People First of Toledo
People First of Toledo was started in 1998 by several dedicated volunteer advocates, considered to be “outside the DD system”. It is a self-led advocacy group run by and for people with developmental disabilities.
Early meetings were attended by Kay Bennett, Sue Hetrick, Ability Center (ACT) staff, Frank Spinelli, Arc board member/self-advocate, Ruben Garcia, Lott Industries client/Arc board member, and Jo Rita Fox, self-advocate, who, although diagnosed with a developmental disability, was determined to not be eligible for DD services because she was ”too high functioning”. Jo Rita wanted to play an active role in a self-advocacy movement that could help herself and others live decent lives.
At these early meetings, which took place at Sue’s home, the self-advocacy philosophy and goals of People First of Toledo were fleshed out and a plan was born to make People First a reality in Lucas County. As a start, we strongly believed that People First should meet in a place that was not run by the County Board and where the meetings were not staffed by DD Board staff because there was the perception among group members that they couldn’t feel free to speak out and be independent if they were meeting at a DD facility, staffed by DD staff that provided services to them. People felt they would not be free to voice concerns about services provided by the DD Board if DD staff were present. The Ability Center agreed to host monthly meetings in their building, assigned Sue Hetrick as support staff for the group, and funded meeting refreshments (pizza, pop, cookies), secretarial services, flyer copying, etc.
When The Arc moved its office to The Ability Center in the early 2000s, Kay immediately began to assist Sue with programming support and organizational development. Within a few short months, The Arc took over staffing and partial financial support for People First. The Ability Center continued to provide support (building, refreshments, copying, etc.) until the B.O.O.S.T. (Building On Our Strengths Together) service contract was developed by The Arc, and working closely with John Trunk, then Superintendent, was funded by LCBDD. People First was one of the main components of B.O.O.S.T. Parent support and education programs, as well as young adult life skills programs were soon added. At that time, LCBDD believed that parents and families would greatly benefit from “outside” support programs to help guide parents through the service system, provide parent advocacy training and answer questions.
People First transitioned from in-person meetings to Zoom sessions when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but as of April 2022, we will be going back to meeting in person. Attendance is $5 per meeting or $50 for the year, with a free t-shirt thrown in. Every month alternates from a serious advocacy-focused topic to social nights for community bonding. People First is open to everyone. Meetings are coordinated by a facilitator and five elected officers.
People First, by nature, does not restrict membership. We are a self-led advocacy group created by and for people with developmental disabilities, regardless of what diagnosis you do or don’t have, or your “functioning level.” If you are interested in advocacy for the DD community, then you are welcome here.
This month is our first regular in-person meeting since the transition! We will be in the Overlander Room of the Ability Center from 6:00 to 7:30. Remember to bring $5 for the meeting fee– this funds trips and activities for the group.
Quinn Thomas became the facilitator for People First in January 2022. If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to set up a meeting, they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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