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March 2011

Social work students get personal view of how state government works

(View Photos from Lobby Day)

They gathered in the wee hours – and, pitch dark – of early morning Feb. 23, all in the name of bringing issues they care about to the ears of their state legislators. Three vans carrying 17 Avila University social work students rolled out of the parking lot in front of Goppert Theatre and headed west on Highway 50 to Jefferson City. The students, all seniors enrolled in professor Elaine Wright's Policy and Program Analysis class, were anxious to learn about the processes of state government and enthusiastic about meeting with and lobbying their representatives, despite bleary eyes from the early wake-up call.

The occasion was "Advocacy Day at the Capitol 2011," sponsored by the National Association of Social Workers, Missouri Chapter. More than 140 social work students from more than seven Missouri public and private universities attended the event, including Avila, UMKC, Park, Missouri State, Fontbonne, St. Louis University and Lindenwood. They were welcomed to the Capitol, first by Tamitha Price, executive director of the NASW-Missouri Chapter, then by Linda Baker, executive director of the Governor's Council on Disability.

"Become involved in politics, because your life depends on it," Baker told her captive audience. The students spent much of the rest of the day doing just that.

The Avila students spent the morning observing the organized chaos on the floor of the House of Representatives during a legislative session. The floor of the Senate, at the opposite side of the building, had to wait as its session let out before the students had a chance to make their way. They did, however, get to meet the district representative for Avila, Kevin McManus, who seemed eager and thankful at the opportunity to meet with a small group of constituents, even for just a few minutes.

"Having you come down here and talking with us is how we know what's going on out there," McManus told the students.

After lunch, the afternoon was reserved for individual meetings between students and their representatives and senators. Each had their own issues and positions with which to try and convince their legislators.

Nina Anderson located her representative, Mike Talboy, on the House floor and convinced him to step out into the hallway for a brief introduction and speech about why he should vote "yes" on House Bill 29, which would provide more doctors and places for free health care to the needy.

"I was very satisfied," Anderson said. "He told me he supported HB 29. I feel it would be more helpful for homeless to get the health care they need.

"I was all nervous coming here, but once you're here (lobbying), you realize they're just human, too."

Another group of three students, along with social work professor and group leader Elaine Wright, got a 20-minute meeting with Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan. Tonya Ganaway didn't hear what she wanted from Callahan on her issue of mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists. Governor Jay Nixon would veto any such bill that would come his way, Callahan said. But Laura Gillett received Callahan's backing for a transition plan for the developmentally disabled from long-term institutions to community-based homes, and Jill Street's lobby for veterans not having to pay for educational hours also got Callahan's nod.

Yet another group of students received hands-on lessons in lobbying from Charles Hatcher III, an assistant to Sen. Jolie Justice, who popped in on the group, but had to leave to attend a committee meeting. Hatcher grilled each student on their issues, asking questions a lawmaker might ask and giving them a realistic feel for lobbying.

By the end of the day, the caravan headed back east on 50, even more weary than when they left Kansas City that morning, but exhilarated and energized by the experience.

"I thought everything was just great," said Avila senior Norman Gunn. "I just took everything in." AU

Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434