Hers Is A Blissful Life

April 24, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — While she may not be the youngest person ever elected to the Grand Rapids City Commission, Rosalynn Bliss more than likely qualifies as the youngest female ever to win a commission seat in the city's 150-year-plus history.

At a young 30 years old, Bliss very well may also be the city's busiest and most energetic commissioner as she finds time to volunteer, do the city's business and serve as director of prevention services for the Child and Family Resource Council — a nonprofit organization that works to prevent child abuse and neglect in the county.

"Fortunately, I have this incredibly supportive boss and so I can flex my time quite a bit," she said of Candace Cowling, CFRC executive director.

"But that means I work on weekends, early in the morning and late at night."

Bliss joined CFRC in her current position last August, just a few days before the primary election that eventually led her to take the commission's oath in late December to join Rick Tormala and replace Lynn Rabaut in representing the city's 2nd Ward.

"Here at the council we have a number of child abuse prevention programs and I direct all of those. So I supervise staff and all of the prevention programs," said Bliss, who was named by the Business Journal as one of the area's 50 Most Influential Women in March.

"I write grants. I do grant reports. I do all the quality assurance and evaluation of those programs to make sure we are effective, and I do a lot of the public awareness campaigns. In fact, this month we're doing a lot of public awareness around child-abuse prevention because April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. So I coordinate a lot of those activities."

Before joining CFRC, Bliss spent the previous six years working with the child protective team at DeVos Children's Hospital, part of the Spectrum Health system.

"That is really where I've done the bulk of my work in child abuse intervention and prevention," she said.

Although Bliss was born in the MotorCity, she was raised in Sault Sainte Marie. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of South Alabama in Mobile, with a double major in psychology and criminal justice. After graduation she moved here in 1997 to take a job with Hope Network. A few years later she earned her master's degree in social work from MichiganStateUniversity while working at Hope.

But Bliss first discovered her professional career path as a high school student in the Soo. When she was 17, she volunteered to work at a home for abused children and got an impressionable, first-hand look at what life is like for kids who are beaten, neglected or both. Later, she worked at a home for adults who were abused as children, but found that relating to children was more to her liking.

"As soon as I was certified, I started doing groups for abused kids and kids that witness violence. I still do these, actually, on Thursday nights. It felt so good to know what to do in order to help kids. When I work with these kids, it's horrible, it's tragic, and it's hard to hear their stories. But I feel really good because I know I can help them.

"I wanted to be able to do something to stop this. I just wanted to be able to help. I think I have an ability to work pretty easily with children. Children seem to feel comfortable with me and have been able to open up to me. So I feel that it's a skill that I have."

Plenty of others have recognized that skill in her, too. When asked to name her biggest career break, Bliss couldn't come up with just one because she felt that many people have taken her under their wings and nudged her in the right direction, both in her life's work and in her new calling as a commissioner.

"I think for me, the biggest break or what I feel most fortunate about is the caliber of people that I've had contact with and have been able to work with. They have really helped me grow," she said of a long list of individuals.

As a city commissioner Bliss has two really long Tuedays each month, with city meetings that can start at and run until after She already has picked up on something in just four short months that more than one elected official never seems to be able to come to grips with.

"What I've learned is that I'm never going to make everyone happy," said Bliss without any hesitation.

"It's really my responsibility to listen to all sides, to let people know when I disagree with them, and to do my homework to make really informed decisions. And when I vote, I need to do what is right, just be true to myself and not make decisions based on who am I going to anger.

"I really enjoy the work and I knew that I would enjoy it. I knew that going in. I had my eyes wide open. I knew it would be hard work and really challenging. I like challenging work, so I really enjoy it."

Bliss also enjoys spending as much time as possible outdoors. She likes kayaking, biking and hiking — especially with her 8-year-old Golden Labrador retriever, Maddie, at her side. She reads a lot and practices yoga regularly, too.

She also hosts a television program on Wednesday nights at on GRTV, Comcast cable channel 25, and keeps residents updated on the issues at www.blissforgr.org, a Web site that includes her personal blog and serves as the source for her electronic newsletters.

So far it's fair to write that Bliss has enjoyed a blissful life. She is working in her field of choice and is convinced that she is making a difference in the lives of those who need her the most. And she also won a key election her first time out and seems to truly like being a commissioner as much as she likes helping children.

But she isn't resting on her laurels or waiting for someone else to show her the next step. She has set her own goals for the coming year.

"As for my work, I'll just keep doing that. But for the commission, my top priorities are really to figure out a sustainable solution for the parks and rec (department), because that is such a top priority for me. And then also to strengthen the neighborhood associations and neighborhood businesses," she said.

"I'm a huge advocate of the neighborhoods. The city has some amazing neighborhoods, and I really want to see them supported and strengthened and for them to feel like the city supports them and is making their lives easier and not harder."    

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