The Consumer Voice Strong at Town Hall Meeting

The Coalition in North Carolina represents over forty advocacy organizations across our state aimed at promoting an optimal publicly funded service system.  Recently it hosted regional “Town Hall” meetings aimed at updating and educating communities about how they can advocate for a strong budget for public mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and substance abuse services.

The Town Hall meeting held in Winston-Salem was the place to be for a clear and brief presentation by Ms. Robin Huffman, the executive Director of the NC Psychiatric Association.  But further, last Thursday evening’s meeting was a night of inspiring and compelling comments by community members, especially those persons who themselves depend on public services.  But beyond that, the attentive participation by four of our seven legislators, Senator Linda Garrou, Representative Bill McGee, Representative Earline Parmon, and Representative Larry Womble was greatly appreciated by their constituents. 

More than 110 area citzens attended this lively meeting, and I hope you will allow me to say that I was personally heartened by how vocal our community has become through the years!  So many of the most important people–service users–asserted their concers and seemed to sense that their input would matter at this meeting.  What a refreshing time!

Since the meeting, several have noted their own observations about the night.  First, thanks to the welcoming and responsive spirit of our local Mental Health Association, directed by Mr. Andy Hagler, several people who meet for support there spoke to how much they have grown because of the mutual support through the groups offered–at no charge–at the local Mental Health Association.  And one of these individuals, who also serves as a peer support specialist, clearly addressed how much his work has meant to his wellness!  So this was a meeting where legislators, a county commissioner, an LME director, and many other community members learned from people who are walking down their own paths of recovery about the value of mutual support and community integration. 

A second thing that several noticed was that some of the most successful and consumer-respecting initiatives in the community were those that resulted from the hard work of local non-profit organizations and volunteers.  There was little said about public services or local system issues that was positive (not to say that there are no positives).   But what a pardigm shift–yet how will we sustain the local community activity that has so greatly improved persons’  lives when organizations must find funding to continue? 

As to the budget, the message from so many speakers was clear:  We need the funds to ensure that good services, including peer support, are available.   But as many seemed to indicate, the accountability is as important as the funding–for even ‘consumers’ know when the dollars are paying for too much non-service activity or fringe benefits to administrative staff.  They see that foolish wasteful spending must stop and that change was needed to ensure that public dollars are used for public services. 

I am thankful that The Coalition chose our community for this important event and especially that several elected officials decided to come on out and learn from local citizens.  Now it is time for us all to be writing and calling our legislators before they have totally shaped a budget (which will presumably be passed by June 30.)  Time to get to work!

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