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Sunflower clients, staff make voices heard at the State Capitol
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Sunflower Diversified Services representatives gather at the Governor’s Office during the recent Push Day at Topeka. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

TOPEKA – When Sunflower Diversified Services representatives made their voices heard during Push Day in Topeka, they didn’t simply ask for an increase in funding.

They shared specific reasons as to why a funding hike is so important to people with intellectual disabilities and delays, said Lacie Gibson, training/advocacy manager.

“Sunflower’s services are the lifeblood of people who want and deserve to live as independently as possible,” Gibson said. “Most clients want to live alone or with only one roommate but they need a helping hand to do that.

“This desire for independence goes hand-in-hand with further supporting direct-care staff members who provide Sunflower services every day. Better wages for these employees could attract more applicants and help us retain the great staff we have now.”

Gibson noted that services also are crucial to people who choose to live in one of Sunflower’s two group homes. The needs vary from only a few hours a week to full-time support.

If legislators don’t act on funding requests, “it will greatly impact our ability to provide services,” Gibson added.

Ten clients and three staff members attended the March 26 event at the State Capitol, continuing the legacy of Sunflower’s representation at Push Day for many years.

“Every year this affords clients the opportunity to stand in front of hundreds of people and share their message,” Gibson noted. “We take great pride in watching and listening to clients who show a lot of heart when they explain their concerns.

“They know what they are pushing for and that their voices make a difference. Push Day allows clients to advocate for themselves by knocking on legislators’ doors to talk about their lives and the need for services. They walk out of that building knowing they have accomplished something important.”

Gibson, who has attended the event for three years, noted Push Day gives her and other staff members an up-close look at the Legislature and how it works.

“I learn something new every year,” she commented. “This event opens my eyes a little more each time and reinforces my desire to fight for the people Sunflower supports.

“Clients make it known that we are here and we are from Great Bend,” she added. “They put a face and a voice to the direct role lawmakers play in supporting people with disabilities who want to live fulfilling lives like everyone else. Our clients amaze me.”

Jon Prescott, Sunflower executive director, who also attended Push Day, noted that clients and staff took the opportunity to visit each local legislator’s office. They were able to talk with Sen. Mary Jo Taylor and Sen. Jim Denning, majority leader.

“All of us appreciate their time and willingness to listen to our concerns,” Prescott said. “Legislators and their staffs were accommodating and understand that Sunflower needs even more support at the state level.”

InterHab, the state organization that supports Sunflower and similar agencies, sponsors Push Day.

Sunflower is a non-profit agency that serves infants, toddlers and adults with disabilities in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 53rd year.