By Karen Stecher
The successful 2019 SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference is now in the books.
Representatives from nearly 50 nonprofits in the SourceAmerica network took the nation's capital by storm from June 3-6 to bring our shared mission to Congress. The event connected self-advocates with disabilities to their representatives and senators to highlight the importance of creating employment opportunities and choices for people with disabilities.
Grassroots started with a kick-off session Monday night, emceed by SourceAmerica’s own David Egan. SourceAmerica's CEO Vince Loose shared a special message about inclusion, and keynote speaker Tim Shriver, Special Olympics Chairman, helped set the tone for the week with an inspirational message on creativity and strength.
"Be brave," Shriver told the crowd. "You have something extraordinary for the country, so get up there and make it last."
Attendees spent Tuesday in training sessions, where the self-advocates learned to craft their stories in preparation for their Capitol Hill visits. "You helped me feel more confident in myself," said Kylie Moore, self-advocate from the Bobby Dodd Institute. "The conference was an incredible experience that I will never forget."
AbilityOne Champions Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-VA, and Glenn Grothman, R-WI, also attended lunch that day, where they spoke about the importance of the cause to them and their constituents.
"I want to thank you all for the work you do," Connolly told the crowd. "I'm very proud to call myself an AbilityOne champion."
The day ended with Celebration of Stories when self-advocates stepped up to the microphone to share their personal stories.
"AbilityOne contracts have done something for me that I have seen in my personal life, and in other people's lives, too," said self-advocate Timothy Wilson, who works for Brevard Achievement Center under a janitorial contract with NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "They have provided quality jobs and respect for your fellow workers… Everyone's different. If we do not acknowledge that, then we are not united – we're divided. Everybody is different."
Wednesday and Thursday, the nonprofit teams engaged in over 250 meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Special moments – selfies, thank-you's and more – were captured and shared on social media. Smiles were found on the faces of self-advocates and legislators alike.
On Wednesday, Representative Ayanna Pressley, D-MA, was recognized as an AbilityOne Congressional Champion. Work, Inc. representatives Yolanda Pagan and Andrea Mitsch and SourceAmerica’s Shane Kanady presented the plaque.
Members, self-advocates and other supporters enjoyed sharing their experiences through social media. Anyone who couldn’t attend the event in person was invited to follow online posts and watch live Facebook streams of key activities. The live streams were recorded and shared on the SourceAmerica Facebook page; as of publication, they had over 1,000 combined views. Some SourceAmerica member organizations even hosted viewing parties for their teams.
While the conference is over, advocacy work for people with disabilities continues. Millions of Americans with disabilities do not have jobs, and it's SourceAmerica’s goal to change that. Everyone is encouraged to download the Advocacy app and take action on key issues relevant to people with disabilities.