Capitol fellowship program a great experience

Hello, my name is Roberta Blomster and I am a client and self-advocate from Merrick, Inc. I had the honor of taking part in the 2010 Capitol Fellowship Program and I’m going to let you know about the wonderful experience that I have with the program. 

Feb. 4 was the first day of the program and it started with the press conference. Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, introduced the fellows and the senators who were taking part in the program. After that, it was time for the photos-including the one with each intern and their senator or senators. I was assigned to Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, which is in northern St. Louis County. Besides meeting Tomassoni, I also met his legislative assistant, Laura Bakk (wife of Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook); his committee administrator, Cap O’Rourke and David Jensen, one of the Senate fiscal analysts. I took a tour of the capitol and sat in on the opening session on the Senate floor. Feb. 11 was Disability Day at the Capitol and I got to see some of the rally. The best part was when Sheran brought up the program. I met Michael, a page who also works for Tomassoni and was running into a lot of my friends that I know from Advocating Change Together, Remembering with Dignity, Arc and other groups.

Feb 18th was a very fun day. I was not only interviewed by Arc Greater Twin Cities for the 2009 Annual Report Realize Your Power, but I also got to hear U.S. Senator Al Franken speak and found that he still has his sense of humor intact. I also invited Tomassoni to see a self-advocacy group at Merrick in action. 

April 11-14, I was in Washington, D.C. for the Disability Policy Seminar as part of the Arc Greater Twin Cities delegation with Kim Keprios, Meredith Salmi, and Erin Zolotukhin-Ridgeway. I had the Capitol Fellowship Program mentioned in the short story that I had done for the Hill Visits on April 14. Those visits were with staff of these members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation: Franken, Congressman John Kline, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, Congressman Keith Ellison, and Congressman Jim Oberstar. I handed them copies of my short story and for three of the visits, I spoke about the program. For the visits with McCollum’s staff, I did mention the goal that I have: To have people with disabilities intern at the Minnesota offices of members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation.

April 29 was the final day of the internship. I got two treats from MN Works!-a certificate signed by Tomassoni on my completion of the program and a binder to take a little stroll down memory lane (which included their November 2009 newsletter that had a story on the Capitol Fellowship Program).

Weekly lunches included visits with state senators including Sheran, John Doll, Ken Kelash, Lisa Fobbe, John Marty, Tomassoni, Mary Olson, Ellen Anderson, Larry Pogemiller, and Ron Latz, and representatives of WACOSA, the State Council on Disability, the MN Works! Board; the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and members of the Senate. These lunches have been very informative and helped me out a great deal.

With regards to federal funding for MN Works! , U.S. Sen. Al Franken has requested $300,000 solely for the Capitol Fellowship Program; while U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has requested $250,000 under Public Sector Employment for people with disabilities.

 The program has drawn attention. My participation has been mentioned in the Vadnais Heights Press, Access Press, Hibbing Daily Tribune and MN Works! April 2010 newsletter.  

For more information on the Capitol Fellowship Program, go to http://blog.mnworks4you.org