By Erin Clark, MSW, LSW, Nachusa Lutheran Home (seen below with Illinois State Representative Don Moffitt at 2012 Lutheran Day in Springfield)
I am grateful to have grown up a pastor’s daughter (for all its craziness) because it generated the strong connection I have to advocacy, my church and the work I do now. Being the child of a pastor means that many people have known me and watched me grow up, often resulting in having to talk to people who are perfect strangers with a warm rapport. It also means I grew up in a family that valued service, volunteering and a sense of community. It is hard to ignore struggling around you when you identify an inherent connection within community.
Being “my father’s daughter” — something I hear all the time — means I grew up with a model of how to speak out and ask questions. I learned how meetings should function and that it is important to wrestle with the tough stuff because it makes us better. Wrestling with the tough stuff also means not ignoring the injustices around us.
As a young child growing up in our household, I was taken with the biography I read about Jane Addams and her work at Hull House. Once I entered Luther College, I began my studies in Social Work, moving further in my understanding of how to be an advocate. An interest in politics led to adding a double major of interdisciplinary Political Science/Sociology to Social Work. I completed my Masters in Social Work at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois.
Now, I am working for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, providing services to children and families in northern Illinois, I have served on the Northern Illinois Synod Social Ministry Committee, and I am a member of Lutheran Advocacy of Illinois. It is necessary to advocate for the needs of the children and families I serve on a daily basis. Sometimes it is small, working to link to a service that is needed. At other times, my advocacy looks much different.
Budget cuts always seem to plague social services. At the conclusion of the fiscal year in June, we look forward to the next year, wondering what resources or staff we will be without, and what services will no longer be available to our clients, and this ends up creating another opportunity to speak.
One summer when the state legislature proposed a 50 percent budget cut and I faced a layoff , my only outlet was to continuously write our legislators about the damage these cuts would do to the families in our state. I was concerned about what would happen to my colleagues and me, but my greater fear was what the result would be for the children and families we serve. My message to lawmakers was that these proposed cuts — which would reduce by half the stipend for foster parents along with eliminating all mental health and counseling services for children in foster care — were wrong and irresponsible. I noted to my officials that it was time to act responsibly and that we have a duty to children, elderly people and individuals with disabilities and mental health issues. I had many families tell me how they were unsure if they would be able to care for the children they loved, placed with them by the foster care system, due to the loss of state funding and mental health resources. Children, elderly people and those struggling with mental health issues are often the targets of state budget cuts for the services they require in order to survive. I had to use my voice, urging lawmakers to resist these devastating cuts.
Advocacy has many, many faces. Sometimes it is a big action, other times it is small, simply saying “this is wrong” or “this is what is needed.”