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Tania & Heather Tania Sammons became a citizen advocate in October 1999. She was asked to be a spokesperson on behalf of a young woman who was being expelled from public school because of being pregnant. What Tania learned is that if you have a disability and become pregnant you leave school, and if you don’t have a disability, you stay in school to work toward your diploma. As Tania and her protégé Heather got to know each other, Tania found how to be helpful in many other ways. Heather chose Tania as her birth coach and once the baby was born, Tania became a bit like an older sister helping a younger sister learn a lot of new things.
Tania and her husband Rich helped Heather graduate from Groves High school and get set up in a small inexpensive apartment in Port Wentworth. Tania invited three experienced mothers: Linda Wittish who is a magazine editor, Neel Foster who is an artist, and Molly McGoldrick who is a social activist, to become “the wise women.” Three young women with big professional lives but not yet with children—Holly McCullough, curator of the Telfair museum, Anne Fuller, a real-estate agent, and Annie Sarabia, a public relations consultant, became the “wild women.” This little group of people have helped Heather with her motherhood over the past 13 years. “She is my best friend” is how Heather described Tania at a recent citizen advocacy annualmeeting. Tania invited Bill Dawers, writer for the Savannah Morning News, to become a mentor for Heather’s younger brother. This is a story of many people connecting with many people in many different ways.
Mrs. Mozelle & June Mrs. Mozelle Collier was one of Savannah’s most powerful women. She wanted to start a ScoutTroop for African American girls back before that sort of thing was heard of. She wound up being the den mother for 8 troops at one time. She also wound up on the national Girl Scout board of directors later in her life. She became a citizen advocate for a youngster named June who was in foster care via Department of Children Services. The assumption was that a child with DownSyndrome was “un-adoptable.” Mrs. Collier went to the DFCS office every month and asked the social workers “What did you do last month to help June find a forever family?” This persistent spokesmanship paid off and June was adopted.
Janie & RachelJanie Johnson, a marketing representative for Southern Bell, agreed to become a crisis advocate. She got up outof her bed at 10:00 p.m. one night to go to Memorial Medical Center to talk her way into the pediatric intensive care unit to be with a child, Rachel, who was badly beaten. Her mother of the beaten child had followed herboyfriend to Savannah. The boyfriend was the abuser. There was no other local family. Janie went the next dayand the next and the next and became “the unofficial aunt.” She was the first person to realize that Rachel had some sight left and made sure that everyone knew that she was going to be back the next day and the next. When it came time for Rachel to leave the hospital, there was talk of sending her to Pennsylvania, where hermother was from, and having her committed to the state’s institutional system. Janie resisted and took dozens of pieces of paper out of her purse, each with the name of a person who had said “If there is anything I can do to help this child, you should let me know.” Janie said that all of these people would need to be called beforethe institutional idea could be considered. One of the people called shared the story with a neighbor who went to their Association for Retarded Citizens board meeting and shared the story. One of the people who heard the story there shared it with one of their neighbors who said, “My husband Frank and I have been talking about adopting a child.” This is the family that Rachel has lived with for the past 20 years.
Al & Quinton Al and Lucille Collins have both been educators for the great part of their adult lives. Now retired they live near Savannah State University. Al accepted an invitation to become a citizen advocate for a teenager who was slipping into the Juvenile Justice system. Quinton had been expelled from school and was living with his mother who was unfortunately having very serious mental health problems.Al and Quinton first met on a Saturday morning over the Breakfast Bar at Shoney’s on Victory Drive. From there they went back to Al’s house to shoot some pool in his den. Al began to visit Quinton at home and helped him get back in school. He’d visit the school to make sure things were going OK. On some Saturdays Al would have Quinton come over and help around his house, make some money, have lunch and play pool. Quintons mom continued to struggle and they both moved in with his grandmother on East 35th Street. Tragically, her house burned, and she was killed. Quintoncame to Al’s the next morning and he raised some emergency money through his church for Quinton and his mother. The family rallied and Quinton and his mom went to live with relatives in Jacksonville.
Al & Donald In 1986 Al Chassereau was introduced to a youngster named Donald who was living at Georgia Regional Hospital. After picking Donald up and spending time together for about 6 months, Al decided that he no longer wanted to take Don back to the institution. They decided to become afamily and Al adopted Donald. Don had grown from boy to man and Al has grown from man to father.
