Your Name: Elyssa D. Durant
Position Desired: YOURS
What are you seeking in a job at this point in your life?
An advocacy position working with children that would allow me to combine my academic training and educational background with my passion for grassroots policy planning and program development. I have been working at the grassroots level with a number of organizations for many years, and I enjoy seeing the public realize how effective they can be in advocating for themselves. I have witnessed many people take off personally and professionally once they experience how gratifying it can be to become empowered through expressing their views and making their voices heard. I enjoy leading people on this path of empowerment.
Why do you want to work with children?
Having participated in the head start program as a small child, I was fortunate enough to be given additional resources that allowed me to be on a level playing field when I started Kindergarten at 4 ½ years-old. I believe working with Stand for Children will allow me to give a voice to small children and some of the disenfranchised families who have the greatest need for strong, well-organized representation.
How would you explain community or grassroots organizing and what about it appeals to you as opposed to other ways to improve the lives of children?
Grassroots advocacy would allow me to work directly with stakeholders on critical policy initiatives and budget priorities. I enjoy helping the public have their opinions heard and consider myself empathetic to the needs of my target audience and population. I enjoy working towards a stated goal and seeing that programs be properly designed, planned, and implemented to allow for effective program development and policy implementation. In addition, working sat the grassroots level allows you to interact with those who are directly affected by the programs and policy reform initiatives. I enjoy listening to people and helping to empower the disenfranchised populations. Grassroots work allows you to see change happen and letting people know how important each and every voice is on the political spectrum. By establishing a positive network of community alliances and establishing a good rapport with the general public, they will feel that they had a direct role in creating the new programs and policies, and they are much more likely to remain active in their child's education and community programs long after I am gone.
What adjectives would people who know you generally use to describe you? Name specific work situations in which these attributes have served you.
People often comment on my dedication: I do not take on causes that I do not believe in. I will do "whatever it takes" to see that I achieve results that are beneficial to the community I live in, the organization I represent, and the children who need my voice.
I am sincere and not easily swayed from my viewpoints. I am very true to my clients, and believe in what I say. I am outspoken. I am not easily intimidated and believe that I have a right to be heard, as do the children, families, and communities I represent. I am eloquent, logical, and persuasive. I can usually find a way to relate to my clients, and give them a reason to participate in the legislative process. I help them understand that they are a crucial in seeing effective programs implemented in a way that will best serve the needs of their children and communities. I help my clients feel empowered by showing them how their direct participation can improve their circumstances and the lives of their children. I try to demonstrate how easy it is to participate in developing effective policy and public programs. I encourage them to become more active in their own lives by showing them how important it is to be heard by their legislators, congressional representatives, and their community leaders.
I am effective because I get things done!
What would your former employers say about you? What areas would they suggest you work on?
- "Her involvement with the class, her interaction with the students and teachers alike, and her willingness to listen while offering fresh insight of her own made working with Elyssa a very enjoyable experience."
- "Her energy for the work and the educational process showcased both her abilities for problem solving and her well-developed communication skills."
- "Elyssa's enthusiasm for knowledge and the process of learning impressed me a great deal. She has an active curiosity about education and the learning process."
- Some employers have not been quite as enthusiastic regarding my level of personal involvement with my work... they may suggest I work on my objectivity in the workplace. I tend to take my work very seriously.
Please list your top five achievements at your last position.
- My clients still call me from school in the morning to let me know they made it there safely. None have dropped out and five will be graduating this May!
- One former client is no longer abusing small animals after we took a day trip to the animal shelter. He now demonstrates empathy towards animals and treats them with a gentle hand.
- Mental health parity has received considerable more attention from the press after the NBCNightly News picked up an article I wrote. NBC requested on camera interview, but my schedule was not the least bit forgiving at the time.
- New York State passed a bill for Medicaid buy-in the day after I had organized a trip to Albany for members of my community who were at-risk for losing their benefits.
- My persistence locating subjects (participants in a long-term study of children with severe emotional disorders) allowed for more reliable and valid results since a larger, more representative sample was achieved for the third and final wave of interviews. The methods and study results were discussed recently in a prestigious journal of public policy.
Describe an interpersonal challenge you faced with a co-worker and how you resolved it.
