Allow me to introduce Joe Cunningham, Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator at The Arc, as a guest blogger today. Joe coordinates our Family Coalition and he is a parent of a child on the autism spectrum. I have known Joe and his wife for many years and both are deeply committed to non-profit work and making the world a better place for all of us.
A few days before Thanksgiving in 1995, I attended my first King County Legislative Forum as a surrogate for then House Minority Leader Marlin Appelwick. As the legislative aide, I had no idea what I was in for, but was greeted warmly by Kathy & Bill Sellars, Nancy and Ron Meltzer and Margaret Lee Thompson. I soon discovered I was to sit at the legislator table, in front of nearly 600 members of the community of advocates for persons with developmental disabilities. I was overwhelmed with the power of the testimony of advocates’ stories, and their advocating with the elected officials and their staffs. The power of the community of advocates was unlike any I had ever seen.
This event was my first introduction to The King County ‘Family’ (previously ‘Parent’) Coalition, a program of The Arc of King County. There are over 900 families connected to the King County Family Coalition and an amazing staff has coordinated efforts to help families advocate with their elected officials since 1990. Such amazing grassroots power! After my first Legislative Forum I could not wait to share what I learned with Representative Appelwick and other legislative staff.
But that wasn’t the end of it. I began recognizing King County Family Coalition members at our Town Halls and community events in the 46th Legislative District, holiday parties and special events. We were visited by advocates on advocacy days, and our office heard from coalition constituents on the legislative hotlines on every bill or budget vote that impacted individuals with developmental disabilities. The presence of members of the King County Family Coalition made a huge difference, as great strides have been made in these nearly twenty years on behalf of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
But most important, the difference made was personal. When my son Patrick was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and a half, I knew who to turn to for help.. My first calls were to The Arc staff and coalition members who provided me with invaluable resource information, support and encouragement as I began my unexpected journey as a dad of a child with special needs. Just as hearing from another dad, whose story touched and impacted me greatly, at the 1995 forum, the advice and assistance provided made a tremendous difference. My son is now in a regular classroom, at Shorecrest High School student, and I credit the support and encouragement of parents and great advocates from the King County Family Coalition of The Arc of King County for so much and such a great impact on our family.
I I want to let you know that you can, and do, make a difference when you advocate and participate. As participants in the King County Family Coalition, you are deeply appreciated. Our legislative forum involved powerful stories and speakers. Going into the 2014 Legislative Session, we have given legislators compelling reasons to address our priorities:
- Fund early intervention services;
- Address the crisis with over 14,000 individuals on the No Paid Services Caseload;
- Ensure adequate crisis stabilization services and emergency respite for families
- Provide wage parity for our children’s care workers;
- Ensure adequate employment and transportation for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Our work is just starting. We need you to help us during the legislative session. Please contact me and find out ways you can help!