Linda & Carmen Linda Davis was introduced to a 24 year old young woman named Carmen who lived at Chatham Nursing Home. Linda lived in Savannah and worked in Hinesville. This was important in that Carmen’s parents lived in Hinesville. Linda visited Carmen often at the nursing home and also began to get to know her mother and father. She was able to help Carmens mom and dad realize that they had gotten really bad advice about Chatham Nursing Homebeing where Carmen should live. She helped them see that Carmen belonged at home. She helped them find some supportive services to make that possible aswell. Linda learned a hard lesson as a citizen advocate. She told us that one time she had lost her temperabout something in the nursing home and that she had yelled at people in the nurse’s station. After Carmenwent to back to live with her family she said in her softvoice, “Do you remember the time you yelled at them? They pulled my finger back that night.” We need to remember to be strategic as advocates, rather than simply vocal, to consider the safety of the person we are advocating for as well as the issue or concern we are bringing forward.
Cassie & Ashley Cassie Carpenter lives on Wilmington Island with her mom and dad and two sisters. She is speaking at one of our covered dish annual meetings. Cassie is talking about being a citizen advocate for a youngster who is about her age and who lives on Wilmington Island as well. Cassie told us about the ways she and Ashley had found to spend time together and have fun together. Many human service professionals in Chatham county would consider Ashley to have verycomplex disabilities. Cassie, like most youngsters worries less about all of that and more about how to have fun together.
Trey and Kenneth One of the nice things these men do together is celebrate Kenneth’s birthday every year in real style. New suits, ties, and Trey Matthews became Kenneth’s citizen advocate shoes are bought. in August of 1998. Kenneth was often living in the Trey organizes a streets, sometimes living with people who would big dinner, either inliterally pick him up and confine him in their home a good restaurant and take his Supplemental Security Check. Trey or at his house. had repeatedly complained about one of these Friends are invited, situations to the Department of Family and and new friends are Children Services Adult Protection Service Unit. made. For Kenneth They had visited twice and taken no action. Trey and for the people went to pick Kenneth up one Saturday and found who have gotten to him in horrible shape. He called the Pooler police. know him through An officer arrived and called for back up after he Trey and his saw the conditions in the home. Kenneth was friends, it is an taken by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center evening of joy. for medical treatment. Trey lobbied for better response from the local human service system andeventually Kenneth was assisted to find a reputable adult foster home.
Susan Earl Susan Earl agreed to go to a meeting about a child who was being expelled from school and sent to Georgia Regional Hospital. She remembers sitting at a table with over a dozen various educators and a very shy 12 year old. After a lot of people said what they thought the right thing to do was, Susan gently asked this young man himself what he thought. He hated being in a 3rd grade classroom withchildren much younger than he was. He wanted to go to what he called “real school.” One thing lead to another and Susan came to realize that school was just the tip of the iceberg in this youngster’s life. She began going to Juvenile Court with him, expecting the probation officers and court workers to be more creative and more passionate. She also began to see how many people in his family were falling into trouble and began to realize how hard it would be for him to have a different life. As years have turned into decades, nearly two decades now, Susan has stayed in touch. 96 letters, 96 letters from prison she keeps in a shoe box. 96 letters to her, 96 she has sent to him. Susan highlights the idea of “standing with” as well as the idea of “creating change.” She highlights the idea of bearing witness to another persons suffering. We value the idea of not walking away when you realize that you can’t fix or change things. We value solidarity.
Tina and the Kellys Adoption is a role that some people who become citizen advocates choose. Letha Kelly had been a citizen advocate for a woman who lived in her neighborhood. She helped Donna read her mail, pay her bills and do other things until Donna moved from Savannah. Letha learned that being blind was not what had hurt Donna the most in her life. She learned that being rejected by her family was the deep wound in Donna’s life and she decided that one day she wanted to prevent that wound from developing in a child. Letha and her husbandKevin began thinking about adopting a child because of this experience. They thought about it for several years and then one day Letha called Tom Kohler and said “We are ready.” Tom arranged for the Kellys to meet Tina Marie who lived in a foster home here in Savannah. After they met, Letha and Kevin knew she was the childthey wanted. They brought their daughter to meet Tina soon after. It was a family decision. Tina would become Tina Kelly if the paperwork and adoption process could fall into place. This turned out to be tougher than you would think. Eventually a fine and kind attorney here in Savannah Jon Sprague took the situation in hand and moved the process forward. Tina Marie went to live with her new family, the family that would become herforever family. Tina was just a baby. She has since graduated from Gwinnett County High School where she was in the Honors Art Appreciation class (her mom is an art teacher so she comes by it naturally). Now Tina, her mom and dad are looking for ways for her to find a good and interesting job.
