Last year, Autism Speaks launched the Volunteer Advocacy Ambassador Program to enhance its advocacy efforts by promoting constituent outreach to elected officials. Since June 2017, more than 160 individuals representing 39 states have been selected to serve as Advocacy AmbassadorsRanging from self-advocates, family members of individuals with autism, lawyers, behavioral analysts and more, this motivated group of advocates represents a wide variety of perspectives to autism policy issue areas. These grassroots volunteers have served as the main point of contact for their respective federal legislators, mobilized their personal networks to advocate for specific legislation and served as leaders of the autism community at national conferences, local town halls and coalition meetings.
During the holiday season, Autism Speaks Volunteer Advocacy Ambassadors took a break from policy updates and bill numbers to thank their members of Congress for their representation and work throughout the year. As the Ambassadors reflect on their advocacy and achievements in 2017, here are some of their highlights and thoughts:
"I am proud to be an advocacy ambassador because I get to help people with autism and try to make a difference for everyone including myself as a self advocate! I also get the chance to meet the people who represent us in Tallahassee and Washington."- Mike DiMauro
"It has been an honor to begin a personal dialogue with the Congressman's staff over the past three months. Linking a face and a personal story to the many life-changing Autism Speaks initiatives seems to have made quite an impact! I look forward to meeting with the Congressman in person in 2018 to discuss the intersection of autism healthcare funding/protections and his position as Vice-Chair of the bipartisan Problem Solver's Caucus." - Donna Cantrell
"Our kids are important...we need your voice because they don't have one. I take my role with Autism Speaks very seriously and I work at least 3 hours a day researching and thinking of different ways to help these precious children. Our MOC have so many responsibilities and are so busy that they need someone to help make sure the crucial issues are in the limelight. I feel it's my duty to help make sure these important issues are taken care of. My motivation is of course my daughter...15 and autistic. She is my world. I do what I do for her and for my other special needs families." - Melissa Mullins, Alabama 3rd district
"Our elected officials need to know our names!" - Shannon Knall
"My son uses pictures of activities and/or events that he has participated in to help him tell his story. This is very powerful. We are so proud of him. Andrew is very involved in his community and to continue to be successful we must never stop educating our communities, Congress and local legislators... Never underestimate the advocacy power of a mom, dad or self-advocate with a computer or phone." - Heidi Fernandez