This article is included in our Spring 2022 newsletter. Click here to view the entire newsletter!
Our advocacy efforts for 2022
At Open Door, we believe that everyone is an advocate. Advocacy is a vital skill needed to ensure the best outcomes for individuals we support, our staff, and our industry as a whole.
Like any skill, it requires learning, practice, and engagement, which is why we’re making it a point of emphasis this year.
In each edition of our newsletter, we’ll have a conversation with Becky Sharp, Chief Executive Director of Open Door, who will share her thoughts on the progress our organization is making in a variety of areas.
In this edition, she talks with Andrew Stinson, Marketing Coordinator at Open Door, about the ways our leadership program is helping with advocacy and staffing efforts, how the feedback from individuals we support is driving policy, and why having an individual join our Board of Directors will have such a great impact.
Andrew: I noticed that we’re putting more of a focus on advocacy this year. What role do the individuals we support play in self-advocacy?
Becky: Our company has always had the vision of having individuals truly participate in advocating for themselves, the field at large, and their services. They’ve guided management here on what’s important in their lives and what we should be paying attention to. I feel like we’ve made steps every year to get there, but most recently our Advocacy Committee started writing policies.
Andrew: That seems like a major step! What feedback do we receive from folks in the Advocacy Committee?
Becky: Every meeting, they’ve been giving feedback into governance, decisions within the company, and our policies and procedures for how we do things. They’ve been very helpful! The group heard the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are coming for providers, and they gave us feedback on that. Transportation is also a big issue: They told us which vehicles are the most comfortable for them and what they’d like them to look like. For example, they said that our vehicles don’t necessarily need to say, “people receiving services are riding in this vehicle.” In addition, this year the Advocacy Committee is receiving financial reports on the company and they’re giving feedback on what they think staff wages should be and what we should spend money on that would impact their lives.
Andrew: It’s really cool that their feedback is getting the attention it deserves. I’m sure it’s helpful to get that information directly from the folks we support.
Becky: We want to continue to build on that. They’re also getting involved in outside advocacy groups like the Ohio Self Determination Association (OSDA), Project Steps Toward Independence and Responsibility (STIR), and participating in DD Awareness Day at the Statehouse. They’re connecting with the legislators and learning what it truly means to share what is important to them. Advocacy is very important here and will play an important role in the budget season, in rulemaking in general, and ultimately in what services look like in the future.
Andrew: That’s great! I know we’re actively seeking an individual we support to join our Board of Directors. Can you talk a little about that?
Becky: Yes! Previously, we had only been seeking members from external sources to join our board. Three years ago, we added a family member of an individual we support to the board. Individuals from the Advocacy Committee said, “It’s cool that you have somebody that’s a family member but sometimes our voices differ from our family in what we really feel is important.” And that really hit us: Why do we not have somebody on the board that receives services?
Andrew: It seems like that will be a great way to promote self-advocacy for those we support.
Becky: That’s true. And they would be an active voting member—their voice equal to any other—and that’s something that was very important to us. One of the challenges initially was that no one wanted to be a part of the board because they felt like folks sitting around the table might judge their participation. But since then, our board members have connected directly with the Advocacy Committee, and we now have two candidates that have shown interest! One of them has officially applied and is meeting with the board about becoming a member. Our goal is to have someone attending our next board meeting in May who will help change the narrative based on what the individuals feel is important.
Andrew: Advocacy is also something staff members can participate in. Last year’s leadership training program was very well-received and now we’re bringing it back for year 2! How will this year’s program focus on advocacy?
Becky: At Open Door, developing leaders has become one of our main priorities. In last year’s leadership program, we focused on self-development, soft skills, things like that. This year, we’re focusing on what it means to be a leader in the field and the role advocacy plays in that. So, we’re connecting our future leaders here within the company to projects that will be presented to legislators and other administrators from the state like Medicaid and DODD so that they can get used to doing that and get some feedback on their presentation. For example, what is most effective when addressing them in writing? Is it a handwritten thank you card, an email through a platform, or something else?
Andrew: It’s cool that more people at Open Door will be taking part in these efforts.
Becky: Advocacy works better when more people get involved. It shouldn’t just be the CEO out advocating—all of us play a part in this. I think it’s a huge step for individuals with disabilities to be able to connect with their local political movements and for the staff who carry out these services to share their stories with policymakers and leaders from other government agencies.
Andrew: That’s an important point: Advocacy works better the more employees are involved in the process. I know a lot is going on in the world right now related to staffing and employee retention. What are the goals for this year’s leadership program related to staffing?
Becky: Research shows that your connection with management and supervisors and your connection to the mission are why people stay at their job. We can pay more, we can look at benefits, policies, and procedures, but if we’re not looking at our leadership structure and our supervision and management, we’re missing the ball as far as employee retention. Our leadership training program is developed to address that reality. I’m hopeful that during the course of our leadership training we’ll come up with creative management strategies that reach our DSPs in ways that make them want to continue to be a part of this journey with us.
Andrew: I know we always strive to show our DSPs how much they mean to the individuals we support, our organization, and the community. What are some ways we’ll focus on honoring our DSPs this year?
Becky: It’s something that is always a priority for us. We’re receiving ARPA funds this year which will be going back towards direct care staff retention and recognition. We’ve been gathering input from our stakeholders, including our DSPs, on ways we can best use those funds while following all guidance from the government. And it may feel like a long way off, but I’m already looking forward to DSP Week and our big annual DSP event in September. It will be here before we know it! Also, later this year we’ll again be participating in the Ohio Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (OADSP) Summit as well as OADSP’s Annual DSP Recognition Event. So, between our efforts to improve and recognize staff, the push for advocacy in our leadership program, and the prospect of having an individual we support joining our board, we have a lot to look forward to this year at Open Door.