Citizen Advocacy matches people with developmental disabilities in one-on-one relationships with community members who can provide friendship, advocacy and guidance while furthering inclusiveness for everyone in the greater La Crosse community.
Founded nearly 45 years ago, Citizen Advocacy is a small nonprofit with a big impact, having matched more than 300 people. It is funded entirely by donors and community organizations.
But those resources have diminished in recent years, and Citizen Advocacy needs the community’s help to fund the staff required to bring people together.
Colleen Lampman was the coordinator of Citizen Advocacy for 18 years and now serves as special consultant to its advisory council, staff trainer and citizen advocate.
What drew you to volunteer with Citizen Advocacy?I had no family members with disabilities, and I never knew about people with substantial handicaps because they were not allowed in schools and weren’t visible in neighborhoods. I was 23 when I walked into one of the largest institutions in the United States and saw wall-to-wall stainless steel cribs full of babies with developmental disabilities. It was at that exact moment that my passion began.
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It was in the early ’70s before any community services existed to help families and people with developmental disabilities live and be supported in their communities. It has been my privilege to watch people come back home to La Crosse to live and work and lead normal neighborhood lives.
We have heard many stories from people who have never met a person with a disability about how Citizen Advocacy has opened their eyes and enriched their lives, about hope and love and joy and struggles, and about personal power to make a difference.
If you had a superpower to help you in your work with Citizen Advocacy, what would it be?If I could have something, it would be a magic wand that would remind people to be kind and generous with their time in being involved with others and that by lending a hand, we build our communities. I wish every pair of hands were valued, included and appreciated.
Now is the time for people to work for and to envision La Crosse as a safe, inclusive, peaceful, appreciative place to live. If folks don’t personally invest, it won’t work for any of us.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned through volunteering with Citizen Advocacy?
Engaging in Citizen Advocacy is more than volunteering; it is a way of life.
Years ago, I got to know Philip and his family. Phil’s family ensured he had a good place to live and people to care for him. They wanted him settled if anything ever happened to them. I promised them someone would always be watching over his life.
After Phil’s parents passed away, his living situation changed. Because La Crosse had no home available to support him, he was transferred to another county. When Phil moved, I became his advocate because of my promise and the pictures in my head of people being removed from their communities and losing friends and people that cared about them.
He is my hero for being so kind and patient and humble with the rest of us as we learn what it will take for his own community to support his presence.
Good Works is a feature provided by the La Crosse Community Foundation highlighting the work of area nonprofits that give back to the community. More information and opportunities to support these organizations can be found online at lacrossegivingcatalog.org.