Solomon and Jo Amusan work downtown. Solomon is an attorney, and Jo runs his office. They also run a couple of small businesses. They are very busy people, but not too busy for Solomon to accept the role of legal guardian and ally for a man named Nakia. Solomon accepted this role in January 1998 after a citizen advocate, Louisa Abbot spoke with him about a young man who had been dropped off at Georgia Regional Hospital on his 18th birthday by the woman who was his foster mother. Nakia was now with out a place to live and with out anyone to really worry too much about it. Solomon beganNikia and the attending meetings and sticking up for Nakia. He used his charm andAmusans persistence and status as Nakia’s legal guardian to press the state officials to provide a home place Nakia’s photograph is on rather than an institutional space the table with all of the for Nakia. On some Saturdays, Amusan family photos Solomon picks Nakia up in his in their law office. vintage Mercedes Benz and they go out to breakfast and then hit some garage sales together.
Pat & Burke Mr. Pat Lyons and Mr. Burke Whitney were introduced to one another in January of 2001. Mr. Whitney’s mother had passed away leaving no family here in Savannah to monitor what sort of life Burke would be living at the group home where he lived. Pat owns River Services, a boating supply business in Thunderbolt. He grew up here, is part of a big family, and is an active member at Blessed Sacrament Church near his home in Ardsley Park. Pat, his wife Patti, and Burke enjoyed going to Savannah Sand Gnat baseball games and Burke loved coming over to Pat and Patti’s house. Burke was in the hospital several times and Pat learned how to be more than an visitor. He would call himself a protector. He came to see that it would be too easy for people to make a mistake or to choose not to offer Burke the best of care. Pat learned that part of being a citizen advocate is to be a protector and that you have to be present to protect. When Burke died several years ago, Pat and Patti traveled to Washington D.C. to attend Burke’s burial in Arlington Cemetery where Burke’s parents are buried.
Louisa & TheresaLouisa Abbot and Theresa Ennis have known one another since June of 1994. During that time Louisa has followed Theresa as she was movedfrom nursing home to nursing home in and out of Chatham County. She didn’t give up when she realized that Theresas life was hard and would probably stay hard for a long time. She found great strength in Theresa; the women share apersonal relationship filled with moments of true grace. Judge Abbot has tried to inspire the State of Georgia to offer home life, not bed space, toTheresa. This is a good example of someone truly growing to love another person.
Gary Foss was in a tough situation in 1980. He had moved to Savannah from California where his family had made life miserable for him. Once here, he wound up trading his Supplemental Security check for a place to stay and got caught up in the 28% interest loan companies that used to dot our downtown before it became so upscale. Tom Kohler met Gary through a man who worked at Goodwill Industries and after meeting and getting to know Gary a little bit he invited local businessman Sheldon Tenenbaum to become Gary’s citizen advocate.Gary and Sheldon Over a period of years Sheldon has helped Gary find an apartment he could afford and helped him keep his financial affairs in better order. Both men share and admire a common trait. Both men are stubborn and admire toughness and tenacity in other people. Over the years Sheldon has enlisted the help of many other people as he has tried to make sure Gary has the things he needs to live a comfortable life. Here you see him with City Council person Leon Chaplin. The diaper bag over his shoulder is for daughter Jessica, now several years graduated from Brown University.
Lots of funny stories are part of what these two people have between them. One of my favorites is the time that Sheldon was in Israel with a group showing our local congressional delegation around. Gary got through several layers of secretaries and through long distance calls to have a phone handed to Sheldon while he was standing on the Golan Heights to “ask Sheldon a question.” This was before cell phones. This was when you had staff to deflect calls while you did important business. No staff could stop Gary. Gary recently celebrated his 60th birthday with Sheldon doing thehonors of cutting the cake. There were times, many times when people thought Gary would never live a full life. It turns out that he will live a full life thanks to having one person takehim really seriously as a human being.
