Chapter 6: Solving Systemic Problems and Building Relationships
11:38:55:22 - 11:42:24:15
Lisa: I'm sure it's obvious to say that no system is perfect, but as a parent and an advocate, how do you approach problems with the system?
Lizzie: Well, first of all, how I approach a problem, I have to do my homework.
And I have to find out what I'm dealing with, what's at stake here, and I have to have all that before I go out. I do my homework, and I have to have all that information.
Because if you go with the right information, nine times out of ten you'll win.
But if you go with the wrong information, don't know what you're talking about, you're going to lose. Because when they question you, you got to be able to answer the question, and if you don't know anything about that, you can't answer the question. That's how I do it. You know, if I'm going after something I have to learn what's at stake here, what's going on here, and once I learned that, then I can go after. And I will take advice.
I got good people's advice because I will take it. Good advice I will take, bad advice I don't, you know, and that's it. And that's what I've always did. Listen. I listen first.
You go to -- when you go to meetings, listen first, so when you do have to talk, you know what you're talking about. I think back, I went back out to Friends Hospital with a parent, and I got information. He was in Friends hospital. My advice was to leave him there, don't take him home. And that morning we went to the table, and I told the parents, you're not going to take him home. I said leave him here... and we had a support coordinator. It was a friend of his boss, and he wouldn't - he couldn't do what he really had to do. And here's what I told him: I said, listen, you do what you can to help this parent, and I'll deal with your boss, all right? So he went on and did what he had to do - got him in - and I did deal with his boss. But here's one thing that Joyce told me. He said -- he was from the MH side, and he come down to be director, case manager. He said, when I mess up, said you will tell me, then you will go pull your chair up there, and go behind that there and help me straighten it out. And he said, that's why I know both sides, and this is why that I'm where I am today.
So you know, you just work along with peoples, you know, and I think working with people is a change, and working with all the right peoples is good. To be able to work on anybody's level, and that's what I learned to do, you know. Peoples tell me things, they share a lot of things with me that they supposed to be sharing with another executive director, but I worked with executive director [Harrison] and we were - I would sit beside him in a meeting. He would go over the budget with me. He would go over everything with me. Because here's what he said. When I started out, the parents, they know so much more than I did, and here's what he told me. He said, I rather take you. He said sometimes people know everything, you can't tell them nothing. He said, but I rather take you and we'll learn, and said you will be - you will make the best leader. Okay, and that's what we did. That's what we did.
11:42:24:15 - 11:43:45:28
Lisa: Well, your leadership was also sought after for work on the Community Collaborative. When the Pennhurst state school closed, and people transitioned to the community, the transition was not without its problems. I know the city was in danger of being taken to court by the Pennhurst plaintiffs.
Lizzie: Yeah they was. I remember Judge Broderick, remember him?
Lizzie: Yeah, went to court, but we was in -- took us down that morning, was in court with that, too.
Lisa: I know that some folks at the city level and state level, Nancy Thaler and Estelle Richman, among them --
Lizzie: Yeah, yeah I know her too. I worked closely with her.
Lisa: They initiated the community collaborative in response to that litigation.
Lizzie: Yeah, they did.
Lisa: Can you tell me what the collaborative was trying to do?
Lizzie: Well they was trying to involve parents. I remember the time -- they was involved parents. They wanted parents to be educated. They wanted parents to be advocates, to help their own children, and learn how to work with everybody. They wanted that to become a partnership, which we - the community, the families, and they all, the directors in the county, and everybody, they wanted everybody work together as a collaborative. Because they say with the parents, it would be better (if) the parents work with everybody, and that's what collaborative's all about, is we're all in this together.
11:43:45:28 - 11:45:11:19
Lisa: And who was it that invited you to participate in the collaborative?
