submitted by Adrian Freeman, training coordinator, Lifeworks Service Innovation
If you can recall November 16, 2009 was a beautiful evening. It was a stunning, cloudless autumn night that was just a little warm for the season. I was content. The sun was setting on scenic Highway 61 southbound going into Hastings. Not only was I on the famous Great River Road, but this was my chance to see Tina’s bearded dragon. Not only was I content I was ecstatic.
At this point you may have two questions. One, what is a bearded dragon, and two, who is Tina? Well, to answer the first question, I should begin with the second. Let’s talk about Tina Schwendeman. I first met Tina in 2008 when I was working with the Lifeworks Hastings program as they were building a self-advocacy group. At the time I was new on the Lifeworks Service Innovation team, and one of my first assignments was to get a better understanding of self-advocacy. While working with the group I found one of my first client mentors, Tina.
Tina immediately struck me as a person who had strong knowledge base regarding self-advocacy. When I asked her what self-advocacy was she said “It’s speaking up for yourself, speaking against wrong doing, and not letting people push you around.” As we put a group together she quickly became a leading spokesperson. When we elected group officials, she was there to rally support and make sure things were fair. When the group decided on outcomes, her ideas made the top of the list. When her peers needed support, she was there to help coach people through. In the end, even though she was not the group president, I knew that her determination and positivity would likely see us working together in the future.
Reflecting on the experience I was impressed by her ideas and her drive to help forward the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities. Not only were her ideas forward thinking, but her whole idea of the future was positive. In one of our conversations Tina mentioned the numerous surgeries that she has undergone. When I started to say I was sorry to hear about her trials, she stopped me and said it was nothing to worry about. She said that the only thing that bothered her was that she had a twin sister, and it is said that twins can feel each other’s pain. She was not worried about herself, she was worried that she might have caused her sister pain. Positive.
So, it was no surprise that when Lifeworks was asked to be part of the 2011 Self-Advocacy Conference Committee, Tina’s name was on top of the list. In fact, it turns out that Tina is the main contact, and I am in an advisory position. My role consists of taking notes during meetings and making sure Tina gets to the meetings on time. She has deeper things to think about than these trivialities. This all brings me to the bearded dragon. See, Tina has a bearded dragon. It is a type of lizard that eats anything under the sun and has pointy draconic scales and talons, hence the name. One of the things Tina told me about these reptiles is that they have a third eye. That’s right, they have a third eye in the back of their heads that senses light and movement! When delegating duties, I was more than happy to be part of transportation because I would be able to witness this reptilian creation with my own eyes.
This is why I was content and happy that autumn day driving down Highway 61. It was not just that I was excited about being able to part of a team planning an entire conference; it wasn’t just that I got to finally see Tina’s legendary lizard. I was thinking about that third eye. You get to these esoteric thoughts on long drives. I was thinking what if I had a third eye and could see light and movement? What if I could see the light and movement of self-advocacy? It wasn’t because I was going to her house and she was on my mind, I think honestly if I could see the light of self-advocacy, Tina would be shining in the center.
Learn more about self-advocacy and the 2011 Self-Advocacy Conference at www.selfadvocacy.org