Out of the Comfort Zone at the Hands & Voices Leadership Conference
The 10th Annual Hands & Voices Leadership Conference took place this week in Madison, Wisconsin. The topic of the conference: Out of the Comfort Zone. In the ten years I’ve been with Hands & Voices, I’ve had to step out of the comfort zone time and time again. In the process, I’ve grown in so many different ways. It is cool to see that same transition happening with the chapter leaders and parents over the years.
A little over ten years ago when I first joined Hands & Voices, the leaders all fit around a single conference table. I started the fourth chapter of Hands & Voices. I wasn’t sure how in the world we would create a 501c3 with no funds to begin with, but the Lions Club of Batavia and Barb Sims from the Special Education department in Illinois pitched in to give us start up funding. I remained President for four years, and then Beth Donofrio took over. Today, Andrea Marwah is currently running the chapter.
And today, Hands & Voices is expanding worldwide. There is a strong need for a parent-driven organization which provides support for families with deaf and hard of hearing children– no family, no child, should travel the journey alone.
As I watched Andrea speak on the topic of Advocacy during her plenary, I thought back to the first time our paths crossed. I served as a Deaf Mentor for their family. One of the resources I often share with families is a book, “From Emotions to Advocacy” by Wrightslaw and I brought the book with me during one of the visits. Andrea, being the tenacious mom she is, took notes of everything. She followed up in getting the book and learning everything she could about education law. Today, she teaches classes on special education law and advocacy. She has taken Illinois Hands & Voices to a whole new level with her leadership. I am so inspired by her leadership and her journey as a parent. She embodies the Hands & Voices philosophy on every level.
I’ve been with Hands & Voices for over ten years now and my commitment and passion are stronger than ever. There was a time I lost my passion and lost my way, but one day, I sat down and figured out my “why” of doing what I do. At the conference, a mom came up to me and introduced herself. As we chatted, she mentioned I had helped her seven years ago. When she walked away, I realized the value in what we do at Hands & Voices– we just never know who we help or how we inspire or impact families. This is why we continue to reach out and travel the journey with other families–this is our passion, this is our “why” of what we do every day at Hands & Voices.
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”