What’s it like to be a citizen advocate? What’s it like to have a citizen advocate?

Tom Kohler asked several long time citizen advocates and several proteges matched with citizen advocates in Savannah to share their insights with some folks newly involved…


What does it feel like to be an advocate? What would you want prospective advocates, or people very newly involved to hear?


“You really don’t know very much about what you are supposed to be doing. The stakes can be high, the issues you are negotiating and speaking to are new to you. I was simply scared of not doing the right thing.”


“I was not trusted. The man I met had been let down so many times, in so many ways and for almost his whole life. I felt fearful of failing by letting him down again. I also was looking too far down the road at first, trying to figure out more than I could, or even should. I had three basic feelings: fear, confusion and confidence. Confidence that I knew enough people, knew how to do things, and that the man I’d met and I had enough in common that something reasonable would work out.”


“In the beginning, I felt resented by my protégé’s family. Life and lifestyle for everyone had become predictable. Now I’m listening to my protégé who has a new dream, and both the dream and me are now being resented by his family.”


“At first my intellect was in charge. Then my emotions took over and I knew there was no going back. I also began to go step by step on the issues my protégé faced, which helped me feel less overwhelmed. I also began to realize and acknowledge the positive changes in my own life that were coming from this. The idea of receiving and giving became so real.”


“I remember getting scared. I became more serious when I learned about the realities of how strong some people’s biases and prejudices were and of how so many of my protégé’s life experiences matched the discussions about the wounds of devalued people I was having with the staff.”


“At first I focused on an issue, a task. As we waited for that to be resolved, we began to feel the relationship part grow. Seeing a movie together, the sharing of meals also became important.”


“My protégé and I really began to share emotions. His hurts really began to become my hurts, his victories mine. He began to experience my life in the same way. How I was doing was important to him.”


“Overtime, I’d say that I’ve gone from thinking the tasks at hand are the most important and now feel like it’s the person and the relationship that matter the most. It helps to listen to what the person is saying, often taking their direction and breaking it down into action steps.”


What does it feel like to have a citizen advocate?


“I was wondering how we could connect. Here’s this business man from a different world than I live in. I was wondering, ‘What is right to expect, to hope for? Am I asking too much? Where’s the limit? I don’t want to cross the line.’ I’ve had what I call traditional relationships that come through family and church. I’ve been struck by the clear feeling that my advocate is on my side, rather than someone who is always assessing my position and second-guessing my point of view. The intentionality, the clarity of the advocate’s willingness, makes it easier to ask for help. I hate asking for help.”


“Being asked to tell my whole life story to the coordinator was great. Piecing it together, editing it, and getting it right so that the prospective advocate would hear it clearly helped me feel more confident.”


“It’s commonalities, not disability, that this is built around. Everyone else is interested in my disabilities – not my life, not me. There was lots of communication back and forth before the first meeting and that helped me feel like I knew something about the advocate and he knew something about me before we met. At the first meeting I felt sincerity.”

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