About Citizen Advocacy
Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy is a 36-year-old community based non-profit organization that recruits, matches and offers support to over 110 local citizens in voluntary citizen advocacy relationships. Fourteen local people form the board and govern the work of two program staff (Tom Kohler and George Seaborough) and one office manager (Ashley O’Brien).
What is Citizen Advocacy?
Citizen advocacy is built on one-to-one, freely given personal relationships between two people. One is a person with a developmental disability who has often been excluded from typical community life, and the other is a person who is living a good, ordinary life here in our community.
Citizen advocacy coordinators and board members work under a guiding set of principles in order to make the strongest possible match between people. Here are 4 key principles that guide our work.
1. Each citizen advocacy relationship is freely given.
2. Each citizen advocate is independent of human services, the citizen advocacy office, and, if necessary, his/her advocacy partner’s family. Loyalty to the individual person allows the advocate to speak out and act with freedom and clarity.
3. Most citizen advocacy matches are established with the hope of developing a long-lasting relationship, some of which may be life-long.
4. Each citizen advocate looks for ways to bring his/her protégé’s interests, gifts and needs to the larger community in ways that are dignified and enhancing to the person.
A Quick Look at Some Citizen Advocacy Relationships Over the Years
A Brief History
In 1975 all states were mandated to create protection and advocacy offices on behalf of people with disabilities. In 49 states this led to the creation of case management agencies and legal aid offices. A small group of people in Atlanta, who had been asked by then-Governor Busbee to develop a plan, chose to invest instead in citizen advocacy. The mission of the soon-to-be-formed Georgia Advocacy Office would be to “provide protection of and advocacy for people being abused, neglected or excluded because of disability.”
The Savannah office was established in 1978 and operated as part of the Georgia Advocacy Office until 1983, when it gained its own 501(c) (3) status. The organization has only one purpose – to recruit, match and offer training to private citizens who become advocates.
Over the past 35 years we have made close to 800 of these citizen advocacy matches.