Ivy Leaf - Spring 2009
Everyone Has an Opinion
By Shari R. Routch
In today’s society, everyone has an opinion, and Jeff Neff ’06 is using his Penn State Altoona foundation to make sure that those opinions are heard. Neff is founder and director of Everyone’s Opinion Newsletter, an idea that Neff developed after graduating from the college and then serving in Iraq.
A criminal justice major at Penn State Altoona, Neff found that the degree’s well-rounded curriculum allowed him to explore many options after graduation. "It gave me insight into the business world and kept my options open if I ever wanted to transition into something other than law enforcement," states Neff.
Neff credits both his sociology and international relations classes as providing motivation for his newsletter endeavor. States Neff, "International relations classes opened my eyes about various ideologies around the world and ways that our foreign relations affect other countries; I saw this first hand and why our way of life and personal liberty is essential to our success as a democracy." Sociology taught him about research, and although "my newsletter isn’t a scientific research magazine, its principles showed me that people take an interest when you are interested in them."
Upon graduation in 2006, Neff immediately was deployed to serve in the army in Iraq. He returned in October 2007 just in time for the local elections, and was dismayed to learn that nobody seemed to care. "After seeing so many Iraqis who were willing to die for their right to vote, I was disappointed here at home," recalls Neff.
After discussing this sad realization with a friend, they decided to quit talking about their displeasure and actually do something about it. "We asked ourselves, ‘what can we do to make people care about their freedom; what makes people want to get involved?’"
"The idea for Everyone’s Opinion just came to life. We realized that when people have something at stake in their local government, they care more. So we developed a means for people to write to their local elected officials and have those opinions published. But to take it further, we decided that we’d try to ‘pester’ those officials until we got a response for the writer. We believe that this gives the writer a stake in the election and makes that person care more about going out to vote, or at least get involved civically."
Although Neff’s friend ultimately abandoned their business venture, Neff believed in its mission and wouldn’t quit. He sent a letter to the local government officials informing them of his intentions and received widespread support.
In January 2008, the first edition of Everyone’ Opinion Newsletter was published. Incorporated as a nonprofit organization, the newsletter is mailed to more than sixty-five elected officials throughout Blair County, as well as placed in about fifty businesses.
In its first year, Neff already has seen his venture accomplish some positive results. One issue dealt with water problems that a neighborhood was experiencing. "A woman stated that there was no tap water being delivered to her house, and that the ones who did receive water had feces in it. She wrote to us, and we notified the supervisors. The local media read about her problem in that issue and amplified it even more, putting the pressure on the supervisors. Eventually, the township did hear her and began steps to fix the problem."
In the newsletter’s first year, politicians from every level in government have been interviewed or featured. States Neff, "It is recognized as a true media source. The people finally can be heard and the politicians cannot say that they didn’t know or didn’t hear them. We may be a ‘thorn in the side’ to some politicians, but if it delivers results to the people, we are fulfilling our mission."
Neff takes pride in keeping Everyone’s Opinion Newsletter non-partisan, especially in an area where there is a clear majority. "Anybody can write about a local issue that can be fixed by a local official, regardless of their party or background. It is the ultimate form of equal opportunity around," states Neff.
"Penn State opened my eyes to a lot of things, and prepared me in areas that I had no idea that God would lead me. I thank those professors who knowingly or unknowingly helped me understand the world of business and politics better, so that I can pursue my American dream."