Thursday, December 18, 2008

Organizing a Local Town Hall Meeting to Help the State Legislature

Last week my wife and I attended a town hall meeting in our county organized by three local disability family organizations. The Maryland state legislature convenes in mid-January, and this was an effort to educate both families and public officials at the same time and in the same place.

It was a successful event. Two members of the Maryland State House attended and stayed to listen to the stories. The county executive attended, listened, and was the last speaker. Staff members from the offices of four members of the Maryland legislature attended; one discussed her personal experience as a mother of a child with special needs. A member of the county school board, the county special education director, and several county agency staffers attended.

The meeting was held in a prominent and conveniently located church. Members of the three hosting organizations attended in good numbers. Family members received reminder telephone calls prior to the meeting, encouraging attendance. There were moving personal stories. The organizers served desserts and beverages. They had a printed agenda.

The organizers did not publicize to the community at large, so it was a speaking-to-the-choir experience. As with all CHADD chapters and support groups, the entire program was organized and presented by citizen-volunteers. The presentations frequently were disjointed and common themes (other than we need more money) frequently got lost in the presentation. Two speakers did not show. There was no content takeaway.

So, for anyone planning a local event, I suggest the following:

1. Collaborate with several organizations to co-host.
2. Assertively outreach to your members through personal contact.
3. Publicize the event to the community at large.
4. Select a neutral, prominent, and convenient location.
5. Tell people there will be food.
6. As public officials confirm their attendance, revise the publicity and outreach materials to indicate their attendance.
7. Coordinate, and then develop common themes and messages.
8. Prepare a one-page takeaway of common themes and messages with content that legislators and agency officials will understand and use in their work.
9. Timing is important. Holding an event the month before the legislature convenes is great—close enough, but not too close.

Good luck as you work to inform the public, and its governmental leaders, about AD/HD, related disorders, and the lived experience. Slowly, build a social movement from the neighborhood up.


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