Sunday, February 7, 2010

One Voice

Do you know how a bill becomes a law? I sure didn’t. Besides the School House Rock video, I never paid much attention. Until recently, I never really cared. 

I never thought that I could make a difference in anything. I was one of those people who thought, it wasn’t even important to vote, because my one vote wouldn’t make a difference. Because of this ignorance, I missed out on a lot of education, a lot of opportunities, and so many different times, I could have made a difference. In September, I had an eye opening experience, and I have learned so much in the last few months. I do have a voice, my thoughts and ideas DO matter, and I CAN make a difference. I just didn’t know how. Until now.
During one of the first Family Nights at my daughters’ Head Start program, they elected a Policy Council Representative.  Before going to the meeting, I had thought about volunteering to do it. I have spent the last 3 years being involved in my oldest daughter’s school activities. She’s now in 2nd grade, I’m the Secretary of our version of the PTA, I’ve been a room parent for her class, coached her basketball team and just have been very active. So I thought, this might be a new adventure, to be more involved in my middle child’s education. My significant other, kind of knew I was just itching to get involved, so when they asked for nominations at the meeting, he quickly nominated me. I had NO idea what I was getting myself in to, nor did I know the effect it would have on my life over the next couple of months. About a month later, I went to my very first Policy Council meeting. It was a full day session, a lot of training, good food, and so much information. I became excited about the things to come for the year, and a little overwhelmed. During that session, we learned of a program called the Parent Ambassadors.
The WSA Parent Ambassador Program was made possible from a generous grant from the Peppercorn foundation. The parents selected for this program will participate in a yearlong parent advocacy program.  They receive training on legislative advocacy and grassroots organizing, and are responsible for training parents in their local programs and participating in organizing WSA advocacy campaigns.
I thought this might even be more exciting and interesting, so just for kicks, I went home, filled out the application, wrote my cover letter, and applied to the program. I soon learned that I was one of only 20 parents from the state of Washington, to be selected to be a Parent Ambassador. Once again, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it was something new, and a way to be involved, and make a difference somehow. I had no idea, the things these two programs would bring me. The knowledge, and information I’ve learned already, only a month in to the program, has been overwhelming, but in a completely positive way. I have learned that my ONE voice can make a difference.
Right now, our state is in a short session of the Legislature. They are reviewing and passing or failing, over 2000 bills for our state. Two of these bills, are extremely close to home for me, and as part of the Parent Ambassador Program, I have learned how to take it to the next level, and actually have my voice be heard on these subjects. House Bill 3141 is extremely important to me. It is changing the way the state’s Working Connections Program works. Working Connections is the childcare subsidy program offered to our states’ low income and working poor to help offset the costs of childcare. Without this program, I would not be able to afford daycare, so I can go to work. So when I learned of the Governors budget proposal, and the massive cuts to this program, I immediately wanted to know how to get involved. One day, I got an email from the Ambassador program leaders telling us, that they needed someone to testify on behalf of this bill. I responded saying that I was interested. I spent about 3 days preparing my testimony. Never knowing that such a thing was possible, I really had no idea what I was getting myself in to. I decided to go early, to see how other people were doing it, and watch and learn. Before even attending the first Parent Ambassador training, I was scheduled to testify to the House Ways & Means Committee on why this bill was important to me. This was a huge step for me. After attending two other committee hearings that day, the day was closing in, and it was getting closer to my turn. I was nervous, I had butterflies in my stomach, my palms were sweaty, and I just kept reading my testimony over and over to myself. The more we sat and waited for the hearing to start, the room was filling up. There were no seats by the time it started, it was standing room only, and there was virtually no room for standing either! Because this bill fell in to the Health and Human Services category, there were MANY people who wanted to testify. There were other bills being heard about home health care, and youth at risk programs, just to name a few. These programs all have supporters who wanted to be heard, and no cuts made to their programs. They are all very important programs. Because of the overwhelming amount of people, the Madam Chairman, made an announcement that all testimony would have to be under a minute.
I immediately started freaking out internally. A minute? What could I say in a minute? I started reading my written over and over, trying to memorize it, and pick out the most important pieces to be heard. Soon it came my turn, and I sat in the chair in front of about 15 Representatives to share a story about myself. I did it. I told why the program was important to me, how I strive to be a good example to my children, to get up and go to work, but if I didn’t have that subsidy, I would be forced out of the workforce. This is not something I want. I shared some details in that 60 seconds that felt like a lifetime, and more than likely, I could have read my testimony in close to that minute, but such is life, and at least I did it! Afterwards, Representative Kagi, one of the leaders in Early Education Bills and Laws, came out in to the hall way to ask me more about my story!! She wanted to know how this proposed cut would affect MY LIFE! It was amazing! I shared some more details with her, and with the help of Katy Warren, was able to give her statistics and numbers, but yet, a more “real person” approach by hearing how it would affect a real person. Not just a number!
Before getting involved in Policy Council and Parent Ambassadors, I never in a million years would have thought, that I would be asked to go the state capital to have my voice be heard. Never would I have made time to meet with my legislators, to tell MY story! A story, that is like so many others across the nation. I am not a statistic, but I am a number. And a number with a voice makes a powerful difference~!

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