By Ava Bartley, Advocacy and Engagement Director, FACT Oregon

I had the good fortune of joining FACT Oregon as its new Advocacy and Engagement Director, right before Oregon’s 2017 legislative session began, which gave me an opportunity to jump in to my new role with both feet and hit the ground running.

Although new to my job, as the parent of a child who experiences disability, and as a former FACT board member, I was not new to the transformative work FACT Oregon does every day across the state to support and empower families to dream big dreams and pursue whole lives in their communities for their children experiencing disability.

Somehow, despite starting the session with a $1.8 billion shortfall in the 2017-19 state budget, Legislators managed to balance the budget by the end of the session while avoiding most of the devastating cuts that were originally predicted for human services, education, health care and other critical areas.

As I reflect on the session, I think one of the most important takeaways for me was to never underestimate the power of our individual stories. I had many opportunities to witness first-hand the tremendous impact the stories of families and self-advocates can have on policymakers and legislators. They truly want to hear from their constituents and people who are willing to share their personal stories and experiences with them.

Perhaps most gratifying was to watch families who had never been to the Capitol before or who had never had an opportunity to meet with their legislators. What a privilege it was to help equip them with the information and support they needed to feel confident in telling their family’s story for the first time . . . and what a thrill it was when they caught the “bug” and came back to do it again later in session!

Looking ahead, I will be shifting my energy and attention to several exciting projects in the works that will provide new opportunities for individuals and families to engage with our organization statewide, including launching a new volunteer program and developing a comprehensive family leadership program. I will also be preparing for the upcoming short legislative session and continuing to develop resources to equip families with the information and support they need to feel confident and empowered to engage in advocacy and systems change efforts.

Many thanks to the families who wrote emails, made phone calls, came to an advocacy day at the Capitol, attended a training, met with legislators, and shared their stories! I am also extremely grateful for the support and collaboration we enjoyed with many other organizations in the disability, early childhood, children’s and education advocacy communities that helped us in our mission to keep families informed and engaged.

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer . . . and as always, be prepared, get involved, be heard!