When I attended my first American Heart Association You’re the Cure Advocacy Day in March of 2011, I had never set foot in the Riffe Center or State House, let alone talked to my state legislators. I felt very nervous and intimidated when I registered for the day’s events, but I knew it was something I had to do as a health educator--after all, one of our core responsibilities is to “Communicate and Advocate for Health and Health Education.”
The topic for the day was Investing in Tobacco-Free Youth. After getting registered, the AHA gave attendees options for a pre-event phone call to go over logistics of the day, learn talking points, parking, and dress- the very things I was nervous about! It was great to get an overview and be able to ask questions before the actual day. When I arrived on the day of the event, I was welcomed by AHA staff, given a name tag and a folder packed with important details about the day. I was placed in a group with two other advocates and given an appointment schedule. After taking a few minutes to get to know my team, going over the key talking points and dividing them up among us, we set off for our visits. The day was a huge success!
I was surprised to learn that the legislators and their aides are normal people with their own stories to share about health issues. I was also surprised that they were interested in hearing what I had to say. By the end of the day I felt so empowered and happy because the education and conversations I had that day really were meaningful and could make a difference. Thanks to the AHA staff for making my first advocacy experience so positive!
Since then I have attended every advocacy day that the AHA has sponsored. I have met with legislators outside advocacy day, written letters to the editor, responded to online action alerts and encouraged colleagues, friends and family to get involved with advocacy. I have educated legislative members on issues such as tobacco, health education standards, heart disease, stroke, and shared use agreements. This past spring I even had the opportunity to go with a group of advocates to Washington DC. I now know first hand that as American citizens we all have a responsibility to advocate for health – not just health educators and health professionals. See you at Advocacy Day 2014!
By Heather Vilvens, Volunteer Advocate