Over the past few months, Julie Lafferty has watched the chaos of the post-flood rebuilding process both at home and at work. As a permit technician at IBTS, Lafferty and the staff at IBTS have worked tirelessly to navigate the rebuilding process to ensure citizens return to their previous quality of life as quickly as possible. When I sat down with Julie, the walls in the permit office still remained unpainted and the floors were unfinished, and we discussed her time at IBTS and her role in serving her community as a young woman.
Lafferty began working for IBTS nearly three years ago, as a temp employee. Until this past July, she was the receptionist at IBTS municipal services office during which time she mastered her customer service skills and worked to promote a positive atmosphere within the office and with citizens. To keep her interactions positive and heartfelt, Lafferty focuses on listening to citizens and truly attempting to understand their situations. “Any person that sits in front of you, they’re going to tell you their story whether you want to hear it or not,” she said, laughing, “and I don’t mind hearing their story because it gives me more of a personal connection to them.” Lafferty continued, “You have to try to understand a customer... Everybody has their buttons that get pressed and automatically, ‘they’re aggravated,’ but you just have to kill them with kindness,” she finished, “It’s very old school, but it works. It’s hard to be mad at somebody who’s happy.”
With somewhat of a baptism by fire, Lafferty brought the same positive, direct approach to her interactions with citizens after the flood in August as she worked through her first few months as permit technician. “I got a whole lot of practice in a very short amount of time,” she said, “and I got to see a lot of the residents.” This experience allowed her to form connections with many residents in Central with whom she may not have previously made a connection. She shared that this allowed her to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the community in which she works.
In August 2016, ninety percent of homes in Central received some sort of floodwater damage. Julie Lafferty and her husband were among the flood victims. While the flood was inarguably a disaster, Lafferty chooses to find the brightness in the flooding of her own home. “I believe that God put that in my life because I am permit tech and I see a lot of citizens,” she explained, “I think that he put this in my life so that I could understand their emotional heartache with this.” Having a mutual understanding of the flood allowed her to form a kinship with citizens and let them understand that her empathy and efforts to help them were sincere.
Though the mutual understanding helped her professionally, the aftermath has still been incredibly devastating. “It has been an emotional roller coaster,” she said, “I feel blessed to not have as much water as a lot of these residents. I had friends who had six feet in their houses.” As a naturally positive person, Lafferty feels it’s her responsibility to help citizens and friends boost their morale, a difficult task when homes are ruined. “I’ve had grown men sit in my chair and cry,” she recalled, “It’s just been really heartbreaking to see. It’s just crazy.”
Like many of us, Julie’s grandmother was a significant figure in her development as a young woman. “She was an amazing woman. She was a chemical engineer in the plant. And, she was like super woman to me. Like wonder woman,” Lafferty said, describing her hero, “She was a very detail oriented person, very career driven. She knew what she wanted, and she got it done.” When Julie was sixteen, her grandmother passed away after a battle with breast cancer. When I asked Julie how her grandmother handled her illness, she said, “You could look at her and tell she was sick, but she was so strong that you looked way past that. She just had this presence about her. She didn’t let her sickness beat her. She was a very strong and very confident woman.” Throughout struggles in her life, Julie Lafferty looks to the memory of her grandmother as a model for strength, perseverance, and grace. “I try to be as much like her as I can,” she said. Julie is now passionate about breast cancer awareness.
Prior to her position at IBTS Central Municipal services, Lafferty worked as a receptionist at a construction company and had plans to be a teacher. She attended River Parish Community College for a time before postponing her collegiate schooling due to personal family issues. “It was always my plan to go to college,” she explained, noting some regret in her decision. To students dealing with the pressures of higher education, she says, “You can’t let family issues bother your college experience. You will always have family issues throughout your life.” Though she has plans to complete her degree, financial restrictions have increased in her household since the flood. “I’m saving the money to go back right now,” she said.
Julie met her current husband when she was eighteen years old. After five years of dating, they began to seriously consider marriage, a prospect about which Lafferty had strong convictions. She did not feel she grew up watching a good model of marriage in her parents. Her personal reservations only reinforced what is already a step of gravity. “I had to answer some hard questions,” she told me, “If he cheats on me, can I forgive him and stay married? For better or for worse?” Apparently, she found a resolution to those questions, and they eloped in Las Vegas nearly eight years ago. “We have a game plan on every single thing,” she said, explaining the importance of mutual support in a marriage, “He wants me to be happy, and I want him to be just as happy.” Currently, Julie and her husband have no immediate plans to have children, though they do have two dogs, which they regard in the same way as one would children.
Like many in Central, Julie and her husband must now fit rebuilding their home into their life plans. As they work on their own house, she encourages citizens to remain in the city. “We want you to rebuild,” she said, “We want you to stay in Central. We want you here.”
Among the permit office, Lafferty looks to leaders within her work environment for inspiration and guidance. “I have such good role models as leaders,” she said, “Ms. Debbie is a great example. She’s a great leader in this office.” To Lafferty, true leadership means leading through example not orders. “Gender really shouldn’t have to play a part in leadership,” she said firmly, “just give me a strong person to follow.” Another aspect of strong leadership, like many of the other women have said, is good listening and teaching skills. “You show me what you know, so I’ll know how to do that too,” Julie said, “Leadership is being a good teacher and a good learner. You can’t teach if you’re not willing to learn.” In the same way, you can’t lead if you’re not willing to listen.
Along with the support from her husband and the inspiration from her grandmother, faith has always been a firm focal point in what propelled Julie Lafferty. She grew up in a Southern Baptist environment. “No dancing, no drinking, no this, that, and the other,” Julie described. After high school, she fell away from organized religion for a time. As she entered her twenties, she tried to cultivate a deeper relationship with God rather than force a certain kind of church into the mix. “My relationship with God always grew,” she said, “I knew it didn’t matter where I was or who I was with, I could always pray.” She believes that faith is an integral factor to the success of a marriage. “Having my relationship with Kenny wouldn’t be possible without my relationship with God,” she finished.
Though Lafferty has not yet completed her college degree or obtained her ideal career as a teacher, she still considers herself successful. To Julie, success is much more than a measurable goal. “If you’re happy with what you’re doing, then you’re successful,” she said, “If you can wake up in the morning and want to put on shoes and do your day, then that’s it.”
Julie Lafferty is also an avid cook. She enjoys finding art in daily life and loves to spend time with her family.