It’s winter and they’re predicting a warmer season than previous years—except for those who predict a colder winter. Wouldn’t you know it, though, both NOAA, the federal weather organization, and the Farmer’s Almanac are saying that November and December will be colder than normal. That gives us no time to acclimate to the cold. So, plan for the weather; jackets, scarfs, gloves and possibly a blanket in your backpack. You know me: I throw a poncho over it all, and this year they tell me that’s in style.
A new feeling came over the Charlie Smith awards banquet November 3. Even though it’s not the first year at the Bloomington location, the DoubleTree, it seemed much more comfortable and that it’s definitely now our place.
There were many more young people attending to salute Mark Braun, who at 23 is our youngest-ever Charlie Smith Award winner. We’re all in awe of Mark’s athletic abilities, and we are even prouder of his disability advocacy and dedication to mentoring other young people. Much of his spare time is spent coaching, motivating and teaching new athletes or future young leaders how much commitment and motivation it takes to push yourself on to higher achievement. Charlie was very dedicated to his nieces and nephews and it wasn’t unusual to see Charlie out and about at the State Fair or Taste of Minnesota or at outdoor concerts with some kids running behind him or wheeling behind him. When you would go to the Access Press office in the old days there was a box of toys for the kids to play with while they were hanging out with Uncle Charlie.
Some of these young adults are the next generation of disability leaders. We have to encourage every one of them to become the activists of tomorrow, whether they’re advocating for the needs of those living with a disability or working in one of the disability organizations. Those of us in the activist generation from the 1970s and on need to encourage young people to take the driver’s seat. I’d like to challenge each of us to introduce ourselves to a young person we can begin to mentor and advise. One of the things we have to pass on is the work of our generation and our predecessors, telling them about Charlie Smith, Ed Roberts, Justin Dart; let’s make sure they know how, Judy Heumann, Luther Granquist, Kitty Cone, John Tschida, Steve Larson, Harriet McBryde Johnson and Mel Duncan, have contributed to our community. This list of leaders is just a start, and it’s missing many important people—many of them without disabilities—but if each of us would start telling the old stories of activism and lobbying, we might be able to encourage the younger generation to “Lead On.” [These younger folks not only need our advice, they need us to listen to the challenges of their lives.] I hope you’ll consider how you might pass on some of your own self-confidence to get more emerging leaders to pipe up and speak out to do the educating of policymakers and the community at large.
This upcoming 2018 legislative session could present us with a very difficult and telling assembly. The telling part is going to be whether or not our legislators really do have the willingness to fulfill promises made over the years to Minnesota’s seniors and people with disabilities. Things are just not getting any better in the home care crisis. The record-breaking low unemployment rate and the inability to find and keep qualified, stable and compassionate home care workers has already hurt so many, including me. It’s extremely hard to live independently when you can’t depend on good caregivers; you can’t make appointments, you can’t plan your workday, you can’t plan ahead for most anything, it just makes it impossible to do what people with disabilities have been doing all their independent lives, and that’s planning ahead. Preparation is the key to thriving with a disability in today’s communities. Now, it’s almost impossible to find anyone willing to work as a PCA and train to be good at it.
We’re hearing lots of talk about legislative priorities for this year’s bonding session. As usual, the state’s November financial forecast will determine whether there is any surplus money to spend on increasing DHS funding. Unfortunately, the state has got itself so far behind on ensuring a livable income for home care workers that it will take a boatload of financial investment, along with compassion and political will, to increase the financial outlook for the home care workforce. And unfortunately, if something isn’t done to resolve this care crisis there will be a lot of us checking in to hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term institutional settings. Long-term institutions are the places our legislature has supported, places that have the commercial backing to hire the hard-hitting lobbyists. Those of us who want to live independently at home are going to have to speak up loudly, because we’re competing with the big medical services providers, and increasingly, with other service trades that are starting to be in desperate need of employees. Most of the trades are starting to see real losses in their workforce because of retirement and lack of trained workers, among them carpenters, plumbers, electricians and many more middle-income, blue-collar jobs. In the workforce, too, we all have an interest in developing young workers, mentoring to create the employees and leaders we need.
We all have to join together in this fight on for a much better tomorrow.