A Day in the Life of an Advocate by Kathy Chan

Kathy Chan is an Ex-Officio Member of YNPN Chicago’s Board of Directors

For over eight years, I’ve been lucky enough to work at at organization that allows me to combine my personal passion for women and children’s health with my personal belief that advocacy for policy change is one of the most effective tactics to enact social change. My role as associate director and director of policy and advocacy for the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition (IMCHC) includes that of lobbyist, grant writer, analyst, “translator”, and primarily as an advocate.

While the term “lobbyist” often conjures up images of high-paid men in suits with hefty expense accounts used to line the pockets of politicians and guarantee votes, I can assure you that this is very far from what I do.

Illinois has 59 senators and 118 representatives. At last count, the Senate has 38 committees and 30 subcommittees, and the House has 47 committees and 34 subcommittees. Each year, thousands of bills are introduced and several hundred make it through the entire process and are actually enacted.

During the spring legislation session in Illinois, which runs from mid January through May and for two weeks of Veto Session in the fall, legislators convene in assigned committees, various caucuses, and in their larger chambers on an average of three days a week. I spend anywhere from two to three days a week in Springfield when the General Assembly is in session attending relevant committee hearings and informing legislators and their staff of IMCHC’s position on bills.

When I’m not in Springfield, I’m reviewing and tracking legislation on the Illinois General Assembly’s website and “translating” bills relevant to IMCHC’s 4,000 members and stakeholders into easy-to-understand fact sheets and policy updates. Given the high volume of legislation and the broad interests of IMCHC’s constituents, it’s been critical to work with other health care and child health advocates to identify bills of interest/concern and to work collaboratively with other groups.

A challenging budget climate and increased partisan politics have made it more challenging than ever to be an advocate for women and children’s health. As a result, IMCHC and our partners have spent more time than ever defending state-funded programs and protecting them from devastating cuts at all levels of government.

Yet, I’m inspired on a regular basis by the dedication of individuals, organizations, and other advocates who work to ensure the health and well-being of our most vulnerable residents, particularly those who are low-income and/or from communities of color. I also believe that every nonprofit needs to be involved in advocacy at one level or another.  Organizations can invite their local representative or senator for a site visit to better understand the valuable services they offer, meet them in-district, participate in an advocacy day in Springfield (we have one every year – visit www.ilmaternal.org/icshc for more information), or simply send an email expressing support or opposition on a particular issue.  While not every organization has a weekly presence in Springfield, you can still be heard!

Our sector is a backbone of civil society and we provide innovative and important services, programs, and resources. Elected officials and other policymakers need to hear from you to ensure that effective public programs receive appropriate funding and to understand the challenges that many of the individual and families you work with face each day. With your participation, we can help bring greater justice and equity to the lives of those you serve.

Kathy Chan currently serves as the Associate Director and provides leadership on advocacy efforts, as well as policy analysis for IMCHC and its four projects. From 2002-2006, Kathy worked at IMCHC on Covering Kids and Families where she built statewide and local coalitions and created and implemented strategies to help families more easily access public health insurance programs. Her efforts helped Illinois gain recognition as a national leader in enrollment. To date, over 2.8 million parents and children in Illinois have public insurance coverage

Kathy worked briefly in state government with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, where she assisted with strategic enrollment efforts and the implementation of All Kids. She currently serves as board chair of IFLOSS, a statewide organization working to improve the oral health status of residents and remains an active volunteer with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Chicago. Kathy graduated with a BA in English from Northwestern University and began her career as an organizer with Green Corps, a field school for environmental organizing.

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