Unsung Heroes
Jeanette Kopell
by Laura Haley
Nov 21, 2013 | 3126 views | 0 0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Jeanette Kopell moved to Moab, the last thing on her mind was getting married, having kids, and settling down in a small town.

“I had it all planned out,” she said. “I was going to work in a big hospital until I died, and be the cool aunt that spoils all the nieces and nephews.”

But life doesn’t always work out according to plan. Kopell is now married with two daughters and is a very involved member of the Moab community.

For the last eight years, she has served as a member of the Moab City Planning Commission.

“My husband thought I didn’t have enough to do,” she joked.

Kopell says she saw the position advertised and thought it would be interesting, so she applied and was selected to fill the vacancy.

Serving on the planning commission has made her a more informed citizen, she says, but the work can sometimes be tough.

“We’re trying to make the hard decisions that people on the other side don’t understand,” she said.

In some situations, when an application comes before the commission, as long as all the city code requirements are met, the commission members have no option other than to approve it, even if they aren’t necessarily in favor of the project.

“We’ve really struggled with that,” she said.

For the last four years, she and the other members of the planning commission have fought to increase the amount of affordable housing in the Moab Valley, but it hasn’t been easy, she says.

“The town runs on sales tax and [transient room taxes],” she said. “There’s no affordable housing except trailers. It makes me sad.”

The issue is not a new one to Kopell – she, too, struggled to find housing when she first arrived in town.

“Even when I came here in March of ’98, the only way I got an apartment was because I worked for the hospital,” she said.

In the past, Kopell has spoken out against the number of new developments that offer nightly and short-term rentals rather than being built to provide housing for local residents.

Kopell says she doesn’t always say much in the meetings.

“I’ve done my homework, and I trust that the applicant and the [Moab city staff] have done their jobs too,” she said.

Six years ago, when her oldest daughter started kindergarten, Kopell began volunteering in the classroom.

“I want to be as involved in their lives as possible,” she said.

She has been a constant presence at the school ever since, and she has worn a number of different hats, from working in the school library, to serving as a room mother, and sitting on the HMK School Community Council.

Eventually, she says, her volunteer time evolved into a part-time position. And it turned out to be a job she loves - working as a paraprofessional assisting in the classroom at HMK.

“You just can’t beat seeing the little kids smile at you every day,” she said.

Kopell said that her children are her main reason that she chooses to be involved in so many boards and activities. And she hopes more young people will see the value in volunteering time and energy to help their community.

“I want my kids and other people’s kids to be involved,” she said. “Younger people aren’t wanting to be involved. It worries me a lot.”

Kopell also serves on the Grand County Mosquito Abatement board, and she volunteers with a variety of bicycling organizations and events, including Trail Mix and the Skinny Tire Festival.

“I’m kind of in everything,” she said.

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