I learned that my supervisor had altered some of my case notes for a client file that was scheduled to be audited. After confronting him with my original documentation and the new paperwork that was in the child's file, he told me that it was critical not to reflect abuse in my client files since it would cause the company to loose referrals from the Department of Children's services. After speaking with my sister (an attorney) I decided to make copies and forwarded them anonymously to a child rights organization.
What did you learn from it?
I ultimately resigned since I felt I did not want to be part of an organization that would place financial incentives above a child's welfare.
What experience do you have working directly with children? Concerns for children?
For my undergraduate practicum, I worked as a social skills counselor in a school-based intervention program designed for high-risk youth. After working with various groups of children, I began to notice significant differences in their levels of self-esteem. This made me increasingly concerned about policy issues involved in special education, assessment, and placement. I think it is critical to explore alternative program options that would allow children to receive the special attention they need without jeopardizing their emotional development.
Have you ever been involved in an effort to change a policy or a budget priority? Please describe.
Yes-several years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the Governor's Roundtable on TennCare. The new CEO had implemented cuts to the program without providing members (or providers) with adequate time or information prior to implementing a major change to the prescription formulary (the list of approved medications.) Because I had witnessed the fallout at my local pharmacy that weekend, my supervisor requested that I draft a written statement to the committee regarding the impact of these changes for beneficiaries. After the newly appointed CEO of TennCare denied receiving any negative feedback on his rapid budget cuts, my boss asked me if I would be willing to speak before the committee and call his bluff. Ultimately, this lead to the passage of the Grier Amendment. Grier provides beneficiaries with a formal procedure that must be followed prior to cutting off any medications prior to receiving a formal appeal. Grier provides beneficiaries with a form of "due-process" protection granting them access to an adequate supply of medication while their physician can has the opportunity to obtain the necessary authorization for medically necessary treatment.
I recently ran into the former CEO that implemented the poorly planned budget cuts. He now works at my local gas station in the mini-mart; however, he claims they offer excellent health insurance with unlimited pharmacy benefits.
Why, in your opinion, do schools, early childhood education, and other programs that give children a fair chance in life receive so much less funding than they need and deserve?
I believe there are several reasons that contribute towards the pattern of under-funding educational programs. First, I believe that the "war on terror" has misrepresented our budget priorities to the general public. Second, I believe that there is a hesitation to re-distribute funds so that they can be used in the communities that would benefit the most from additional sources of funding. Third, I think that the people designing the budget are not sympathetic to the needs of the underprivileged, and they are reluctant to offend wealthier constituents by allocating funds towards impoverished districts. Fourth, I believe that the general public is quite comfortable believing that all is well in American schools, and if we keep adjusting the SAT's to reflect this myth, the true state of education will most likely be ignored. As a society, we must decide that education is a top priority and fund education in the same way we fund the military. I could go on, but I will not!
What specifically can be done to ensure that more public funding goes to schools, early childhood education and other programs that give children a fair chance in life?
We need to think of educational policy reform initiatives and programs in terms of equity rather than equality. Equality is a myth. Some children, schools, communities, and parents simply need more if they are to benefit from the large number of pre-k programs soon to become available to young Tennesseans. We must meet their needs by matching them with appropriate programs and opportunities by virtue of their parent's financial resources. We must reframe the educational model in terms of equity not equality; all homes and all schools are sadly not equal.
I was a head start child myself, and I am proud of my academic achievements. With the new lottery in place, many children will have a new source of opportunity: scholarship money can provide a completely new funding source beyond the standard K-12 public education. We need to reframe the educational model so that we can improve the system for children who are "at-risk" of falling behind so that they have true equal opportunity. There are many new opportunities to be had in the state of Tennessee. Not only can children now benefit from the new pre-K programs being developed, but they can also benefit from educational funding that has become available in the form of Hope scholarships that the lottery program offers for college.
We need to give children a fair shot at actualizing their inherent capabilities and help them to develop a love of learning before they have an opportunity to be lost in the "system."
Share experiences you've had in forming or building an organization.
As the director of special programs for NAMI, I had the opportunity to work with consumers and their families by planning special events and programs. I made frequent trips to the local psychiatric hospital to talk to consumers about how they need to take an active role in planning new programs-especially if they were unhappy with the current programs in place for SPMI (severe and persistent mentally ill) populations. I was amazed at how much you can accomplish on a long road trip by providing a school bus and free lunch for all who were willing to participate and make their voice (and their votes) count!