By Tiffany Earnhardt
Parent Advocate, North Carolina
I could never truly explain the feelings that I felt during my visits with my members of Congress. I had always thought that my voice never counted, and that no one would ever hear what I had to say or even care if they did hear me. That changed when I joined the Hill Visit during the 2016 AMCHP Annual Conference. I was so nervous: I had never spoken with a member of Congress or Congressional staffer before and honestly did not know what I had gotten myself into. Prior to my meeting, I had a great visit with someone from AMCHP who gave me some pointers, and from there I went to my first meeting in a senator’s office.
I was greeted with respect, as though I was one of them. While I waited for the senator’s staffer to greet me, I was so scared that I felt sick to my stomach. A gentleman walked over and asked if I was Tiffany. I responded with hesitation in my voice; I was scared to even speak and afraid of using the wrong words. We walked into a conference room, and we sat next to each other. He listened intensely to what I had to say, and he even gave me feedback. He expressed to me how nice it was to meet one of the senator’s constituents – a family member who is actually touched by the laws Congress enacts. While I thought he was just being nice, I left the meeting feeling energized and overwhelmed with emotions. I never knew what would come of that meeting or if he would respond if I got back in touch, but this staffer and I still speak on a regular basis. He has helped me realize that what I have to say is important and can make a difference.
This is an experience I believe everyone should have. Our elected leaders do care about what we have to say, and they love to hear from families.
Advocacy has changed my life. I have gone from being a scared younger lady with two children with special health care needs to learning that I have a voice and that what I have to say matters. If you ever have a chance, please take the time and speak to your members of Congress – whether through emails, in person or phone calls – because they truly care about what we have to say, and want to know what is working and what’s not. Our elected officials will never know how we feel unless we speak with them. Knowing that I have changed in so many ways from just one experience, I can only imagine how it could make others feel as well!