By Carina Jones (Director of Clinical Services at Residential Options)
The self-advocacy committee, a committee comprised of 15 clients from Residential Options, participated in the Speak Up Speak Out Summit held in Springfield, Illinois at the Wyndham Hotel and Conference Center October 28th through the 30Th. This year’s theme was “Hear My Voice, Support My Choice”. The summit was developed by the ARC of Illinois and funded by the Illinois Council on Development Disabilities. The clients were able to apply for financial assistance to assist with hotel, registration and transportation fees.
Clients arrived in Springfield on October 28th for early registration, since the summit started its sessions on October 29th. Arriving early allowed the clients to participate in a tour of the state capital. While legislators were in session, their schedules did not allow time for individual conversations with the clients. The clients were excited to see the offices and meeting rooms while stating, “We will be back to talk another time.” After the tour, the clients shopped at the local mall and had dinner before resting so that they were ready for the next day’s events.
The event was comprised of keynote speakers, break out sessions, and Fun time! The clients were able to listen to stories from individuals with disabilities who have faced adversity and still accomplished their goals and achieved their dreams. The breakout sessions included trainings on Respect, the power off self-advocacy, and internet safety, just to name a few. The clients were even able to sit on a panel and given advice and support to other individuals. One of our clients stated, “It felt good to be called on to share with the group…. I felt really good.”
As always, the event makes sure to make time to have fun and boy do they know how to party. A Halloween themed dance was held on October 29th and everyone was encouraged to dress up while dancing to all the latest hits provided by the DJ. Now if dancing wasn’t your thing, then a Wii was set up for some good competitive bowling. The next morning, all the clients were dragging into breakfast saying things like, “Boy, I partied like it was 1965!” Another client said, “I’m getting old.” But everyone agreed the dance was one of the top favorites when discussing activities that are provided at the summit.
It was sad on Wednesday when all things came to an end as the team packed all their bags and loaded the van back up to head back to Alton. One client stated, “take me back.” The self-advocacy had one last meeting over lunch to discuss the event and what they had learned. One client said, “I learned that in order to get respect I have to give it, that’s where it starts, and that’s with my staff, my family and my friends.” Another client stated, “I learned how to make an action plan to help me achieve some of my goals- moving out on my own. I had to list when I wanted to do this and who I needed to get help from.” Staff stated, “it was nice to see the clients taking notes and actually paying attention.” Everyone agreed that the summit was an event not to miss and that they must continue to work to stay on the committee so that they can attend next year’s summit.