Throughout the United Way of Story County (UWSC) LIVE UNITED campaign, this column is highlighting different programs in each of the three community impact areas of education, income and health to give readers an idea of the work being done locally.
With our focus on community impact, the United Way network has a key role to play in advocating for good public policy. Without community input, our priorities in education, income and health will lose critical government policy and funding support. However, advocating doesn’t just involve lobbying on a specific piece of legislation. There are plenty of other ways to advocate at the local level … learning, engaging and raising awareness about issues, programs and/or organizations.
In the area of education, UWSC supports advocacy programs through organizations such as the Arc of Story County. The Arc, located in Ames, is an advocacy-based nonprofit organization working to improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Story County.
The Arc acts to preserve and protect fundamental rights and support legislation that impacts employment, housing and other civil rights of people with disabilities.
Tricia Crain, executive director for the Arc, says advocacy is synonymous with education.
"Advocacy IS education," says Crain. "There are a variety of ways we advocate and educate to make sure people with disabilities are treated with respect."
The Arc holds a candidate forum every two years so members can learn their positions on issues that directly impact them, which helps educate them on each candidate, making them better informed voters. One member was sent to a self-advocate conference last year to learn how to become a leader in the community with other self-advocates. Also, there are two self-advocates on the Arc’s board of directors who are informed and engaged in running the organization.
United Way of Story County is the only funding source for the Arc’s Advocacy Program.
"We also rely on grants to further subsidize the program," Crain said. "We use grant funds for workshops, candidate forums, our new Adopt-a-Legislature and Pilot Parent programs and events throughout the year that educate our members on what advocacy means to them."
UWSC as an organization can certainly speak to the benefits of advocating. For 60 years, we have depended on many advocates across Story County to help fulfill our vision and mission, and we’ll continue to appreciate those that advocate on our behalf for years to come.
Sara Wilson is marketing director of United Way of Story County, a strategic leader in building countywide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support and evaluate effective human services, especially in the areas of education, income and health, for our diverse community.