For the second interview in my series of profiling people involved in building community in C-U, I’m interviewing Jeff Putney. Jeff is 37, and works as an engineer, but they also enjoy being involved in local activism and creating community in their free time. Jeff is one of the main volunteers with Makerspace Urbana, and can also be seen taking photographs at many local activism events. We’re meeting at Aroma Café today, where Jeff is an afternoon regular.
Smile Politely: What does inclusive community mean to you?
Jeff Putney: When I think of inclusive community, I think of my work at Makerspace. Inclusive means everyone is welcome. Sometimes I think that spaces that feel inclusive for some, don’t feel inclusive for others, and that’s okay. It allows people to create community where they feel safe. I think it's important to keep doing the work of defining what inclusiveness means.
SP: Tell me a little bit about Makerspace. What’s the mission? How is it set up and organized?
Putney: Makerspace is an open community space. It's a place where people can come and work on projects or craft stuff. Instead of doing those things at home, its a place to come to and work on those types of things around other people. Our mission is about bringing people together around making. Makerspace is totally volunteer run. About 30-40 people donate a small amount each month to keep the doors open. I volunteer with the administrative and emotional labor supports. I host most of the open hours and I enjoy helping people feel comfortable there.
SP: What makes Makerspace unique? What is special about working there?
Putney: The community that has been built. We have a diverse group of people, with lots of different types of projects that feel out of the norm from other Makerspaces I’ve been to. The people are what is special about working there.
SP: How can people get involved in Makerspace?
Putney: Show up! We have open hours twice a week at the IMC. Come hang around, use the equipment and see what other people are doing.
SP: Can I ask some questions about you? How would you describe yourself?
Putney: Let’s see...I’m Bella’s roommate. Bella is my cat.
SP: Do you have a personal model who inspires you? Why?
Putney: My friend, Brooke. She has an ability to see what’s going on for people emotionally, and really being aware of that and supportive. It’s a skill I want to be better at. She’s really good at it.
SP: What are your greatest stresses in life? Where do you get the most joy?
Putney: Like a lot of people, my greatest stresses in life are depression and anxiety. But having friends and spending friend time make me really happy.
SP: What do you do in your free time?
Putney: Hang out with my cat, Bella.
SP: How old is your cat?
Putney: She’s 4 or 5.
SP: What are your passions in life?
Putney: I love hanging out with friends, photography and listening to podcasts.
SP: What makes you laugh?
Putney: All kinds of things — stories where people get hurt, but not terribly. Like America’s Funniest Home Videos.
SP: (Laughs with Jeff.) I love America’s Funniest Home Videos, too! How long have you lived in Champaign-Urbana?
Putney: 12 years. I’m originally from Tampa, Florida. I went to college in Gainesville and then moved to Champaign-Urbana.
SP: Was there a defining moment that made you choose the career path you chose? Or a defining moment when you knew you wanted to become involved in community building and activism?
Putney: Hmm, there wasn’t really a defining moment. I was steered into engineering, but I do that part-time so I can still do the things I enjoy more, like activism and photography. But those things unfortunately don’t pay enough to feed my cat.
SP: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Putney: Terrible pop music!
SP: What’s your favorite food and your favorite drink?
Putney: My favorite food is broccoli. And I love chocolate milk and coffee — or a mocha to be fancy.
SP: What’s your favorite restaurant in Champaign-Urbana?
Putney: Big Grove! Their Brussels sprouts are awesome!
SP: What is your favorite movie?
Putney: Step Up 3 — I love dancing. Terrible plot line. It's about an engineer who double majors in engineering and dance.
SP: Do you wish that was you?
Putney: If that was even possible, yes!
It’s clear that Jeff cares about creating safe spaces where people can be themselves. Makerspace sounds like a space where everyone is welcome, as long as you yourself are welcoming of everyone. And its open hours are usually hosted by an engineer who maybe wishes they also majored in dance. How fun is that?
For more information about Makerspace Urbana visit their Facebook page.