A Humble Thank You

by, Renee wood

On October 6th my colleagues surprised me in a room full of like 500 to 600 people, with the Synergy Award. On the PAR website it describes the award as; “This award represents the interaction of two or more agents or forces so their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects”.  It is the main award of the Synergy Conference.  The story behind getting me to the conference to receive the award is humorous, so I’ll share that in another blog.  But first …

After realizing slowly it was me they were honoring, and becoming rather emotional about it (I’m really not good dealing with surprises), in my short speech, I neglected to thank all those who got me to where I am, and help me accomplish what I have so far.  There are many throughout my life who saw more in me than I did, for now though I like to focus on those people in the last 8 years who helped me be known in the State so I could accomplish the changes I dreamed of – they’re not to fruition yet, but they are in process and people are talking about freedom and equality for persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) as never before.  Although I had the “dream”, God and the New CMS Rules really spurred this much further than I could have without them.

The real credit goes to those who are “The Wind Beneath My Wings” who selflessly stay in the background while I take the lead, but without whose support I could never do what I do.  These are the people who feed me, dress me, bathe me, put up with late nights with CNN, and drive many hours to get me where I need to be on time.  These are my true heroes!  First and foremost, is my husband, Floris, who allows me to continue to blossom though he can’t keep up with me now.  But those first years on DD Council he was my steadfast attendant, sounding board, debater, who would not let me quit even when I felt I wasn’t making any difference (that’s another blog).  I truly miss him being on the road with me, those long conversations we had in the car discussing and debriefing the meetings and events.

When Floris could no longer care for me in this way, my friends stepped into this role, Linda, Ellen, Love, and now Donna.   My niece, Tyler, also is ready to pitch hit at a moment’s notice.  They each are unique and special in what they bring to my life.  I have grown from their perspectives and challenges.  There’s much humor too, like one of them yelling (I won’t say who) over a crowded room of business people “Hey Renee do you need to use the restroom”? (I pretended my name was not “Renee”).  Another friend using “words” that should be kept private!  Managing people who assist you, you always say “You have to make me appear professional to get me as far as I can go”!

Then there are those people who gave me opportunities and truly listened to my words and believed in me enough to take risks.  First and foremost in my mind is Carolyn Knight.  When I became Chair of DD Council (which was another one of those moments where I just couldn’t fathom what happened), I said “Carolyn one thing I want you to do is help me meet the “big people”, those who have the authority to create change”.  Carolyn said, “Ok, we can do that”!  I went home wondering why I ever requested that because at that time I was terrified of the “big people”.  So our first meeting was with Dir. Martin, and people don’t know this, but I was up all night wondering what someone like me could talk about with a State Director for an hour!  (Funny thing is our meetings easily ran into 2 hours with Dir. Martin – we always had plenty to discuss!)  And Carolyn’s like “Oh no Renee, you’ll be just fine”!  Carolyn was always my ally, cheerleader, confidant, mentor, and if colleagues can be friends, I’d consider her a friend.

All of the DD Council staff were great and helped me become a pretty good Chair, but there were certain staff that just stood out and help me grow into a well-rounded leader.  Fatica and Paul, or Paul and Fatica, whichever.  I have to say it both ways so they don’t quibble over whose name I put first!  Fatica kept me abreast of the “political climate” because timing and relationships are so important on how and when to bring forth issues.  Paul was my “debate coach”, I swear he’d make me argue for a glass of water when I’d prefer beer, but seriously it helped keep me sharp.  Council members put much trust in me and I always tried to honor that in whatever I attempted.

When I was voted Chair of Olmstead, Kathy Foley and I became fast partners in running this dynamic group.  I was so glad to have her as co-chair – I know I could not have done as well without her.  She always has my back and is there whenever I need her.  I love to laugh with her she’s much fun!

I should also thank all the State, and organizational directors I’ve meant with over the past years, especially Dir. Martin, Dir. Moody and Bridget Gargan for showing me the “big people” are not to be feared (although I still get butterflies and nervous when we meet, but I know now that’s just me), they do listen and value diverse opinions.

I know Bridget considers me a “big person” and she would like me to see myself in that respect.  Although I totally understand what she means as far as my leadership skills and being respected by State leaders, my heart lies with the little ones who no one hears, those who are stifled by systemic oppression, and who’s dreams will unlikely ever be actualized.  I’m honored to be welcomed into the tent and eat at the table with the “big people”, but at night I prefer to sleep under the bridge with those who have no name.  I just never want to forget where I came from and the suffering that still exists.  I fully realize we are moving in the right direction and struggling to give everyone a voice and a name.  My hope is someday we won’t see “big people” or voiceless people, but we will all have an equal voice!

Oh, and by the way, whoever put “State Advocate” on my name badge rather than “self-advocate”, a big thank you to you too, this did not go unnoticed!