May 21, 2018
By Julie Peters, Communications Director
Members of Opportunity Partners’ Committee of Advocacy & Leadership (COAL) say being a part of the group has brought them new friendships and confidence in how to advocate around issues important to them.
“This group has taught me how to be a better advocate and how to be a better person … “ – Bobby
“I like to be included … it has helped me learn how to serve others …” – Debbie
“I really like it,” – Ryan
These were among the reasons COAL earned an inaugural Life Enrichment Award from the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR). COAL provides a forum for people with disabilities to stand up for themselves and ensure their voices are heard.
Mike Kraines, MOHR Board member and Executive Director of CHOICE, presented the award May 18 at Opportunity Partners-Koch Campus.
Seven years ago, Opportunity Partners launched COAL, to “ignite” in everyone the power of advocacy. It currently has 50-plus members, representing several Opportunity Partners campuses and programs, and its members meet regularly to determine what issues are important to them and how to get involved. Over time, COAL has “become a thing” at Opportunity Partners, and members look forward to its ongoing activities and meetings.
Opportunity Partners’ COAL groups are participant-led and supported by employees passionate about public policy efforts. All of COAL’s activities start with the COAL members themselves; they decide what issues and events they will participate in. For example, during a planning meeting last January, Koch Campus COAL members said they wanted to run a food drive to support a local food shelf. Members said they wanted to visit each department and hand out flyers to staff and fellow persons served. Due to the efforts of the COAL members and staff, the food drive brought in a record-breaking 831 pounds of food!
COAL has a regular “life update” segment of the meetings. During this time, people share a variety of news items. Sometimes people share things that are happening in their life—changes in their families, moving to new apartments, new jobs or changes in their jobs. People also use this time to share new ideas for our campus or things they want to talk about with their legislators.
Learning how to advocate for oneself helps create a foundation for success in all areas of life. People with disabilities need to learn and practice advocacy in order to build self-directed lives, but as historically disenfranchised members of society, it’s especially important that they get involved in the legislative process and have their voices heard. COAL provides people supported by Opportunity Partners a chance to do just that, and so much more! People with disabilities can and should play an active role in shaping the policies that affect them and influencing outcomes that have a positive personal impact. As we say in the self-advocacy movement, “nothing about us without us!”
Together with staff allies, COAL members have written letters to lawmakers and rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol on issues they felt were very important. The group has organized meetings about legislative advocacy, accessible voting for people with disabilities, healthy relationships, anti-smoking campaigns, anti-bullying efforts, and much more.
COAL is sustained through conducting its own fundraising efforts in partnership with Opportunity Partners staff allies. For example, it held a Valentine’s Day sweetheart dance, which was open to individuals from similar organizations and raised about $500 for COAL.
“Having a good life involves connecting with the people around us and being involved in our community and activities outside of work,” said Mike Burke, president of MOHR. “Nonprofit service providers are innovators when it comes to enriching the lives of the individuals with disabilities and they deserve more credit for their work.” The MOHR organization represents more than 100 such day programs across the state.
The nonprofit’s state association and award organizer, MOHR, has a mission to advocate and support its nonprofit members in providing meaningful services to persons with disabilities and communities served. Members are committed to respect for each individual, a person-centered approach and expanding opportunities. More information is available at mohrmn.org.