Self Advocacy means “ speaking up for yourself” according to this tight knit group of women that have been meeting weekly for the past several years at Community Living Skills- Arkville (CLS-A). Originally, a Self-Advocacy group had been formed for those interested in having a say in the events held at CLS-A. However this core group of women has continued to meet on a weekly basis to plan activities and projects together. Catherine Ippolito, Maria Villacorta, Roseanna Starkweather, and Kelly Piskacek have enjoyed raising money for trips to the movies, a pizza party, birthday parties, and a Christmas party for their group. However, this year they felt empowered by the skills they acquired while working as a team and they wanted to take on a bigger project. They chose a Christmas party for the entire CLS-A facility - one that utilized their various skills and talents and that would be enjoyed by many. They knew that some of their friends didn’t have opportunities for holiday celebrations outside of CLS-A, so they wanted to give them this gift.
Professional event planners couldn’t have done a better job. They took into account the dietary needs of everyone in planning the menu and incorporated sugarless cookies and jello. Roseanna and Maria planned the music and provided a short dance lesson for party participants. In addition, Roseanna spent 3 weeks learning to use a Smartboard that she used to provide music and games at the celebration. Cathy participated in reading a Christmas classic, “T’was the Night Before Christmas”, while Kelly took photos of the event. Other activities they arranged included a personalized ornament making activity, a tree lighting ceremony, and singing Christmas carols accompanied by a friend from CLS-A who played the piano.
When asked to share how they felt after the party they said, “ It was hard work but everyone had fun”, “I feel happy and good about it”, ”It was a nice thing to do”, and “ I am a kind lady.” They shared that one individual who is not usually outgoing nor typically shares positive comments, came over and said “I wanted to thank you for the party and it was lovely.” One person was overcome with emotion, but his tears were of happiness he assured them. The entire party was paid for by the Self Advocacy group who collected bottles and cans throughout the year to help defray the cost.
Heidi Friedman, Life Coach 7 explained that some of the goals of the Self Advocacy group are to help individuals know that their voice and opinions count, they will be listened to, and they have the power to make their own decisions. They have also learned to trust. “Relationship building had to be there along with the trust factor.” She said, “They learned they had a voice but that also included stepping up to the plate and being involved.” The CLS-A Self Advocacy group is planning again- this time they are making their circle of influence wider and planning to incorporate something that will include their local community. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. “