Calling all Parent Leaders

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”.  John Quincy Adams
In late spring I received a call from the district administrator of our state agency, the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, under the Department of Labor and Industry.  The caller asked if I, as a parent of a transition-aged youth with blindness, would be willing to give a presentation with her and a vocational rehabilitation counselor at our state’s annual Community on Transition Conference in the summer.  The unfamiliar voice on the other end of the phone said that I had been recommended to her by two different individuals as a “Parent Leader” and a “Parent Professional.”  Not being at all being prepared for this call, I was a little caught off guard and experienced a slight slip of the ego hearing myself described by these fancy titles. Without thinking, I of course said: “Yes!”  Seconds later, after hanging up the receiver, I thought what have I just committed to?  Me, a parent leader?  A parent professional?  What the heck do those terms mean?  Am I even worthy of such titles?  I’m just a parent . . . a parent with a dream.
As I began to outline my presentation, I kept thinking about these titles I had somehow been given.  Aren’t leaders bossy, micro-managers who makes rules and take charge?  How did I earn such a title?  Is it because I talk too much?  I will admit, I do like to talk, and can honestly say I have never met a stranger.  I am always eager to share my journey and what I have learned over the years; the challenges and triumphs of being a parent to a youth with a disability.  
I often feel that I can help others and I am more than willing to do so, but I know that my way is not the only way and certainly does not work for everyone.  I can share resources that I have acquired and collected.  I’m not afraid to ask for help and guidance and to share what I learn with others.  I believe in networking, partnerships, and collaboration.  I choose to be positive over negative in most situations and years ago I made a personal pact with myself not to look back, not to think “if only I had known,” because . . . I didn’t know.  I did the best I could and wanted to learn more, do more, and move forward without wallowing in the past.  That just wastes precious time.  As any parent, I want only the best for all of my children and our family. Does this perspective make me a parent leader?  
Patti McGowan presenting at parent conferenceWhen I think of a leader, I think of someone who guides and encourages others.  Leaders should build confidence in people and support them to carry out positive actions to accomplish their goals.  An effective leader can help folks understand the why behind the what, where, how, and when.  The qualities that make an effective leader inspire those around them to dream, prepare, plan, and carry out their plans.  I have known many inspiring leaders in my lifetime who served as mentors for me.  I benefited greatly from their leadership and I hope that I am able to offer the same support and encouragement to others that those leaders gave to me.  But really, we can all be leaders in different ways and unite in leadership.  We can all share our stories and our experiences.  Even if those experiences are not identical in nature, there is typically a common thread.  Perhaps with a little adaptation, we can learn from one another and share the title of “leader.”  It just takes a bit of creativity and thinking outside the box to be able to apply new knowledge to our own situations.  I have been humbled with this title of a parent leader and will continue to follow my passion.  If that makes me a leader then I will gladly accept such a gracious title.
Read more about: Families, Transition

Total Life Learning by Wendy Bridgeo,‎ Beth Caruso,‎ & Mary Zatta

Cover of Total Life Learning

The Total Life Learning curriculum was developed for students ages 3 to 22 who are blind, visually impaired including those students who have additional disabilities or are deafblind. The focus is on the development of life and career goals that enable student to maximize independence, self-determination, employability, and participation in the community.