Tina Ding
Lori Furaus, right, with step-daughter Hailey Messmer. Furaus began Messmer's leadership training early by bringing her along to campaign events. (DeAnne Billings)

Lori Furaus earned a seat on the Mandan School Board after saying "yes" to public service. (DeAnne Billings)

Despite her soft-spoken manner, it is with conviction that Mandan native Lori Furaus encourages women to step into leadership roles. She feels communities are deeply impacted by strong, involved women -- who subsequently develop strong families and strong communities.

"Women do not only worry about women's health issues," says Furaus, a Mandan School Board member and District 34 Democratic-NPL chair. "They also worry about families, childcare and education, the real cornerstones of our society."

Furaus attended Bismarck State College and the University of Mary, which resulted in her earning a teaching credential for social studies at the secondary level. While attending college, she was drawn to national politics and began following women's issues. Becoming involved with local government niggled at the back of her mind, and she began attending Democratic-NPL Party meetings. Shortly thereafter, she was asked to be a district chair. She said yes in 2011.

"There's power in saying 'yes'," Furaus asserts. "We all need to take a chance. One can gain the expertise as they become more involved; expert understanding on all levels isn't a requirement."

Furaus found herself growing and learning about politics very quickly as she became immersed in her new position and sought out candidates for District 34. Soon other party members urged Furaus herself to run, although she had never considered political office before.

"Truly, I questioned my own qualifications to lead in that capacity; I felt this opportunity was intended for my future, when I would 'have more time,'" Furaus says. "However, a supportive woman leader reminded me of what women do every single day -- that I would never have 'more time.' When I finally agreed to run for the North Dakota legislature I still had a lot of uncertainties, but I had realized that I'd regret not taking the chance to say 'yes' to service."

Furaus said "yes" to campaigning as a Democratic-NPL candidate for the state legislature, where she learned the humble art of door knocking, but ultimately lost the election. A few short months after her legislative campaign she was approached with another opportunity to sit on the Mandan School Board.

"This (school board) campaign was completely different," Furaus recalls with amusement. "Door knocking for local government was often times much more pleasant." Following the election of 2012, she took a seat on the Mandan School Board.

The school board comprises three committees: student achievement, policies and personal, and faculties and finance. Community members are invited each year to submit applications to serve on these committees. While on the student achievement committee, Furaus found herself wondering how to best reach students who perform at the middle.

"We have programs for students needing interventions or for special needs, as well as for those who are higher achievers. It's those students in the middle who may need encouragement to be challenged, so they might be more successful," she says. In response, this year Mandan Middle School will begin utilizing the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, encompassing strategies and curriculum focused on closing the achievement gap, providing foundational support and making college access and success available to all students.

Employed by Bismarck Public Schools as a tutor, Furaus appreciates the opportunity to exchange ideas between the two school districts. She finds collaboration integral to each of her roles. She aspires to one day hold a classroom instructor position, teaching social studies at either the middle school or high school level.

Along with working with students, serving on the school board and attending leadership events, Furaus raises her 13-year-old step-daughter, Hailey Messmer, with her husband, Andrew Messmer. Beginning her leadership training early, Hailey has been Furaus' sidekick throughout many of her political endeavors. Additionally, Furaus works with Mandan Dollars for Scholars as a board member and is a member of the Bisman Stilettos women's service group.

"I believe many women feel the call to serve their community in one way or another, but sometimes we are held back by concerns and other insecurities," Furaus says. "Some women may even feel like they don't belong in government or politics. Ladies, I am telling you -- you do belong! More than that, your voice is desperately needed in positions of leadership."

Furaus suggests that women who are interested in becoming more involved participate in Ready to Run, a bipartisan workshop hosted by the North Dakota Women's Network. Ready to Run encourages relationship building as well as collaboration among women who seek a deeper understanding of government, campaigning, local concerns or women's issues. Ready to Run will be held October 26 in Fargo and November 10 in Bismarck; for more information, visit ndwomen.org.

"An integral part of being a leader is service for others," Furaus says. "We build character within ourselves and fortify others by reaching out to serve." Furaus offers a quote she has found deeply meaningful by Gandhi: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

Tina Ding is a Mandan public school teacher, freelance writer and grad school student with plenty of time for her husband and three children. She also loves photography, scrapbooking, reading and traveling.