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Profiles in Advocacy

Sharon Williams
Director, Parent Leadership Training Institute
PTLI is a twenty-week training program for parents around the state. Giving parents the tools to be effective child advocates and community leaders to improve the lives of Connecticut's children. PTLI is a program of the Connecticut legislative Commission on Children.

How did you come to advocacy? Describe your inspiration, the first problem or issue you advocated on

I have been politically active since I as a child - going door-to-door canvassing with my dad. The first issue that I took leadership on was in college. In NY, we have a Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and the state legislature proposed to cut the program drastically. I coordinated a statewide letter writing and voter registration campaign among NY colleges and universities. I put together a team to go to the Albany with our State Senator and the Vice-President of University Relations. Not only was TAP not cut, we received a line item increase

How do you feel that you've been most effective?

I feel most effective building the capacity of others to become politically active and demystifying the process. I believe that policy belongs to the people and should not be overly professionalized. When you give people the tools for civic engagement they become more involved and stay involved because they are vested in the process.

What advice would you give to new advocates? How can they be most effective? What lessons have you learned?

Patience and perseverance are essential. The process is relational.

If advocates are linked to operations, they need to build better impact analyses of how budget cuts affect services delivered and adversely affect client outcomes. Advocates also need to engage the importance of diversifying the messenger and the power of personal stories. Policy makers want to hear from their constituents and want to know how they can help. Advocates should see themselves as conduits of a process to get more people engaged.

Why is it important for consumers to advocate for systems change as well as for themselves and their families?

When systems work closely with consumers and parents, institutions improve their capacity to work with and empower parents, parent involvement policies, consumer-driven service delivery, and leadership opportunities for parents. Consumer involvement strengthens the overall process and positive outcomes for children and families. There are certain business practices that should be adopted - the role of consumerism and continuous quality improvement paradigm are two that social service and policy industries should adopt more readily.

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