(Guest post by Samantha Court, Development and Events Associate)
After hearing about incredible prior experiences from my coworkers, I was excited to make my first trip to Olympia on January 27. I was overwhelmed by the number of people and amount of activity as I made my way in and out of the vaulted ceiling buildings and immersed myself in sessions. I needed fresh air, so I walked outside where I heard chanting. I was drawn towards the front of the building about to take part in my first organized rally on the steps of our capitol building.
One thousand people – clients, staff, and friends – took part of in the rallying cry led by the megaphone of Les Parker, Chair of The Community Residential Services Association (CRSA). Representative Ruth Kagi and Representative Maureen Walsh each spoke about the great need for increased Supported Living funding and the importance of advocating with other members of the legislature. What an amazing experience! Everyone was fired up.
According to the 2013 Developmental Disabilities Administration Residential Staffing Survey, entry level wage for direct support professionals in Community Residential is $10.00 per hour statewide (only 68 cents above minimum wage) and $9.80 per hour in rural parts of the state (less than 50 cents above minimum wage). The legislature has cut rates for Supported Living for people with developmental disabilities twice since 2009.
With funds short in this year’s supplemental budget, I instantly felt the emotion of 1,000 people weigh on me. I was grateful to be standing there in that moment, knowing that there was nowhere else I would rather be. I could support the cause. I could have my voice heard, too. I was there to support the people in my community who provide support for others every day.
Rallying on the steps alongside the 1,000 participants was another advocate who had made her first trip to Olympia. Mother of a 2-year old with Downs Syndrome, Taina Karru-Olsen told me that she plans on advocating frequently for disability rights and supported living, too.
“I am a new resident of Washington and only just learned of Advocacy Days from Cathy Murahashi and Joe Cunningham. I jumped at the opportunity to participate with Advocacy Days and the chance to be the best ally to my child and other children and adults with disabilities I could be…I really liked my day in Olympia and feel like it was only the beginning. I’m looking for many more chances to work for acceptance, full and meaningful inclusion, and equality.”
Taina plans to return to Olympia, and I will, too. I hope you will also consider attending an upcoming Advocacy Day. There are two more advocacy days left this year. Please join us (rain or shine) to have your voice heard. You will be glad you did!