LEXINGTON — Lexington’s two newly elected City Council members both are insurance agents who believe in giving back to the community.
Dora Vivas and Jeremy Roberts share some other similarities, too. They credit their respective agency leaders for encouraging them to get involved. They said such involvement is a great way to meet people because it builds awareness and spurs additional opportunities.
“Lee Isaacson encouraged me to be involved in the community,” Vivas said. “He told me to get acquainted with the people, go sit with them when they’re drinking coffee.”
Vivas has followed that advice during the last 15 years as she worked at Barney Insurance.
She is a member of St. Ann’s Church, a Soroptimist and part of PEO. She has served on the board of directors for the Lexington Area United Way, president of the Lexington Area Chamber of Commerce and on the Planning Commission.
Vivas said she loves being involved in the community. She said she was also active while in school in Mexico and saw that example in her mom who still lives in Mexico.
“My mom is a helpful, community-minded person,” she said.
In a twist on the usual immigration scenario, Vivas was born in the United States but raised in Mexico. She said her parents were migrant farm workers who routinely came to the United States for work and they were in Edinburg, Texas, when she was born. However, Vivas was raised in Michoacan, Mexico, and didn’t come to the United States until she was a young adult in 1992.
Although Vivas acquired a business administration degree in Mexico, her first job in the United States was typical of many other immigrants: processing meat at a meatpacking plant. Her first destination, with the draw of the then-IBP plant, was Lexington.
“My intention to come to the United States was to learn English so I could do better in school in Mexico,” she said. As she married and had a child, her only son Edgar, who is now a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, her plans to return to Mexico changed.
“I didn’t even know how to speak English when I came,” Vivas said. She said there were fewer bilingual people in Lexington at the time, so she felt forced to learn English. She enrolled in adult English as a Second Language classes in the evenings and weekends.
She only worked in meatpacking for six years. She became an insurance agent seven years ago and can write life, health and property insurance policies.
She thinks others in the community, particularly in the Hispanic and Somali populations, can become involved if they have someone to mentor them and encourage them.
Vivas said a challenge for Lexington is to get individual groups to change the mentality of their group identity, such as Hispanics or Somalis, to community identity.
“It’s the Lexington community,” she said. “Once we can change that, we can move forward and work together. We need to understand cultures. It will help us to be united as a community.”
Roberts was raised in Lexington and graduated from high school in 2001. He left to attend college but felt drawn to come back even as business opportunities took him elsewhere.
“I just really enjoyed being around the people in Lexington,” Roberts said of why he wanted to return. He said he also discovered while away that “I am a small-town guy.”
Roberts said he didn’t have a well-defined career plan when pursuing his education at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, but happened into the insurance profession, which has been a good fit.
While earning an associate’s degree in marketing and management he was encouraged to apply for a temporary job created in the aftermath of the 2004 Hallam tornado. He worked at a call center making appointments for hail damaged cars to be looked at and for adjusters to look at houses. That job led to work for State Farm Insurance in auto and catastrophe claims.
“Realistically, I never planned for my career,” Roberts said. “I’ve been really lucky where I’ve fallen into and where I’ve gotten to.”
He credits ties with friends and family for guidance and opportunities.
Eventually, Roberts decided he wanted to return to Lexington and approached Terry Delp of the Pinnacle Agency regarding a job. There weren’t any job openings in Lexington at the time, but he accepted a position in Osceola with the hope that he might eventually end up in Lexington. That opportunity came in June 2010.
Roberts is licensed to write property, casualty crop insurance and life insurance policies. He is working on a real estate license.
Since moving back to Lexington, Roberts became involved in the Optimist Club and is the newly elected secretary/treasurer and is a member of the YMCA board.
Roberts said Mayor John Fagot called and encouraged him to think about running for the City Council.
Neither Roberts nor Vivas said they felt inspired to seek a council position to rectify any complaints. They said Lexington has had good community members serving as representatives, moving the city in the right direction and helping various community groups.
Roberts and Vivas said growth and affordable housing to support the population are big issues facing the community.