Recently advocates have been asking, "How can I help my partner find a job?" or "How can I help my partner become a member of church and not just our 'special' guest?" In the last newsletter (posted here) I gave you a list of questions for you to answer as a guide to deepening relationships across societal barriers. Here, I'd like to offer a list of questions your partner can answer for you.
First, here is a working definition of the advocate role. Don't go it alone and Keep in mind that much of this can be applied to those of you who are community friends within Do For One networks as well.
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What is an advocate?
Advocates are people who choose to enter a person’s life and respond to that person’s needs and interests. An advocate promotes and defends the interests of their partner and actively stands with and for them. Although many in these types of relationships prefer to think of themselves as "friends" it’s important to remember that your role as an advocate (for a person at risk of neglect and devaluation) allows you to represent them in unique and impactful ways.
How will you understand your role as an advocate?
Many people with disabilities are served based on one thing: their disability. This leaves many people feeling like their whole life is defined by what’s wrong with them. It’s important to realize that people with disabilities are all individuals, each with their own unique circumstances and should be defined more by who they are and their individual story than by the fact that they have a disability. People’s needs and interests will differ widely and therefore we must be prepared to respond accordingly; this is why freely-given relationships,motivated by love, is at the core of how we respond to people’s need for support.
As you earn trust with your partner, their families, and others formally involved, the following questions (an adaptation from a collection of citizen advocacy papers, thank you AJ Hildebrand!) can provide clarity and organization for understanding your partner better and addressing their needs and interests.
• What family members are actively involved in their life?
• Where has your partner lived and with whom?
• Who are their friends?
WORK AND EDUCATION:
• What has their work and education experience been?
• What impact does their economic situation have on their life?
• What are this person’s greatest gifts, skills, and attributes? Is this person aware that you and others see them this way?
• What set of social roles and personal attributes (e.g. family member, employee, known as humorous) is this person recognized for in their community? What roles might they potentially acquire or make known to a broader audience?
• What do they look forward to in their future?
• What values and beliefs does this person draw upon to make decisions?
• What does the person enjoy doing?
• What does the person dislike doing?
• What community associations (e.g., church groups, activity clubs, etc.) is this person a part of separate from formal human services?
• What opportunities are available to increase opportunity for community involvement (e.g. volunteering rather than just attending a church, going to a recreation center closer to home rather than across the city, going to a more age appropriate sports league rather than one with children, etc.)
SERVICES AND AGENCIES:
• What human service professionals are most helpful to this person and how would they describe the person’s needs?
• What challenges does the person have relating to their disability, and what supports are in place to address those challenges?
Knowing a person’s experiences – their joys, sorrows, and heart’s desires – is necessary to developing authentic relationships. You can identify with them as they relate to you their inner wishes.
P.S. Join us and help spread the word. Our next Info Session is on April 17th 7pm-9pm (location somewhere in Midtown), it is sure to be another rich time of exploring what people can come to mean to one another across societal barriers. Stay tuned for more info.