Sherry and SallySherry Erskine and Sally Hearn were introduced in 1979. Sally was middle aged, Sherry in her 30’s and just starting out in what is now a successful pension planning business. When they met, Ms. Hearn was living in a personal care home run by a woman Sherry came to call “the devil woman.” She helped Ms. Hearn find her own apartment. Ms. Hearn has lived in her own place, done her own shopping, and lived her own life since then. Red is Ms. Hearns favorite color. Christmas her favorite holiday. One of the great traditions at Sherry’s house at Christmas is Ms. Hearn singing country music. She has a classic country voice filled with the sound of hard life and hope that makes country music real and right. What do good dependable decent daughters do for their mothers as their mothers age? These are the things that Sherry does for Ms. Hearn today.
Stories of Citizen Advocacy are told in many different ways…
Local newspaper columnist and English professor Bill Dawers has taken several citizen advocacystories and created a 15 minute spoken word performance piece titled Voices of Advocacy. This is performed in coffee shops and other public and private venues around town.
Helping people be together allowspeople to see one another in new ways.
We have been blessed to havemany fine mentors along the way…
Ms. Reeves leading the way…District Attorney David Locke, Real EstateDeveloper John Neely, and SavannahMorning News Editor Tom Barton with Ms.Reeves Board member and moral compass Ms. Addie Reeves.
Two powerful teachers… Tom Lamar and Judge Louisa Abbot
Over the years, Mr. W. W. Law spent several afternoons with us. He knew everyone and was always willing to help us meet people. He also was full of wisdom. We asked him one day “Mr. Law, what scares you the most these days?”. We assumedOutgoing chairman, Tom he would talk about raceHussey, with incoming relations or the erosion of passion in the civil rightschairman Mr. Jim Burke movement or economic inequality. Without a moment of hesitation he said “people are so busy going to meetings that Tom Kohler and W.W. Law they don’t have time to visit”. That’s what scared him the most. Lots of wisdom.
Reverend Douglas HunekeMrs. Ellis Reverend Douglas Huneke from Tilburn Presbyterian Church in San Francisco California has decades of experience in the study of altruism. We packed into the JEA auditorium for a public presentation and spent two days listening to and learning from Reverend Huneke.This is the best financial supporter you can have.Mrs. Ellis has given every year for over 20 yearsand when she comes to the annual meeting shelooks, listens and decides if she will give in thenext year.
Through the years we have foundlots of different ways to bring lots of different people together in surprising ways…
CSCA Annual Meeting Every spring we have a covered dish dinner and annual meeting. Between 100 and 140 people turn out forfood, fellowship, and stories. Jodee Sadowski from The world famous Breakfast Club at Tybee volunteers as kitchen manager some times.
Food of all kinds pours out of people’s kitchens and into the social hall of First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue.
We invite citizen advocates toshare what they are learning with other citizen advocates and with the community at large….
Here you see Assistant City Manager Henry Moore talking about his protégé’s life atCoastal Correctional Institute and about how William was literally dropped off at thedoor of the mental health center when discharged from prison: a difficult situation for a man who does not read, use the phone or live here. Barbara Heuer, Martha Nesbitt, Stephanie Churchill, Malcolm Mackenzie listen and consider Henry Moore’s citizen advocacy story
Linda Wittish listens as the conversation is captured on chart paper. Many of the small group meetings are recorded in this way and are later prepared and mailed to other citizen advocates. Learning from people who are actually involved, learning and framing their experience and insights is a big part of how citizen advocacy works. Practical sweat of the brow keeps us focused. Ms. Pam Hensley talks with a roomful of citizen advocates about the difference of living in anursing home and living in her own home thanks to the effort of citizen advocate Margaret Minis and other friends and allies. Bill Dawers, who writes City Beat for the Savannah Morning News listens.
When people who would not ordinarily meet begin to spend time together and learn from one another, a different kind of community begins to form. Here you see Rexanna Lester, Executive Editor of the Savannah Morning News, learning from Mr. Jim Burke, someone who quickly became an important and unexpected teacher for Rexanna. Citizen advocates and board members are invited to gather and deepen their understanding of the rationale and value ofcitizen advocacy.
“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain. We all have sorrow. But if we arewise, we know that theres always tomorrow.” “Ill be your friend, I‘ll help you carry on” “For it wont be long till Im gonna need somebody to lean on.” “If there is a load you have to bear that you cant“So just call on me brother, when you need a hand. carry, Im right up the road; Ill share your load “We all need somebody to lean on” For two decades we have ended each meeting with the classic Bill Withers tune Lean on Me.
An introduction to citizen advocacy relationships in Savannah.