Lizzie: Well, after we lost the [agency], started with COHMAR again, Harry [name], started with the county and then everything else was just -- just follow through. And then you -- and your name go farther than you go. And by me, what really paid off for me was being able to get along with everybody, respect everybody, and that's what they liked. You know how to talk to peoples, you not hollering and screaming at peoples. Can't nobody tell you anything. They could tell me. They could tell me, because I would ask questions, and we would sit there. I think back the time we was advocating. I was briefed for 45 minutes before I got in the meeting, and then I was able to go in, do what I needed to do. And they would always brief you, and I remember one time with the county office when the board members, I never seen nobody do a history in ten minutes, but you. Said you did the whole history in ten minutes. I said yeah, because we didn't have a whole lot of time. And that's why we did it that way, you know? But work with people and haven't been no one at this point, no directors, no organizations, that I couldn't work with.
11:45:11:19 - 11:46:08:29
Lisa: Who were some of the people that you got to work with on the collaborative?
Lizzie: Well we got to Harry [name]... county, Betsy Searle, Steve Eidelman, you know... And we had some community people - Betty Hill - you know, work with -- you know, work with them. Then Estelle Richman came aboard, and we worked with her. Just all over this city, really, all the providers. You know, we would work with them. Everybody -- a lot of people -- I got involved because a lot of people introduced me to these peoples. They was, you know, when I first entered they would introduce me to this person. Then another one would introduce me to somebody else, and then they will introduce you to another person. And then all -- you know, we got the Vision [Vision for Equality], we got Delaware Avenue and that's a lot of people that was involved, and working together, you know?
Lisa: So I think we were talking about some of the different people that you worked with in the collaborative, and I'm wondering what serving on the collaborative, and working with those people, did for you as an advocate.
Lizzie: Well, they had to support their need, and the support and the information that they shared with me, you know. They would just share all the information. They didn't have to take in or out just because I was a parent. In fact, worked with people and people said we never know you're a parent. We know you're a parent, said but when we start working with you, said you're not a parent. You just -- just like everybody else with -- you just want to do everything you can to help. And I not only -- I always -even when we were doing the governor's... meeting, my speeches have always been my child and others. And when you say that, it gets away from that personal note, and peoples don't want to hear nobody's personal problems, but if you include a group, then they'll listen to you.
11:47:34:04 - 11:49:40:02
Lisa: What do you think your colleagues and peers on the collaborative might have learned from you?
Lizzie: They learned that a parent could function on all levels.
Lisa: Do you think that the collaborative did in fact improve the way people lived in community?
Lizzie: Yeah, I think it improved, but I do know it improved, because then they started formulating parent support groups, and their first one they had, FDSS advisory committee. You remember FDSS? Had an advisory committee, which I was the chair of that, and county was all working together. And it helps uh, thinking back to the time that my son goes to Eagle Spring Camp. And some kind of way, Eagle Spring and the county had some misunderstanding, so I know my son wanted -- I wanted him to go to camp that year. So when we got to the county office that morning, I said, well how about Eagle Spring Camp? So they were saying something and I said, well, I don't care. I said, we -- children want to go to camp, and you guys going to have to work together, and I said, what do Eagle Spring have to do here? What rules and regs do they have to follow? He was talking about insurance. I said, all right then, so I listened to him and guide them together. I went back home and called Eagle Spring together and said, I want my son to go to camp and there are children waiting to go to camp. Any way you guys can work it out. Whatever you need to do -- compromise, negotiate. So Darryl and other ones can go to camp. That happened. They got together. Eagle Spring did what they supposed to do, county office did what they supposed to do, and the children went on to camp. I said, what did you tell them? I told them I don't care what they have to do. I want Darryl to go to camp, and you work it out. So that's what they did.
11:49:40:02 - 11:50:10:25
Lisa: Ms. Richardson, you were working on boards. You were certainly working with people who were setting policy in Philadelphia, but I know that in your work, and in your advocacy, you always remembered the line staff, the people who were sort of doing --
Lizzie: Always, always, always.
