Improv in action: Alabama CIL uses RTC:Rural Advocacy Toolkit to teach youth

April 10, 2019

Disability Rights & Resources, a Center for Independent Living in Birmingham, Alabama, is using RTC:Rural’s Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit to introduce and teach advocacy skills to youth with disabilities by conducting workshops across Alabama. With assistance from a grant from the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities, Disability Rights & Resources was able to hire a Community Empowerment Specialist to organize the advocacy workshops.

“We learned about the toolkit from APRIL [the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living],” said Elizabeth Patton, Program Coordinator at Disability Rights & Resources. “Using improvisational skills seems like a fun and engaging way to build advocacy, especially in youth,” she said. “Looking over this toolkit, it was really nice to have everything we needed already summed up into one Facilitator Guide with accompanying Power Point presentations.”

“From my point of view, improvisational theatre takes people out of their comfort zone, as does advocating for yourself or something you’re passionate about,” Patton said. “Allowing individuals to break free from their comfort zone in a safe, controlled space, will allow them to grow and gain confidence in taking a stand. This will then be giving them the confidence and knowledge to take action within their community.”

Patton and Darcy Dixon, the Community Empowerment Specialist, are working with staff at BASE community center, an affiliate of Summit Independent Living in Missoula, MT, to learn more about the toolkit and using improv to teach advocacy. Michael Beers, John Howard, and Tyler Nielson, staff at BASE, helped develop the Toolkit. “We’re connecting with BASE and Summit Independent Living to learn all we can about the resources in the toolkit and where they’ve had success in teaching advocacy skills to their consumers,” said Patton. “We hope to follow in their footsteps and bring some of that success and knowledge to the Centers for Independent Living in Alabama.”

Over the course of the summer, they will hold workshops in three different locations, recruiting up to 50 youth age 14-24 to participate. “We’re focusing on recruiting underserved youth, and youth in rural areas,” said Darcy Dixon, Community Empowerment Specialist.

“Our goal is to reach out to the greater Birmingham area and empower individuals and their families to take action and let their voices be heard, and simply reminding them that many have fought to allow us to get this far in sharing their voices. We hope to encourage people to build on that and take a step in making positive impact and change where and how we live,” said Dixon.  

These workshops are the first steps in Disability Rights & Resources’ Advocacy in Action Academy project. After going through the skill-building workshop, some of the participants will be paired with community leaders to start putting their new advocacy skills to use. The workshop leaders will help participants identify advocacy issues they would like to be involved in, and then will assist in connecting with groups who work on that issue to identify a potential mentor. 

“Connecting young people to work with mentors on Boards and neighborhood associations, for example, not only  gets them more involved in their communities to join action on important issues, but it is also a way for us to help facilitate peer support,” said Dan Kessler, Executive Director.

The workshops will start in May, and will run throughout the summer at various locations, including the Horizons School, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Lakeshore Foundation.

“We are excited about the opportunity to pass on advocacy resources and skills to individuals so that they can be a vital asset in their communities,” said Dixon. “Many of the workshop details are coming together to be able to collaborate with various organizations around Birmingham, and we are excited to hit the ground running on this Advocacy in Action Academy project!”

About the Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit:

The Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit is a set of resources for CILs and others to facilitate workshops to develop the advocacy skills of youth with disabilities. It is a collaboration between BASE, an affiliate of Summit Independent Living in Missoula, MT, the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL), and RTC:Rural staff, and was developed in response to the needs and interests of CILs and other stakeholders. The Toolkit includes a facilitator guide, worksheets, and PowerPoint slides to guide facilitators through conducting the workshop.

The Toolkit is available free of charge on the RTC:Rural website.

For more information about the Toolkit and to download the materials, visit Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit.

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