Some Frequently Asked Questions about citizen advocacy…
What do you do? We make matches between a person who is well-connected in our community and a person who has a disability who is not well-connected and is facing a tough road ahead. We make about 20 – 25 new citizen matches a year and support about 125 ongoing citizen advocacy relationships, some of which have been matched for the long term – 5, 10, 20 and some 30 years now.
What do advocates do? There are many roles a citizen advocate might play. It depends on the situation that the person with whom they are matched is in. A citizen advocate who is matched with a young person in an institution might need to monitor services, protect the person from harm, speak out against abuse and neglect and likely push for a better living situation. A citizen advocate who is matched with a child in special education classes in our public school system might need to negotiate with school personnel and speak out for better educational opportunities. A citizen advocate who acts as a representative payee might help a person budget, monitor their finances and help set up a savings plan. A citizen advocate who is matched with a person who is in the hospital may have to speak and act to save the person’s life and advocate for the best treatment.
Why have I not heard of you before? We do not advertise because the work we do is personal and it is done one-to-one. We learn a lot about people’s lives and their histories and their stories. We want to respect the stories of people’s lives. They may choose to let us share their stories. Recruiting citizen advocates is best done through “trust networks” of people who are introduced to the work by people they know and trust. Board members, citizen advocates and friends of the office introduce us to fine people that they know and trust and invite those people to learn more about the organization and perhaps to become involved as citizen advocates in the future.
How do you make matches? We start by getting to know the person with the disability. We write a short story that offers some history and some of the issues that the person is facing. We think about a role a citizen advocate might play in this person’s life. We think about the qualities that the citizen advocate should have. Then we go to our trust networks and ask, “Who do you know that…” We then talk with the potential advocate, learn as much as we can about them and then if what we have learned points to a good match, we introduce the two people. We meet together several times and then both people decide if they would like to be matched in a citizen advocacy relationship. We help with first steps and then we support the match as needed.
Do all matches work? No. Citizen advocacy matches are as weak and as strong as any human relationship. Sometimes they are more than we could ever imagine. Sometimes people have good intentions, but no follow through. Sometimes the office does not offer good support to a match in trouble. Sometimes they fizzle before the two people have an opportunity to get connected.
How long have you been in existence? Since 1978.
Are you a 501 c 3? Yes. We will get you a copy of our exemption letter if needed.
What financial controls are in place? Our Treasurer, Mike English, reviews finances monthly and signs all checks. Skinner, Barndollar and Lane C.P.A. reviews our books quarterly. David Pelliccione C.P.A. audits our books yearly.
Why don’t you get more government money, United Way money, regional and national grants etc? Our financial strategy is to increase our local grassroots contributions and decrease our dependence on government money. We also avoid grants with cumbersome application and reporting procedures and grants that may divert us from our mission – making and supporting citizen advocacy matches in Savannah. We feel that the security of the organization is in the hands of our local, grassroots giving community. We avoid any money that comes from agencies or organizations that provide services or funds to human service agencies (like United Way). It is likely that a citizen advocate will be speaking out against one of these agencies as they try to make their protégé’s life better. We prefer not to take money from donors that might put us in a real or perceived conflict of interest.
Why does citizen advocacy matter? Because people are important. Citizen advocacy is an opportunity to put values into action on behalf of one person. Because of citizen advocacy, hundreds of people in our community have gotten this opportunity to put their values into action and try to make one person’s life better in big and small ways. We hope that because of citizen advocacy, our community is a kinder, gentler and more just place to live.