Being a member of the Oakland Community Health Network is both a remarkable responsibility and opportunity for me. My daughter, Jennifer, was born in June of 1975 with multiple developmental challenges. None of the medical professionals at the time recognized her as a person, who, with supports and services, could make the most of her abilities and talents. They just saw Jen as someone with profound disabilities.
The first few years of Jen’s life were certainly a period of adjustment and learning. When she was six years old, I began to notice that the efforts of medical, educational and mental health professionals in her life were no longer keeping the ever present smile on my daughter’s face. It was clear that I had to expand my role from being her mother to also being her advocate to ensure that I could assist Jen in being viewed as a viable and valuable member of her community and society at large.
I knew that I had to find out not just what was available for Jennifer, but also what was possible for her. I sought out individuals, families and organizations that were strong advocates and visionaries who knew that people with multiple developmental challenges were people with possibilities when the appropriate supports were in place. I was fortunate enough to find excellent people and resources in my local community, as well as at the statewide and national level. In return, I have been honored by the request of these organizations to provide presentations on what I have learned on my journey as Jen’s mom.
It is my sincere hope that my experience as Jennifer’s mother and advocate, along with what I have learned from others, including families like mine, brings valuable insight to the decision making process for the OCHN Board. I believe that to be an effective mental health system we must take information and make it knowledge and then listen carefully to the people we serve and those who care about them, so that we can convert that knowledge to wisdom. The focus must always be on what is possible for the individuals we serve while empowering them with the information they want and need so they are able to live a life of their choosing. It is a privilege to be a part of that process.