The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities Monday Morning Project presented an informative and interactive training session titled, “Working Together for Change”, for self-advocates on June 16th, 2012 at the Lafayette Yard Marriott in Trenton, NJ from 10am to 3pm. The morning began with a brief introduction from Statewide Monday Morning Coordinator, Barbara Lee, and the executive director of NJCDD, Alison Lozano. After their opening comments, our guest speaker, Julie Petty, a project trainer for Partners for Inclusive Communities/UAMS and a past president of SABE on the national level, took the stage and began an in-depth discussion regarding the steps for becoming an effective advocate for yourself and others, how to reach out to the community to be heard and how to work with community leaders to make a difference.
In order to learn how to implement the steps for working together for change, Julie chose one of main issues facing the disability community as an example, which is “an institution is not a home”. This issue is one that the Monday Morning project strongly advocates for. Essentially, Julie completed the first step for the participants, which is “choosing your issue”. Afterwards, Julie encouraged the audience to implement the next step, “thinking about your issue” through a group activity. She asked each table to form a group discussion regarding the reasons why an institution is not a home for people with disabilities. A microphone then went around the room to ask each group what they thought. With this in mind, Julie introduced the next step before breaking for lunch, “identifying your partners”. In order to hone in on the purpose of a group’s advocacy efforts, it is important for advocates to determine who has the power to change this issue (decision-makers), who are our allies and who are our opponents.
After a lengthy lunch break, the audience reconvened with Julie to discuss the remainder of the steps. Once advocates have identified their partners, they must decide how they will build those partnerships or in other words, sell their group and ideas to other groups of people. This step was demonstrated by the second group activity in which the audience was asked to break into small groups and work as a team to sell your idea to the larger audience as if they were potential partners. Many groups took the stage and spoke about how living in the community is much more beneficial to a person with a disability rather than living in an institution. A group of mothers even came up to talk about how important it is for their children to receive community supports. CAU members Gary Rubin, Myrta Rosa, Mark Bloom, Marcella Truppa, and James Crawford, got on stage to share their advertisement where they emphasized the benefits of feeling like an adult in the community, meeting new people, traveling, partaking in hobbies, shopping and working.
The fourth step segued into the fifth, sixth and seventh steps and the precursor to the final group activity, which is developing an action plan, putting your plan into action and evaluating your efforts. Julie outlined the necessary guidelines to properly complete the cycle of working together for change which are; decide what is wanted or needed clearly and simply; gather information; what needs to be done; by when; who can help; what can I afford; and lastly, how will I celebrate success or change my efforts if we do not accomplish our goals. Each table then broke out into small groups to complete the action plan activity as a means to share their ideas with the audience. After a thorough discussion of the activity, Julie signaled the closing of this training by providing tips as to what a group can do if their action plan does not pan out the way they had intended. As an advocate it is important to remember that things may change along the way, therefore, goals and they way we reach them change as a result.