By Tatiana Peralta

From congressional outreach to conferences and trainings, advocacy plays a big role at SourceAmerica. We know that by joining together to advocate for professionals with disabilities and the AbilityOne Program, we are louder and more successful.

Of course, advocacy isn't a one-person (or organization) job. Our member nonprofit agencies, self-advocates, their families and employees all play key roles in our advocacy plans. We're always looking for new ways to equip our network with tools and a platform to stand together and speak out.

In our last blog post, we talked about the importance of advocacy. Now, it's time to break down our approach for successful group advocacy.

Advocacy at SourceAmerica

We keep our advocacy strategy simple and focused on people. We arm as many people as possible with the resources they need and build advocacy into everything we do.

Advocacy isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. While we have documented procedures and processes that help guide our efforts, we also understand the importance of reacting and mobilizing as issues arise.

Some of the ways we have seen success in our advocacy efforts include:

  • Collaboration: Engaging employees is a critical first step in an organization's advocacy work. For instance, not all 430 SourceAmerica employees can attend our Grassroots Advocacy Conference each year. To get them involved, we encourage them to watch the Facebook live feeds. The Celebration of Stories is a mission moment for our team allowing them to hear the stories of professionals with disabilities employed through the AbilityOne Program. It's amazing seeing them cheer on the self-advocates in the comments section.
  • Technology: Through online resources, including social media, webinars, and SourceAmerica's advocacy website, we ensure that everyone in our network has access to the latest advocacy tools they need, no matter where they are. This year we introduced a virtual website for our Grassroots Conference, allowing everyone to participate even if they couldn't attend in person.

Most importantly, we're always looking for ways to improve our advocacy work! So much of our learning comes from those who are closest to the work – our member nonprofit agencies. We enjoy hearing feedback from our network and self-advocates on how we can continually take our work to the next level.

Rallying our line-up

When baseball players take the field, no one player can cover every position. It takes a well-rounded roster to bring home the win. Some key players in our advocacy efforts are members of the AbilityOne Congressional Champions Program. Through the program, members of congress build relationships with our member nonprofit agencies. The representatives and senators honored through the Champions Program demonstrate their commitment to the AbilityOne Program and creating opportunities for professionals with disabilities.

Currently, there are 157 Congressional Champions in office! That is a heck of a line-up when we need strong players to come to the plate for an issue in Congress. These are members who can actively advocate for our cause on the floor, coming off the bench when they're needed to engage on specific topics. Through relationships formed as part of the Champions Program, we are also able to keep key players engaged, motivated, and informed on all things related to AbilityOne.

Empowering members and advocates

We enjoy being a resource for our member nonprofit agencies and self-advocates. Education can empower anyone to become an advocate. That's why we develop different tools to help engage families, agencies and self-advocates in our efforts.

Grassroots Advocacy Conference

The SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference features three tracks: family, self-advocate and member nonprofit agencies. The trainings prepare participants to meet with their members of Congress, empowering them to share their stories. For self-advocates that might mean focusing on the importance of their jobs, while for nonprofit agency teams, it's learning about current legislation that could impact their business in relation to the AbilityOne Program.

At the 2019 conference, our attendees were empowered by speakers like Rep. Glenn Grothman, Rep. Gerry Connolly and Timothy Shriver, who is the chairman of the board for Special Olympics. It's not every day that we get to sit in the same room with such influential people, and it's a unique experience for them to work with us.

NPA Trainings

When you picked up your first book, you didn't know how to read. Then you learned your ABCs. From there, you started putting together small words – at, cat, bat.

None of us were born knowing how to read. But we were given the tools and resources to become successful. We all have to start somewhere. SourceAmerica provides year-round training to help member nonprofit agencies and self-advocates develop their advocacy skills.

SourceAmerica will travel to nonprofit agencies to train groups of 15 people or more and cover the cost of the training. The sessions provide us with opportunities to grow our advocacy network of member nonprofit agencies and self-advocates, while also preparing them to join our advocacy efforts when the time is right.

For more information on our trainings, conferences, the Congressional Champions Program or to learn more about how we can be part of your advocacy journey, contact Shari Walton, SourceAmerica director of government affairs, at swalton@sourceamerica.org.