By Lisa Morgan, Chief Operating Officer at Lutheran Family Services of Virginia
Knowing that you have the opportunity to influence public policy on behalf of the individuals you serve is a powerful feeling. The week of November 4, I joined fellow advocates from Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania to speak up on behalf of the Lutheran Services in America – Disability Network (LSA-DN) in Washington, D.C. We arrived at the table with stories and shared best practices, outcomes, and challenges, which allowed us to advocate for the people we serve, the people we employ, and for our industry.
While making the rounds in Washington can be intimidating, LSA-DN’s director of public policy and advocacy, Dania Douglas, made us seem like seasoned pros! I was joined by Rita Wiersma of Community Involvement Programs, Juliana Keen of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Maureen Quinn Yamamoto of KenCrest, and Loretta Murray of Mill Neck Family of Organizations. Our team met with representatives of federal departments and agencies — including the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — as well as staff from the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Many of us met with staff from Senate and Congressional offices for our respective states to establish or build on existing relationships.
The range of topics we discussed was far-reaching — from Medicaid to workforce issues to employment for people with disabilities. A highlight for me was being able to meet with the Virginia Senator Tim Kaine’s staff to thank him for co-sponsoring the Direct CARE Opportunity Act, legislation that would support our workforce. I was able to give them profiles of some of our outstanding direct care workers at Lutheran Family Services of Virginia, as well as share the challenges our organization has in recruiting and retaining staff in this tight job market.
Everyone with whom we met seemed interested in our feedback, and some were surprised by our awareness of potential policy changes and innovation in our field. We left feeling optimistic about new initiatives, grants, and efforts being made to improve services and access for people with disabilities around the country.
Advocacy is such an important part of our jobs, but just as important are the relationships we build with each other while speaking up for those we serve. In between meetings we had an opportunity to learn more about each other, sharing thoughts and insights into our respective organizations, roles, and the industry. And more than that, I enjoyed simply getting to know my colleagues better.