The Power of Advocacy
Through the VT LEND program, Eva Wilson witnessed the power of advocacy first- hand. During the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) Conference in Washington D.C., which many VT LEND
participants attended, she was part of a group who spoke with a staff representative from the Congressional Office of Stacey Plaskett, congresswoman for her home territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“At the Hill visit, we talked about
the impact of COVID-19 on education and health disparities funding and resources for individuals with disabilities, especially during COVID,” she says. “The platform allowed us to show how residents of the U.S. Virgins Islands are affected
in these areas.”
This positive experience in D.C. is serving her well in her leadership role as special education district coordinator.
“I have gained a better understanding of advocacy work. It can be both rewarding
and uncomfortable. Advocacy entails good planning,” she says. “It’s about taking time to understand the system issue and the change you want to make. Advocacy takes courageous effort and the support of community stakeholders.”
VT LEND has also connected her with like-minded professionals. Through her internship, she’s working with a Vermont- based intervention team. Participating virtually in meetings and workflow is helping her to see similarities and differences
with the special education department in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“I’ve learned about processes to incorporate into the work we’re doing now, including new ideas that can help strengthen our program and the delivery of services
to families even more,” she says.
In VT LEND, Wilson has found a strong community: Participants and mentors bring a wealth of knowledge from their professional experiences.
“I appreciate the emphasis on diversity and
engaging in a learning community with fellow professionals from different cultural backgrounds,” she says.Health Equity in Minnesota
As the COVID-19 pandemic barreled down on Minnesota in the spring of 2020, Whitney Terrill found herself at the epicenter of
the state’s response. A disability fiscal policy analyst with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, she was eventually redeployed to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to develop and launch the COVID Community Coordinators initiative
(CCC), a program offering an additional layer of systems navigation for cultural, disability, and faith communities.
“My redeployment was like a dream come true for me because I wanted to be a part of responding to COVID, such an
important global issue with ongoing disparities,” she says. “I got to work with colleagues I deeply admire at the MDH Center for Health Equity to solve emergent community issues related to COVID-19. The intensity and sense of urgency was
very challenging, and we all had to bring our full knowledge and skills to the response.”
Her time in the VT LEND program has already strengthened her skill set and her resolve.
“My training during VT LEND prepared
me to think holistically about disability communities and cultural and linguistic competence,” she says. “It gave me self- advocacy stories, frameworks, and evidence to address barriers facing people with disabilities and other key populations
in our community response model during COVID.”
Terrill’s path to disability rights and advocacy has been circuitous: After graduating from Hampton University, she spent time working for Goldman Sachs before changing course.
When she experienced a stillbirth while working for the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington D.C., she decided to become a doula part-time to support expectant mothers and families.
“That was a really challenging period of my
life. When I lost my son at that time, I found myself confronted with grief, statistics, and a need to seek out more education and resources,” she says. “But it also was the spark for me to try to understand more about primary care. I
was consumed, and kept asking myself: How do I stop this from happening to another family? How can I help other mothers?”
Although she considered medical school, she saw the promise of creating change through public policy and moved
back to her home state of Minnesota to work in the field. VT LEND has been a source of great knowledge and support.
“Building relationships through such a transformational learning and advocacy com- munity is something that I know
has already transformed me personally,” she says. “I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.