Lisa: Can you tell me why that's important?
Lizzie: Because I'm the person says, if you're working with the line staff, and from the top to the bottom --
11:50:10:26 - 11:53:53:19
Lizzie: I always felt the line staff played a key role. Because they sort of working with the consumers, you know, and I remember a time we had lunch and we raised money and did lunch for 20 years, and a lot of times, peoples go to the top of organizations and give them awards. They never went middleways into that bottom, and I'm saying, if you go beyond the call of duty, and I don't care if you're cutting grass, but if you're good at cutting the grass, and you're going beyond the call of duty, then you should get award too, and that's what I did. From the top to the bottom -- because I believe everybody -- it takes the bottom middle line staff to get the top what it need to do. It take everybody working together.
Lisa: And what impact do you feel that recognition has for people who are --
Lizzie: It had motivated them. I hear right now, they can't give them -- we can't give gifts like we used to. They changed that. You know what I mean. So you had to give them certificates. But they said, I talked one of -- not long, about a couple days ago. She said, I look at my walls, I look at my trophies, and I think about this come from parents. And each parent, I mean, we made them a part of that, and we did this for 20 years. We give out souvenirs, we gave out awards, and that sort of motivated the peoples. It motivate that somebody cares about them, and appreciates what they do. And that's all that is.
And like bringing people together, you know, because right now, say that it's a consumer, that gets on the Paratransit. She swiped all of them cards. And when I'm at home, if I see something to take to the workshop, it goes... for Jonetta, cause Darryl gives it to her, and she takes it, and I thought about one day they brought me home, and he was calling numbers out, and she would take that swipe, each one of them, those consumers' card on Paratransit. And she was a big help to them. So I said nobody had never gave this consumer anything. So when we have outreach I got her a trophy, just like I'm giving out everybody else, for her outstanding support and work that she do, and that's it. And that's also Special Smiles. The way they treat, do our dental work with our children, and so patient. You got to have everything in, before they put anybody to sleep. That care, that says a lot about them, and they cares about them.
And so at our outreach and stuff, we give out awards. We thank the people, all our supporters, and we work together. And the volunteer workers, we got them matched up with staff and consumers. We're working together. Like two staff will be serving food to a consumer. One registration person on the registration desk, be one staff, one consumer. It's the same thing with the childcare -- two staff, two consumers. Because the higher functioning one, that will go good on their resume, and improve them, help them. You know, do this work. And they can do it.
11:53:53:19 - 11:55:47:27
Lisa: Ms. Richardson, what would your philosophy be about advocacy?
Lizzie: I think advocacy be - and the right advocates -- not making people doing what you want them to do, but just working with peoples, and know how to listen.
Everybody have a right to their own opinion, and respect that.
And I feel like anything that -- all the averages pays off, if everybody is working together, that we all in this together, and that we all working together, trying to make it better for our consumers.
That's what's important.
Lisa: Do you think there will ever come a time when you can stop being an advocate?
Lizzie: I hope it's now, but it's -- I know that this group here, I was wondering why the coordinator of the parent support group wanted me to be a consultant. And I'm saying we have our leaders, we have our liaison person. Now why do I have to be involved? And she said, you can help this leader become a better leader. So you don't have to be doing this, but you can help her. Some of the things that you gone through can help her to be a better leader. At that time, I didn't think it would -- it would pay off. But one time we had lunch, and I told her. I said, now I'm here to help you, and I don't mind helping you. And we got -- oh we talked and she voiced her opinion and I voiced mine. And we started working together, and we've been working together ever since. You know, she call me and asked me to do something, I'll do it. Always, whatever I want to do, I talk it over with her. I don't go over her head at all. I respect her as a leader, and then that's it.
More Interview Chapters
About Lizzie Richardson
Born: 1937, Smithfield, North Carolina
Parent, Advocate, Board Member North Central Services
Mentoring, Parents, Services, Waiting List