlooking a coffee table strewn with large, colorful children’s books.

Next to "A Sesame Street Treasury of Words, Numbers, and Poems" sits a black laptop computer — the place where, several times a day, Massey morphs from full-time mom into community activist.

Currently a Kingfield Neighborhood Association board member, Massey is the Kingfield representative to the I-35W Access Project, an effort to create better freeway access to the Lake Street commercial area.

She heads the Kingfield-Lyndale Mitigation and Design Committee, a group formed to mitigate the anticipated traffic problems associated with the I-35W Access Project. She also chairs the board of the Resource Center of the Americas, a human rights and advocacy organization for Latin America.

Dressed comfortably and neatly in a pair of jeans, a button-down shirt and a green v-neck pullover, Massey, 40, has a youthful face and manner that belies the intensity and professionalism she brings to her community efforts. She is the type of woman who will lead a group through a brainstorming session identifying the ideal types of neighborhood streets and bring the homemade chocolate-chip cookies and a jug of lemonade (with orange slices).

So, what’s her secret?

"I apply the same level of professionalism to my community activities as I do at my work,"

she said.

Massey worked for almost ten years as the director of the South Hennepin Regional Planning Agency on health and human service issues, like the elderly and housing. Two years ago, she decided to stay at home and raise Mitchell, then a year old.

"I quit because of a change in daycare," she said. "I didn’t want to go through the logistical headaches of switching daycare and exposing Mitchell to that — at what cost?"

Even before having her son, though, Massey and her husband Paul Taylor, an environmental engineer whom she met through Latin American solidarity work, experienced parenthood when they decided in 1994 to be foster parents to two Haitian refugee girls, who then lived with the couple for four years.

"We didn’t set out to do foster care, but we were glad to do it," Massey said. "We went on the roller-coaster ride that parents always have with teenagers, but both girls are good and intelligent and we still have a good relationship with them."

Katia, one of Massey’s former foster daughters, is a senior at Washburn and on this day was

over to play with Mitchell.

Having put in a decade of full-time work, Massey said she is happy to be a full-time mom as long as she can do community work that is useful and valuable. "I wouldn’t trade where I’m at," she said.

Her community activism is born out of a curiosity and a desire to get "a perspective on life," Massey said, something she traces back to a post-college Peace Corps stint in Costa Rica where she helped cultural cooperatives develop small-business practices.

"When I was in Costa Rica, the Contra war was happening in Nicaragua, and U.S. policy was anything but instructive," she said. "Exposure is important to me and my husband — to see firsthand how people live. The Peace Corps is about trying to learn as much as possible and not just through books."

A typical day for Massey begins early. "I try to get up by 6 a.m. if I can, in order to have a little time for myself," she said. During that time, Massey does some consulting work, if she has it, and keeps a diary of her children’s activities the previous day: "It’s a fun log from their point of view, which I email off to Grandma and Grandpa."

When the kids are down for their afternoon nap, Massey works on lengthy and detailed e-mail correspondences for the Kingfield board, the transportation project and the Resource Center of the Americas, she said. When the kids awake, "we do all kinds of fun things outside, if it’s nice enough, or we read, dance and listen to music."

The greatest challenge, Massey said, is trying to fit everything in. "It’s lots of balancing," she said. "I don’t always get the phone call when I want it, and there are quite a few meetings during the week."

"But, I enjoy it," she said.

"It’s a good life."