I had a great day today. It started at 6:30 because this morning I was scheduled to speak at the Southeast Institute on Homelessness and Supportive Housing at a hotel on Clearwater Beach. I am happy to say that this speech went pretty well, despite my nerves and the fact that I did not read the speech I brought with me to read, because talking to the people directly seemed to be a better idea. I did forget some things that I wanted to mention. I also focused more on my story of my own history than I did on what I do as an advocate, which may or may not have been the best way to go, but there was limited time. I have come to realize I can talk for long periods of time! Twenty minutes just zooms right by. It's ironic because I had always hated public speaking before, but I feel like what I am trying to say in these circumstances now is so important, I really need to get the points across, not just because I want to make a point about something that affected me, but rather because I want to make a point about something that affects millions of folks. In this case that was both mental illness and homelessness.
So, I spoke on a panel in a workshop called Peers in Power. My co-panelists were absolutely dynamite. They were Malik Thompson, a veteran and a formerly homeless individual who had a drug addiction problem and has PTSD, but now travels around Florida as a part of Volunteers for America speaking to other veterans who are homeless, and Pauline Clarke-Trotman, the Director of Permanent Housing at Better Way of Miami, Inc. Pauline was also formerly homeless, but now runs this agency for homeless people after moving up in the ranks from first working in their shelter/transitional housing there. We were introduced by Ellen Pekalkiewicz, who is the Program Director for the Florida Supportive Housing Coalition.
After the speeches, several people came up to speak to me, and two of them asked if I could speak in other places, which is exciting. I, and perhaps the NAMI Pinellas Consumer Council, will be looking into doing that. The other members of the consumer council and myself have been wanting to do more public speaking. One person said to me, "You could really write a book", and I said, "I'd like to", which is true.
At the luncheon today, the first keynote speaker was Secretary Sheldon of the Department of Children and Families - a big agency with a lot of money to filter throughout many programs around the state. This is a very influential person, so I was delighted to hear him speak about The Vincent House . Though I was never a member of Vincent House, I have loved the program and the people who run it since I first found out about it five years ago. It's a clubhouse which is a place where people who live with mental illnesses can go to have volunteer jobs that train them for regular paid jobs. It's a place that gives people a home where they feel a sense of belonging, and it was created by two amazing people named Diane and Elliot Steele who have a daughter who lives with a mental illness. Secretary Sheldon spoke positively about getting more funding for Vincent House, and I thought that was great.
After his speech, I tried to get close enough to introduce myself to Mr. Sheldon, but he was rather surrounded by people and hard to get to before he walked into a room with a closed door. So, I spoke to someone from his office and asked him to pass along the message that I said thank-you for what you are doing for Vincent House, because that place has helped a lot of people here where I live. I wanted to talk to the Secretary about Short Term Rehabilitation - a program which no longer exists hardly anywhere in Florida, but which saved my life when it did exist. I want to tell him exactly why we need that program to come back and we need the state to fund it. I think I will be writing him a letter about this. I've already written about it in the past to my legislators but got no real response.
I enjoyed being part of this conference, and I attended a couple of workshops, because I do plan to go into the field of human services in some capacity with the degree I am working on for the future, and because I want to do what I can now to help homeless people with mental illnesses.
After the conference, I went and voted early, which was the second good thing of the day. There was no line, and I knew who I wanted to vote for, mostly, so it was quick and easy. I really urge all of you to exercise your right to vote. Women have only had this right since 1920, and as a woman, I think it would be a crime for me to not vote. I vote for Democrats, not because I agree with everything they do all the time, but because I consider the Democratic party better when it comes to funding programs that help human beings live their lives.
The third good thing that happened today was the Sound of Music sing-a-long at a local movie theater, which I went to with my mom and my sister. We were the only people who sang to almost every song. The lyrics came up on the screen, so it was a lot of fun, and my family is so goofy they made the entire experience really hilarious. I have not laughed so long in quite a while!
Finally, on another positive note, I will mention that on Friday I'm going to a NAMI banquet where I will be receiving the Consumer of the Year award for the NAMI chapter in my county, and that is really an incredible honor and very kind. I was really surprised by this news and grateful for the thoughtful recognition. “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”~ Helen Keller