What’s worth working on…
Each person who becomes a citizen advocate does so on behalf of an individual person. This is one of the strengths of citizen advocacy. It allows one person to get to know another person as an individual human being. Perceptions, ideas and efforts spring from knowing the individual person as a unique soul.
Over the years we have come to notice that there are some common patterns of useful advocacy action that emerge by listening to advocates talk about what they and their protégés have been doing. Here are several.
Helping People Remember their past lives could help in the person in an active and useful way now and in the future:
Many people who live in group homes, personal care homes and other “residential service arrangements” have little record of their personal histories. The records that the service system keeps on people are undated and leave out information about who the person’s parents are, where they grew up or where they went to school. This kind of information connects the person to their past, when the were “citizens.” Much of the information now in the records that are kept are about the person’s life as a “client of the service system” and talk about ways the staff of the facility have been complying with regulations.
Help people to remember where they lived their lives, and who they lived their lives with before they became part of the human service system. Look for people who knew the person when they lived with their family. Look for school teachers, working and retired, who remember the person. Try to find out where the person lived and go back and find out who else lived in that area back then. Ask people to remember where the person attended church. Ask people to remember what the person used to like to do, favorite things. Ask people to remember who the person was friends with in school, and at work.
The word “remember” is important to think about here. To remember – to recall, to think back and capture something. To remember. Here is another way to think about it. To re-member – that is to help someone re-connect with people and places that are part of their memory. To help someone find people who remember them and their family and invite those people to step back up and into the person’s life. Entrance into the human service system doesn’t have to mean exit from friends, family friends, church members and other people from childhood and young adult life.
First impressions are lasting impressions:
How many times did we hear this from our moms and dads? How many times have we said it if we are a mom or a dad? First impressions are lasting impressions. Many citizen advocates have noticed that the person they have met do not have stylish haircuts, clothing or possessions. This used to be one of the ways you could tell if a person lived in an institution. For men it would mean a short crew cut, a buzz cut if you will. For women it meant a straight cut with no style or length, long or short. Just the plainest of hairstyles. Clothing in the institution would come from a grab bag. No one had their personal clothing. Same for possessions such as a watch, a radio, a scrapbook of photos, an address book, favorite books or music.
This is the way things were and are in the big state institutions. It’s also how things seem to be in some of the residential services around town. Citizen advocates can help by encouraging all people involved – staff of the group home or personal care home and the person themselves – to think about the importance of looking good, being stylish and making a good first impression on people as they travel the community. Of course, this doesn’t matter so much if people feel like the person has no role or no right to be part of community life. Bottom line – many citizen advocates help their protégés with looking stylish so that they can fit in better with other people who live here in Savannah. First impressions are lasting impressions.
Common experiences strengthen our common humanity:
The word “special” probably started out as a progressive improvement over another well known word. But these days the word “special” stands in the way of creating strong common experiences and bonds between people with disabilities and other members of our community. We can now see that separate (special) services carry a lot of stigma. Plus, it’s hard to find the “special” when you go and visit a segregated, separate, special education classroom or other program based on some sort of special groupings of people away from the larger community.
A straightforward way we ask advocates to think about this is by saying: Your protégé will not need help finding ways to spend more time with people who have disabilities. Social workers and such know how to do that. Look for ways to help your protégé meet and get to know more people who live good, big, busy lives here in Savannah. Look for ways for your protégé to do things in ordinary ways rather than special ways. Instead of going to the disability church that so many people who live in group homes and personal care homes go to, invite your protégé to join you for services, or help them visit several churches to look for a good fit. Look for a fitness club or fitness class for your protégé to join rather than have them go to special segregated therapeutic recreation programs run “just for them.” If your protégé’s parents or grandparents are veterans, they can join an organization called the Son’s of the American Legion. Bottom line – find ways to help people do the same things we all do so that we can all get to know each other and have things to talk about together. I don’t really care that much about Southeastern Conference Football, but hey, it’s a great common denominator and relationship builder around here, so Go Dogs !!! See that didn’t hurt so bad.
Intentional invitations can help build relationships and open opportunities:
Have you ever heard the saying “the answer to what is who?” This is a short hand way to say that most of what we accomplish in the world comes from our asking other people to help us do something.
Many citizen advocates find that they can ask their friends to help them create opportunities for their protégé. For example, BJ Lowenthal’s protégé needed a job. BJ went though his old Benedictine yearbook looking for classmates who now owned businesses. He found John Bremer of Bremer Concrete and that connection led to a job.
Inviting someone to take a look at someone as an employee is a practical way to think about intentional invitation. Another might be to invite someone to try to find ways to help someone feel comfortable at a club or in an association. Another might be to ask a small group of people to form an “opportunity circle” around a person. Another might be to ask someone to become an adoptive parent for a child who lives in a nursing home. Another intentional invitation might be “to grow old together.” As an advocate, you can invite any and everyone you wish to respond. Some won’t, but some will. Be persistent in looking for ways to invite people to meet your protégé. Find ways that they can help.