Cody Harris and Lacie Gibson were “inspired” by a recent training academy and plan to follow up on what they learned.
Harris and Gibson represented Sunflower Diversified Services at the Grassroots Advocacy Leadership Academy in Topeka. They heard from legislators, policy makers, media professionals and advocates for people with intellectual disabilities and delays.
The Sunflower representatives were two of only 15 professionals to be nominated and accepted for the training.
Harris, community-employment specialist, and Gibson, training/advocacy manager, said that while all academy topics were eye-opening, a highlight was advice on how to build relationships with state legislators.
“The legislators at the academy reminded us that we are the experts in our field,” Harris said. “We are the best people to share information about serving people with disabilities. Those who represent us at the State Capitol need to understand the issues and we are eager to share our first-hand knowledge.”
The main message is that increased funding is necessary to provide more staff and better wages. This would allow Sunflower to provide enhanced services, as well as more participation in community activities.
“Part of our job is raising awareness,” Harris commented. “Sunflower does an excellent job of this locally by participating in numerous community events and sponsoring fundraisers. But we need to do more to connect with legislators who make decisions that affect the daily lives of people with disabilities and delays.”
Harris and Gibson plan to do more than send an occasional email or snail-mail letter to lawmakers. They seek more face-to-face time.
“We invite them to sit down and talk with us and clients - not just during the legislative session but other times throughout the year,” Harris said. “They are swamped during the session and work on many statewide issues.
“But when they are not in Topeka, maybe they will have time to talk and tour Sunflower’s facilities. Most people are amazed at the scope of our manufacturing plant and recycling operation, just to name a couple of examples.”
Gibson noted the grassroots academy was the “best training we could have ever hoped for. For instance, we learned how difficult it is to pass a bill at the State Capitol. It is good for us to understand what legislators face because it helps build a rapport and stronger connections with one another.”
As training/advocacy manager, Gibson concentrates on educating clients and staff, and finding new ways to advocate for people with disabilities.
“Clients at Sunflower are engaged in their communities but always want more opportunities,” Gibson noted. “The people we serve love to attend community events and interact with their neighbors. We strongly encourage people in central Kansas to become more involved with Sunflower.”
InterHab, the state organization that advocates for Sunflower and similar agencies in Kansas, sponsored the training in Topeka.
“Everyone from InterHab was extremely accommodating. They really know their stuff,” Gibson said. “They were laid back and down to earth, which made us feel even more comfortable. They were learning as we were learning.
“We also are beyond grateful to Sunflower for this educational opportunity. It reminded me of why I get up every morning.”
Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 53rd year.