From programmatic to poetic…
I had the good fortune to be with new citizen advocate George Barrow the other day. He said, “The idea of citizen advocacy doesn’t read as well as it plays.” The definition and description on our written materials did not excite him – the hearing of real citizen advocacy stories did.
After I wrote the following for a funding opportunity, I noticed the same thing. The first two paragraphs are programmatic. From there on it becomes more poetic. See what you think…
Chatham Savannah Citizen Advocacy is a 32 year old grass roots advocacy organization devoted to providing protection and advocacy to people in Savannah and Chatham County who are being abused, neglected or having their lives otherwise diminished because of prejudice toward people with disabilities.
The organization recruits, orients and matches local citizens as advocates. Each advocate is paired with one person who has a developmental disability and is asked to work to “understand, respond to and represent the other person’s interests as if they were the advocates own.” In other words, we challenge and encourage people to be more responsive and responsible to one another and to learn from each other. Our driving questions are “What can people come to mean to one another?” and “What can people come to mean to the common good?”
You will find examples of people who got tired of taking their protégé back to the state institution after visiting with them and who have adopted that person, people who have questioned, challenged and changed state level Medicaid policy so they could get their protégé out of a nursing home and set up in his own home, people who have welcomed their protégé as a member of their family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, people who have called their high school buddies who own businesses to find their protégé a job. There are hundreds of stories of hundreds of local people voluntarily engaging in the life of one other person and working to help that person have a better life.
The citizen advocacy program is not a place. It is an idea. The idea is that someone (Tom Kohler in this case) asks people to sit down and think about something important. The important thing they think about is who they are as a human being and what they can do to help someone have a better life. The program starts there. From there people from all walks of life step into personal relationships with individual people who are pushed to the bottom and edge of life in Savannah and are asked to question and change that. It’s not a facility or a therapy. It’s a growing pattern of responsible individual personal relationships among people.
We gather as a group once each year in the Springtime. We have “the biggest and best covered dish supper in Chatham County.” Three hundred people bring food and drink and flowers and stories and one another. We see one another. We see possibility. We see what we can be.