Monday, September 26, 2011

Life as an Advocate

On the bulletin board above Nancy Klossner’s desk hangs a pastel-colored invitation to a baby shower, a token of appreciation for the advocacy work she’s done in and around the Utica community.

“It’s sweet,” she said fondly, clearly reminiscing on the aspects that make her work so worthwhile.

When asked what her job encompasses, Klossner just smiles, shaking her head at the breadth. In the case of the invitation, Klossner had helped a young pregnant woman find affordable furniture from a local Catholic organization.

But in fact, as Disability Rights Advocate, she seems to do just about everything. Working with whoever walks in the door at RCIL she will assist customers in paying bills or rent, discuss alternative housing opportunities or suggest ways to look for work or attain a GED.

Often this involves referring them to other organizations for subsidized housing or personal care assistants or communicating with both governmental entities and community-run organizations to provide each of the services needed.

“Most of my job is listening, hearing what the customer has to say,” Klossner continued. “Sometimes I want to just jump right in and tell them what they should do and how to do it, but it’s really important to listen.”

“Empowering instead of enabling” is emphasized for RCIL advocates, Klossner noted, helping to encourage and build confidence rather than setting up a direct, step-by-step process. “We teach and mentor but they need to do it themselves,” she explained.

Since she started with RCIL in 2008, Klossner works with up to ten customers a day and a total of 180 over the last twelve months. A few of these cases have been open throughout the last three years, others are closed much more quickly, all based on the needs and goals of the individual.

Klossner related the story of a young blind woman she’s working with to find a more appropriate and enjoyable living situation. As well as navigating and working with the ideas of family members and the housing authorities, Klossner is also discussing possibilities for the woman, a talented pianist, to audit music classes at a nearby university.

“I want to help people reach their goals,” she noted, simply.

- Kate J.