The Decision to Act
On Wednesday, September 25, Policy Partners kicked off its 6th year with Community Crossroads. This program, which runs from September to March is an exclusive advocacy training program for disability advocates that are motivated to create legislative and systems change in NH. Director of Community Partnerships Jennifer Bertrand is the facilitator of these sessions and she the kick-off by telling the new class of mentees that a lot of issues are too important to sit out on the sidelines.
Anybody can apply to Policy Partners that has an interest in making change in the state of New Hampshire and making their voice heard to the legislators. When I observed the first session of the new class, I saw students who are in or just out of college, parents of people with disabilities, people with disabilities themselves and people in the community who have an interest in being involved with these discussions. Some of our own employees have gone through the Policy Partners training, one of those people is Service Coordinator, Beatrice Vargas.
When Bea first heard about Policy Partners she wasn’t completely sure what it was but after being recommended the program and speaking with people who had already been through it, she decided to partake. Bea said the first session was eye-opening in regards to learning about the history of people with disabilities in our own state. While she knew about Laconia State School, she had never seen the documentary “Lost In Laconia” that was discussed at the first meeting.
Throughout the program, Bea said she learned how bills become laws, how to effectively speak to people in power and how to educate others. She said her biggest takeaway was that representatives are people who are elected by the people and it is their job to listen and learn about issues that are important to NH residents. Bea noted representatives can’t know everything about an issue and it is important for them to listen to the people that elected them.
Bea was the recipient of a John Norton Scholarship at the end of last year’s Policy Partners. This memorial scholarship allowed Bea to attend a women’s only conference in Maryland called the Gamaliel Ntosake Leadership Training. For this training, a group of women from around the country got together to talk about issues, tell stories and educate others on issues that face themselves and the country. From women who had previously been in jail, to women who helped undocumented immigrants become documented, to women who are a part of the #MeToo movement, the diversity in terms of stories and people was made clear. For Bea, as a minority, she was able to relate to some of the stories and experiences that the attendees faced.
Bea noted that the conference being women’s only was something that interested her about taking part. Due to the personal nature of some of the topics discussed, it made it easier to be honest and understood since many at the conference have similar stories.
Much of the conference was about gaining power and not staying quiet according to Bea. “If you don’t know how to talk to people that are making decisions, the decisions will be made for you,” is one quote from the conference that has stuck with Bea. She noted that some of the people making the decisions have never been impacted by disability and it is important for us to educate them by sharing stories of our own experiences that we have gone through and seen.
Bea has taken what she learned at both the Policy Partners program as well as the conference and applied it to her work. She said that now if she notices something is wrong, not tiptoeing around it and ignoring it. She said she now is more straight up about facing issues.
Now that Bea has gone through Policy Partners, she recommends the program for anyone who cares about the laws being made in the state and wants to be a part of the solution to issues.
To learn more about Policy Partners, visit: http://www.communitycrossroadsnh.org/advocacy/policy-partners/