Hello returning readers!
Today I wanted to address the concept of advocacy. For HAND, advocacy plays a huge role in the day to day process. For those of you who might not know, advocacy, in a broad sense, is working alongside people to help their voice be heard. I sat down with Tracy Heaton, the head of HAND’s advocacy. She explains advocacy saying, “You’re not their voice, and you’re not ahead of them. A true advocate would be more like a shepherd from the behind, guiding folks along an issue, because they will go where they need to go, not where you think they need to go. It’s a lot of listening, standing alongside, hand holding, but not so much leading.” HAND is involved in advocacy at the state level by staying informed and the neighborhood level by working to improve the local community.
HAND’s participation in advocacy has been a priority for the agency. Recently, HAND worked with the SouthWest Quad in Noblesville to improve their local park. Heaton explains, “The city looked at what assistance they could bring to the park after the neighbors showed their value by hosting a work day where we painted things, ripped out weeds, and planted new plants. The neighbors are willing to do their part, but at some point the city needs to make that investment and it seems that they’re willing to.”
Many people do not understand the importance of advocacy and their individual role in it. While HAND is here to help, it takes the power and voice of residents to get the job done. I asked Heaton why it was important for neighbors to work together and she replied, “When you need that cup of sugar, but you don’t know your neighbor’s name, it’s a little hard to go knock on the door and ask for that. When you accidentally let your dog out and you’re running through the yard, it’s kind of hard to yell for your neighbor’s help when you don’t know their name. On bigger issues, when the orange signs go in front of a business and they’re going to change the zoning, but it’s all these individual voices versus if you knew your neighbor’s and met with them beforehand, you could go to the zoning hearing as a united voice, which is bigger than a bunch of little voices.” When everyone can get together to express their concerns or requests as a group, they are heard and listened to more. Heaton went further to say, “I don’t know that residents know their role in this, that they can begin holding their elected officials accountable for some choices and decisions that they make that may not reflect the values of the voters in Hamilton County. Directions and decisions in our towns need to reflect the compassion and care that I believe Hamilton County voters have.”
Understanding the role of residents is the first step, but what should neighbors do next? How do individuals begin to make the difference in their community? Heaton provided some simple, yet crucial steps to take, “Tapping the expertise of HAND is the best step. Then the really hard step is actually talking to your neighbors. It might seem embarrassing or awkward, but it’s so powerful and it’s a lot easier then it seems.” Talking to the surrounding neighbors can do so much good for the community. Many people find that close knit communities are able to accomplish more; they also tend to enjoy their neighborhood much more when they have a role in it. Our talk ended with her saying, “Advocacy might seem like an angry crowd with burning torches and pitch forks, but typically it isn’t, and we’d like it to never get to that point. If we’re doing little actions of advocacy along the way, then we don’t have to have the big confrontation, because we’re in constant communication, and were constantly telling our towns what we want to see and what we want to see happening.”
Hopefully this information and message can inspire you to take a role in your community. Advocacy plays a big role at HAND and it should in your neighborhood too. It starts with getting to know your neighbors, then it can blossom from there!