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We Are Here - We Have Hope

March 13th may seem like any other ordinary day, but this year, it was an extraordinary day. One that so many in our developmentally and intellectually disabled communities look forward to each year. It's a day when they will not be overlooked for their long sufferings, injustices, and accomplishments. They are seen for the gift they are, and their voices will be heard. Disability Rights Legislative Day is held yearly at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO. If unfamiliar, it is a day when advocates join together at the Capital to be visible, make their voices heard, and hear from state officials and self-advocates about what they're doing to make a difference. Each year at D.R.L.D., during the rally, self-advocates, parents, caregivers, etc, are allowed to speak with their legislators about what matters most to them. Should you ever want to do the same, you can find your legislator by visiting this site here: https://www.senate.mo.gov/legislookup/default. D.R.L.D. opens the doors to building better understanding and relationships for all parties to glean from to make informed and educated decisions for the future. For those unable to attend in person, M.O.D.D.C. makes the event accessible virtually.

D.R.L.D 2024 - Restoring Hope, LLC Group

For 2024, attendees were encouraged to meet with legislators, view capital exhibits, and check out resource tables between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm. The Rally, held in the Rotunda of the Capital, lasted from 12:00 pm to 1:00. pm, where the three key self-advocate presenters spoke on engaging and relevant topics. Vee Sanchez works on staff with Empower Missouri as Affordable Housing Policy Manager. Her presentation titled "Intersections on Housing and Disability" shared how Missouri's fair housing statutes are out of compliance. She provided an overview of the Federal Fair Housing Act, the ramifications of it being out of compliance, and a path forward to bring it back to Missouri. The second guest speaker of the day, Kristine Kliewer, who has been paralyzed from her upper chest down since 1988, discussed "Caregiver Crisis and Wages." Her goal is to make our community more inclusive for everyone while discussing her experience of relying on someone else for her care and how difficult it's been for her to get assistance. She raised a valid question, "What happens when those who rely on Direct Support can't find adequate support and end up being homeless?" The last guest speaker, Jeanette Mott Oxford has been an advocate, educator, writer, and organizer on issues of poverty, health, housing, transportation, racism, human rights, equality, and campaign finance reform in Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri since 1983.

The presentation title, "Our Right to Accessible Transportation," covered the Americans with Disabilities Act under Title II, which considers it discriminatory when the operator of a fixed route transportation system fails to provide paratransit comparable to the lever of designated transportation to individuals without disabilities. As well as encouraging advocates in your city to use the organizing principles of S.M.A.R.T. (S.T.L. Metropolitan Alliance for Reliable Transit) to form a similar group and win the transportation those with developmental and intellectual disabilities both need and deserve. After the closing of the Rally, it was open time to enjoy lunch, meet with legislators, view the Capital, and check out additional resources. Along with these self-advocates who presented were a few state officials who remarked on topics directly impactful to the attending group, positive changes they've made, and plans to improve needs sorely lacking in our state.

Each year, Restoring Hope selects a group to represent our agency, attend the Rally, and speak to legislators about our agency, our services, and its direct impact on those living with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Danielle Coffey, Director of Community Services, orchestrated the day for the Restoring Hope group, setting up meeting times with legislators who hold office in the counties where many of our services preside. This day provides a memorable visit to the Capital, where clients can discover and tour the grounds and speak directly to those making legislative decisions that impact their daily lives. While at the Capital, three broken-up Restoring Hope groups made plans to meet with Adair County Representative Danny Busick, Dallas County Representative Jeff Knight, Christian County Representative Jamie Gragg, Benton County Representative Rodger Reedy, Green County Representative Alex Riley, and Howel County Representative David Evans. Each of our designated Restoring Hope groups consisted of staff within the Community Services side, Management Team, and a few Leaders and Participants from our Excel Day Program and WORKS Program. Participants had the opportunity to share about the services they are receiving and the positive impact our services have on their lives. Legislators thoroughly enjoy meeting our clients and staff each year and hearing about their successes, and our clients and team appreciate the opportunity to do so.

Everyone on the Restoring Hope team is passionate about creating positive change for the developmentally and intellectually disabled community and in particular, the friends we provide services to. Fellow team member Danielle Coffey shares her thoughts on this pivotal day. "Honestly, disability rights legislative day is one of my most favorite days of the year. As someone who serves people with disabilities, I spend a lot of my time advocating for our clients, as well as encouraging them to advocate for themselves. This was my first year organizing D.R.L.D. for Restoring Hope, and I would not have imagined it to be as rewarding as it has been. To be able to provide the opportunity for our clients to advocate for themselves at the capitol and to speak directly with Missouri legislators was truly awesome. During the rally, we heard from self-advocates and state officials. Our clients were able to be a part of conversations regarding accessibility and voting rights. We even had one client moved to tears when they spoke on these topics. Not only did our clients have a chance to advocate for themselves, but we were also able to give them hope that their future may be even brighter, and that's really what Restoring Hope is all about."

Having the freedom to speak up and fight for justice, meet with lawmakers, and advocate for our clients to live their best lives possible is remarkable. It's truly something to be grateful for in our great state of Missouri. Events such as D.R. L. D. not only empower those with a small voice in such a loud world to make positive change but open the door to inclusion and appreciation the gifts and talents of others we may have otherwise missed. All the issues discussed during the rally, which included transportation, employment, and the caregiver crisis, affect most of those we serve. Making life better for them improves their quality of life and, indeed, improves ours. If transportation issues were resolved, individuals could have steady jobs, get to their appointments on time, and provide them the assistance they need and deserve. If employers were willing and open to offering fair and equal employment to those with developmental and intellectual disabilities, this would provide individuals with more independence, a sense of contributing to their community and personal income, and help remedy under-employment issues business establishments face daily. It would also create more inclusion in our communities and a society in which everyone is accepted for their abilities. If caregiving positions were filled, individuals needing services would have a much better quality of life, which is huge! We all deserve a quality of life, no matter our physical and/or intellectual abilities. It would also provide a meaningful way of making a living for those looking for purposeful employment.

There are so many talented and caring people in our state who may not think they could care for another, but if you've been a caregiver for any time, you know it takes heart, not getting offended, and fills your life with tremendous purpose. It's known that hurting people hurt people, and caregiving can be extremely challenging. However, healing, positive change, and purpose follow when caregivers decide not to give up on others and fight to see they have a better life than the day before, regardless of behaviors inflicted upon them. Ask anyone in the medical field or nursing home setting, someone running a ministry or non-profit for the homeless, families who foster serving troubled kids, or anyone anywhere serving someone. I read a story of a man's grandma who, earlier in her years, was the kindest, most longsuffering, and generous soul you would meet. In her last days, however, she was not herself, throwing a glass of orange juice in her nurse's face. A little while after his grandma had calmed, the nurse returned with another glass of orange juice. That's what it looks like to not take offense and to live a life of service. People are struggling; they are hurt, confused, and have lived a life we could never begin to understand. A life worth living is one in service to others. I encourage you to fight for justice, advocate for others, love fiercely, forgive, and live a life of example. We are here for only a little while - make a difference with your time on this beautiful earth.

Give the give of hope with your words and actions!

Together, we are restoring hope one relationship at a time.

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