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Advocacy is a Way of Life

Mar 29, 2024

As Developmental Disabilities Awareness month comes to an end, we wanted to shine a light on the devoted professionals who make up the People Inc. Advocacy Department. This team is making an impact not only on the agency, but regionally, statewide, and beyond. They are teachers, advocates, and innovators.

The Advocacy Department is dedicated to the empowerment of each person and community's capacity to listen and respond with positive public policy practices.

Advocacy is the active involvement of all people to speak up for change, which starts in each of our homes and broadens out to our communities. People Inc.’s Advocacy Department is based on the premise that everyone has the right to advocate for themselves, others, and their larger community. They champion the principles of person-centered practice, mutual respect, and innovation to facilitate change. This department is one of the only such departments at a provider agency and is largely comprised of people with a disability.

Through the work of the People Inc. team, advocates promote the idea that people have rights, can make decisions for themselves, speak for themselves, and can determine for themselves how to live as independently as possible.

Members of the Advocacy Team support monthly advocacy groups, learn/teach self-advocacy skills, attend conferences, lobby for policy changes, serve on agency committees, present at orientation, participate in the staff recruitment process, staff tables at community events, and educate/train staff and others. They also support each other when speaking about what is important.

People Inc. Advocacy groups host and participate in a variety of local, regional, and state-wide monthly advocacy meetings. Meetings may be offered in-person, hybrid (in-person/virtual) or only virtually. These groups include Brothers and Sisters of Advocacy, Core Advocacy, Moving On Up, PrideAbility of WNY, STREAM, The Underground and United Voices for Change. The Advocacy Department provides a platform for people to share their experiences and promote positive change. Click here for descriptions of each group. Members of the Advocacy Department are assigned to facilitate a group. The purposes of the group align with the interests and skills of the facilitator.

Additionally, each member of the department takes turns hosting the daily virtual meetings – even on weekends and holidays. These meetings are a way to keep people socializing in a safe space, providing education, teaching advocacy skills, discussing health topics, building confidence, sharing resources, playing games, and having fun with “day” celebrations – such as a pajama party, New Year’s Eve, and Halloween.

The Advocacy Team runs pilot programs, which when successful become part of the agency’s training offerings. Current pilot programs include the Art of Advocacy and sexual education.

Several members of the People Inc. Advocacy team shared their reflections on what brought them to the agency, what their favorite experience is and what they want the rest of the agency to know. Their pride, passion and dedication shines through. Below are highlights:

  • Rick Banner, associate vice president advocacy: I am very proud that our agency values advocacy and our importance in the strategic plan. In just 15 years we have grown from just myself representing advocacy efforts to a department of nine people.
  • Christy Glenn, advocacy support professional: I facilitate daily calls that are important to me because I am there for people who are bored and have no one to talk to - they come hang out with us. We chat and learn about advocacy. On the weekends we do fun things like play games or watch a movie and relax together.
  • Israel Cruz, advocacy support professional: One of my proudest accomplishments has to be sitting in a room with government officials fighting for an ADA coordinator for Erie County. One of the strengths of our department is that we come from so many different walks of life backgrounds, and disability experiences that we complement each other and continue to grow.
  • Karen Readel, advocacy support professional: I am proud to be able to use my Bachelor of Science in Social Work skills in a meaningful way. I meet people from across the state and lead important discussions that can be applied to everyday life and offer support.
  • Shanell Davis, advocacy support professional: Between facilitating both three advocacy groups and the daily calls, I have come to understand that for some of the people who participate in these calls or meetings are the most interaction they get. Therefore, it is important to connect with them and build relationships. We are here for each other, especially during difficult or challenging times. I do a lot of research to prepare.
  • Gwen Squire, advocacy support professional: I enjoy presenting at orientation. We meet the agency's new hires on their first day and share our experience of living with a disability, teach disability etiquette and provide information on the Advocacy Department. I grew up in an institution where I didn't have a voice in much of what happened around me. Now, with my master's in Rehabilitation Counseling, I can advocate for people with disabilities and be a part of the incredible outreach and programming we are responsible for and help people through their struggles to succeed.
  • Richard Marino, advocacy support professional: Working to encourage others to advocate or speak up for themselves is something I take great pride in facilitating. I am responsible for the monthly calendar of activities that we make available to the public.
  • Heather Kraemer, advocacy support professional: I am very proud of our work around natural language, person-centered practices, and trauma informed care. Members of the advocacy team have first-hand experiences living with a disability. This is their strength, and they share so much of themselves while creating thoughtful conversations and supports with the people we serve.

For more information about the Advocacy Department, contact Rick Banner at or 716.322.7070