Meet the 19-year-old town coordinator’s assistant who helped Warwick secure nearly $663K

  • Warwick Town Hall. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • NYGARD

Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2022 12:54:01 PM
Modified: 6/21/2022 12:53:41 PM

WARWICK — Most college students regularly apply for aid to help get through college. Not many, though, regularly apply for aid to help build their hometown.

After graduating from Pioneer Valley Regional School last year, Warwick resident Liesel Nygard embarked on this twofold path. Just a month prior to beginning her first year as a journalism major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Nygard began working alongside Warwick Town Coordinator David Young as his assistant.

Juggling schoolwork with tasks such as applying for grants, contributing to the town’s newsletter and curating documents, Nygard’s role soon proved pivotal for Warwick. For example, she recently helped the town secure $662,902 in supplemental American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.

Growing up in Warwick, Nygard, who is now 19, saw the town’s small size not only as a comfort, but as an opportunity for one to be noticed.

“It’s just how the town works,” she said. “Everyone knows everyone and everyone knows what you’re really like.”

Young recounted first becoming acquainted with Nygard through her work “picking up trash, rolling tires and cutting brush” during an environmental cleanup project at 355 Wendell Road. Nygard had also been working at Walmart and had grown tired of retail work. She decided to ask Young for an internship.

“Right off the bat, David sent me a list of things I could do for the town,” Nygard said. “He was really like, ‘Yes, please!’”

Nygard expressed confidence that Young knew what she was capable of at the time, as was hallmark of her perception of how Warwick residents see each other.

“I feel like other Warwick people really have your back and want you to succeed … and I feel like that’s how David sees me, too,” she said.

Soon enough, Young got a feel for his assistant’s interests and strengths, Nygard said. She became his “go-to” for any projects that include writing, reporting or collecting data, as Young recognized a love for journalism that also fueled her university studies. Nygard explained she had previously gained experience from writing a story about Warwick Community School closing while she was in high school, as well as from contributing consistently to her college’s Daily Collegian and Amherst Wire student news publications.

“Liesel is talented and quite versatile,” Young wrote in an email. “It’s great having somebody who can do what you ask, if I can just explain it.”

“There’s a lot of skills in journalism that translate to other fields,” commented UMass journalism professor Steve Fox, who Nygard credits as her internship sponsor and as a key mentor.

One of Nygard’s first tasks ended up being perhaps her most impactful, according to Young. Young entrusted her with the responsibility of conducting research and curating documentation regarding storm damage and flooding that occurred in July 2021. In August 2021, Young estimated the storms to have caused $1.5 to $2 million in damage.

“It’d be more concise to tell you what roads didn’t get damaged,” Young said previously.

In collaboration with Highway Department Superintendent Larry Delaney, Nygard crafted a list of local streets and collected submitted photos from town residents showing storm damage. With this documentation, the pair noted the corresponding street for each photo. Nygard organized all the photos on a flash drive containing folders for each of the 23 damaged roads with corresponding photos.

On April 6, Warwick received a $662,902 ARPA infusion as relief for the damage.

“The flood relief we got from Massachusetts through the efforts of Sen. (Jo) Comerford was supported by documentation of the flood event that Liesel curated,” Young wrote in an email.

Even as her work pays off, the rising college sophomore still feels “thrown into it” at times. She takes the challenge in stride, however.

“Sometimes, I have to figure things out on my own, but you know what? It works great,” she said.

As her one-year mark as a town coordinator’s assistant approaches, Young hopes Nygard chooses to continue her work within Town Hall before eventually pursuing her dream career as an investigative journalist. For now, Nygard is content with her position and grateful for how it has helped her grow.

“I think kind of being thrown into the ring now at my age helps me build knowledge of town government,” she said. “From here on, all I’ll be doing is building onto that knowledge … and it’ll make me feel more prepared once it’s time to get a job in the field.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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