The JNCS Open Advocacy Forum

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In 2018, Jay Nolan Community Services (JNCS) started an initiative: to give individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities a platform to voice their thoughts and opinions and to openly discuss the topics that matter to them. Thus, the Open Advocacy Forum was born.

The Open Advocacy Forum: How It Began

For many years a quarterly advocacy meeting has been hosted and organized by staff at JNCS. In August 2018 a large group of self-advocates was invited to discuss the future of this group. At the meeting people shared their experiences with self-advocacy and talked about what they liked about the meetings, and what could be improved.  The group brainstormed about topics they wanted to cover, and talked about how the meetings could be structured.

At the end of the meeting, a small group of self-advocates volunteered to be part of a leadership team that would plan, organize and host larger meetings open to all individuals who receive services at JNCS as well as their staff. The overarching message from the self-advocates was that they wanted to be in charge of the meetings, decide what the topics would be, who the guest speakers would be, and how the meetings would be run.

This small group met for the first time in September 2018 and included 8 self-advocates who volunteered to take on various leadership roles. During this meeting they also decided that they would vote in order to make decisions, and that the meetings would be open only to people on the leadership team. They voted that direct support staff there to support individual self advocates, would not vote, but could offer ideas, suggestions and assistance during the meetings. They accepted Lily Handley’s offer to facilitate during the leadership meetings and Alisha Turner and Dangela Grussi’s offers to help with logistical and ongoing support for the group.


The Leadership Team: Roles and Responsibilities

  • Grace Hawker– photographer, icebreakers for leadership meetings, co-facilitator for leadership meetings
  • Kimi Zolriasatin– RSVP coordination, research
  • Hunter Larkin– making flyers
  • Rob Townsend– Set up/clean up
  • Michael Colls– Set up/clean up
  • James Fentress– RSVP and food coordination
  • Andrew Vahadj– send out pictures of meeting notes to members of the leadership team

Prior Meetings: Covering Topics that Matter

Since the initial meeting, the group has met together every other month and planned for a large meeting open to all that they chose to call the “Open Advocacy Forum.” These meetings happen every 2 months and have covered the following topics:

  1. September 2018: “Making Friends,” Dave and Busters
  2. October 2018: “Voting Rights,” with Guest Speaker Steve Miller,
  3. December 2018: “Family,” Holiday Potluck the JNCS office
  4. February 2019: “Romance, Relationships and Sex,” potluck with Guest Speakers Julia and Rigo (married couple, self advocates who sit on board of DDS advocacy group)
  5. April 2019: “Keep the Promise Rally,” hosted a sign making party then attended a rally in Van Nuys at a government building to advocate for funding for services
  6. June 2019: “Communication,” potluck with Guest Speaker Charlotte
  7. August 2019: “Self Advocacy,” potluck with Guest Speaker Wesley Witherspoon (self advocate who works for DDS)
  8. October 2019: “Halloween,” potluck/party hosted for office and self advocates at JNCS, included an organized costume contest with a panel of self advocate judges and prizes
  9. December 2019: “Community Safety,” discussion with special guest Bob McKee, a retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy
  10. February 2020: “Privacy and Personal Space,” potluck with a presentation and discussion facilitated by married couple Julie and Rigo Gaona
  11. October 2020: “Voting,” an online webinar on presented by consumer advocate Wesley Witherspoon.
  12. February 2021: “Staying Healthy,” an online talk about Healthy Eating by consumer advocate Wesley Witherspoon.
  13. June 2022: Sherman Oaks Castle Park, a fun evening out and a chance to build community and hang out.
  14. August 2022: Santa Monica Pier and Beach Trip, a fun outing and a chance to hang out with the group.

Upcoming Meetings

The Open Advocacy Forum meets every two months. All individuals are welcome to join and participate in the discussion. Please check our Upcoming Events page for any upcoming meetings.

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