Advocacy, to change “what is” into “what should be”
Last week my husband and I attended the Teal on the Hill event in Washington, DC. It was put together by the Spina Bifida Association (SBA) – whose color is teal, get it?
There were over 100 people just like me attending this event, from over 25 states, and all advocating for Spina Bifida (SB). Most people who attended had Spina Bifida themselves, while others had children or loved ones with SB – one of the things I loved most about attending this event. Before I heard about the Spina Bifida Association, I didn’t know there was a “Spina Bifida community.” I somewhat felt alone in this battle, but here I was, in a room full of people who cared and were passionate about SB. People just like me! It was amazing to meet people of all different ages, abilities and we had one unique thing in common. It was like being part of an exclusive club with the most wonderful group of smart, strong, independent people! When they told me their stories and struggles, every single one of them smiled and even laughed. They had such a great, positive attitude towards living and thriving as independent men and women, accepting what they have been dealt. I was so inspired and humbled. In fact, it was so exciting I could barely sleep the first night.
The Spina Bifida Association had painstakingly arranged meetings for us on Capitol Hill with members of Congress. We were broken into groups by state. My husband and I were there to represent New Hampshire and were paired with Jennifer who represented Massachusetts.
I have to tell you a little about Jennifer – this girl is amazing! She was very smart and well spoken. Even at the first meeting she seemed to know exactly what to say to get her point across. I felt like I could cry at any second and was at a loss for words. (Luckily that first meeting got the jitters out) I was really in aw of Jennifer the whole trip and felt so lucky to be paired with her.
We first met Jennifer (and everyone else) the night before heading to Capitol Hill. The SBA put together an informative training event to help rally the troops and provide everyone with material and talking-points that would give us the best shot at making a difference! We all talked a lot about our personal journey’s and then got ourselves even more excited about speaking with Congress. Here is our list we brought to educate and advocate!
- Ask them how much they know about Spina Bifida
- Influence an increase in funding for Spina Bifida within in the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and the Center for Disease Control
- Ask them to sign the Spina Bifida Caucus
- Advocate for quality adult care for people living with SB
- Advocate for affordable healthcare
- Tell them our stories! (I’ll share my story with you in one of my next posts)
Then the BIG DAY came… the day we would meet five different Senators and State Representatives from NH and MA; Elizabeth Warren (MA), Seth Moulton (MA), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Carol Shea-Porter (NH), Maggie Hassan (NH). Each member was so very nice, and each gave us about 20-30 minutes of their time. They all were very kind, engaged and seemed to care and listen about what we had to say. They asked a lot of questions and were really receptive to our ‘asks’, mentioning they were quite reasonable. I think they were really moved by our stories and also seemed delighted to have two strong, independent, smart women in front of them telling their lifelong struggles with so much passion and enthusiasm, all with a smile on their face.
At the end of the day I felt like I could conquer the world! I felt like a rockstar. I traveled all this way to sit right in front of the people that have the ability to make impactful decisions on my behalf, to educate them, and they truly listened. Talk about making a difference and making your voice heard!
So… what do I plan to do now? I plan to write thank you letters and send follow-up emails – I want to make sure they don’t forget about Jennifer and I, ensuring they follow through. I also plan to set up my own meetings with the local offices here in NH to continue to meet with our state representatives, and continue to share my journey!
That’s our trip in a nutshell. I want to say a BIG thank you to all of my friends and family for helping me attend this event. If it wasn’t for all of your love and support, I would’ve never gone. It was certainly a once in a lifetime experience that I’m so grateful to have. The memories from this trip and its inspiration will forever be engrained within me. It made me stronger, more brave and stand a little taller!
P.S. A special thanks to Vic Roy. He spent the day with us on Capitol Hill initially to make sure we found our way, but he ended up being more then a tour guide. He’s a friend and initiated as a Spina Bifida warrior too!
Also, to my husband, none of this would’ve even happened if it wasn’t for you! I love your passion and support and I know I’m a very lucky girl!