Updated: Oct 18, 2021
The Self Advocates of the Rockies are making a big impact
By Spencer van Vloten
October 18th, 2021
From Cranbrook, the Self Advocates of the Rockies (SOAR) have been leaders in the self-advocacy movement, travelling internationally to help educate communities about inclusion.
To learn more about SOAR and what Community Inclusion Month means to its members, Spencer van Vloten spoke with SOAR members Lynnetta Beingessner, Kimberly Earl, Sheila Neidig, and Raymond Edinger, along with supporter Janine Moore.
One of SOAR's strengths is the diversity of its membership, which allows the advocates to feed off each other's strengths and learn from one another.
Kim joined the group in October 2020 and is relatively new to self-advocacy, but has quickly made an impact.
For Lynnetta it all started when she moved to Cranbrook and began living on her own in 2012. She soon realized she had a powerful voice and the ability to help her friends, and started advocating for herself and community members in Cranbrook and around BC.
Raymond has been participating in self-advocacy conferences for 12 years, and has gotten to travel across the world helping educate others and advocate for inclusion.
And the most experienced advocate is Sheila, who has been at it for nearly 30 years!
One of the group's most memorable experiences was journeying across the pond to England, for Inclusion International's World Congress.
Here they made friends and met self advocates from as far away as Japan, Hong Kong, and Austria. They learned that many countries still institutionalize persons with diverse abilities, and that Canada, despite have room for improvement, is a world leader in inclusion.
SOAR going worldwide, at the Inclusion International World Congress in England
They also gave a presentation on home sharing, using their knowledge and experience to educate self-advocates from countries where home sharing is uncommon but could help many people gain independence.
During their trip in England, the group also got a reminder of home, spotting a Cranbrook Street and the Cranbrook Hotel!
Near the end of their stay in England, Lynetta discovered a book about rights, and on returning home the group translated it to plain English for self advocates to use in Canada.
The group was excited about continuing their travels and looking forward to a conference in Saskatoon when COVID hit.
While they were disappointed, they immediately got to work in helping self-advocates throughout the province during this difficult time.
SOAR was one of just 2 groups to receive a $30,000 grant from Community Living BC, to organize virtual community events which connect self advocates from across the province. In the process, they became a legal business - an accomplishment showing the power of teamwork.
Being tasked with such a big responsibility was intimidating at first, Kim notes, but once the group got to work they hit their stride and became more confident as leaders and public speakers.
Self advocate Sheila helped lead virtual events with participants from across the province
SOAR held a talent show in the spring, a fall conference where Lynetta showed her MC skills, and a health conference to help educate self advocates about self-care practices.
Lynetta also ran her own COVID Blues group, and as she said about the experience "it was really special to take that money and help people stay connected during a difficult time. "
"We wanted people to get out and have their voices heard, to get out of blues, and still do things."
A MONTH OF MEANING
October is Community Inclusion Month in BC, celebrating the community participation of British Columbians with diverse abilities.
What does Community Inclusion Month mean to the Self-Advocates of the Rockies?
For Kim, it's a time to give back to those who've given to her.
"It's important because the community does a lot for us. So in the past we've had lots of events and stuff like picnics and acting productions for Community Living Month, it's a time for us to give back."
It's a time for us to give back
For Sheila, it means getting everyone in the community to join in, accepting them regardless of ability, and for Ray it's a time to celebrate being connected to one another.
Although they haven't been able to hold the in-person events they usually do, SOAR continues to celebrate Community Inclusion Month and to work toward building a more inclusive BC.
ADVOCACY, PODCASTS, AND DISNEY WORLD
While the pandemic disrupted the normal way of doing things, SOAR has continued meeting using a hybrid format - some people in-person, some online, and some over the phone - and is looking forward to what the future brings.
Lynetta's excited for more people to join the group and to continue with advocacy.
Sheila and Ray are both eager to travel again, and meet other self advocates from across BC, Canada, and the world.
Kim's eager to travel as well, and is looking forward to her upcoming birthday, hoping to spend it at Universal Studios to enjoy the rides and Harry Potter World. She's also got a podcast in the works so that self advocates have a new platform to speak their minds.
And she has a message for all self advocates.
"We’re almost done with the bad. There's light in the tunnel, in being able to travel more and do more stuff. Just hold on, don’t give up."
"Look forward to future, but also be thankful for the things you've accomplished during all of this."
And that's advice we should all live by.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!