SourceAmerica’s 2019 Grassroots Advocacy Conference: A Father’s Perspective - Day Three With The Rock Stars

By Robert Pelikan 07/25/2019
SourceAmerica’s 2019 Grassroots Advocacy Conference: A Father’s Perspective - Day Three With The Rock Stars

Day three of SourceAmerica's Grassroots Advocacy Conference started at 7 a.m. in the Junior Ballroom. Our first meeting on Capitol Hill was at 9:30 a.m., so we had some time to prepare. My awesome son, RJ, was diagnosed with AS (Asperger's Syndrome) when he was three years old. I initially blocked out that fact, and my anger increased knowing my boy would never be Joe Points, a name my cousin Johnny and I made up whenever we played any competitive games. RJ has surpassed any stupid dad ego restrictions I placed on him. He is my son but also my best friend.

I shed a tear as I tied my father's flag tie around my son's neck that morning. My father was a proud man, and he loved the flag of our country. RJ also has a flag tie, but I thought wearing his grandfather's tie would be an awesome tribute. He got many compliments about his tie and told everyone who asked, "It was my grandfather's." Life is about those who touch us and leave an everlasting impression of love.

Rep. David Schweikert, an AbilityOne Champion, was our first stop. He is also an intellectual with a sense of humor. A small ocean may stand as a barrier to his opponents’ ideology, but he can find common ground and get in the boat to meet his colleagues as they travel together to find a way to shore. Rep. Schweikert was gracious and spoke with us for a few minutes and posed for a photo. It was a special treat for my rock star son, RJ. We then met with Chad Michaels, Rep. Schweikert's Legislative Assistant for health issues, and he made RJ feel like the rock star he is. Chad took a genuine interest in RJ, and this young man from Michigan made a lasting impression on my son.

Our next meeting was at 10 a.m. in the office of Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. We sat down, and the bell rang for a vote. Congresswoman Kirkpatrick stayed as long as she could and then posed for pictures and headed off to vote. We then met with her Legislative Assistant Lisa Walker. Lisa sat next to RJ, and he told her about his work, and then I reiterated a lot of what he said. I also spoke about how his self-esteem has grown since working in the AbilityOne Program.

Our next stop was with Kelsey Gardner in Congressman Raul Grijalva's office. As we sat around the table, I thought of the ocean and climbed into the boat and started rowing. We needed to come together and fight. Doing their part, RJ, Kenny and Jessie all told their stories about the positive effects the AbilityOne Program has had on their lives.

The next stop was the office of Rep. Rob Bishop. I was thankful that Mayloni, another self-advocate, joined us for this meeting. I was truly blown away by Mayloni's poise and attitude and her true presence of rock stardom. RJ latched on to Mayloni's quote: "Custodial work is like healthcare, because cleanliness halts the spread of disease-causing germs." RJ proudly added it to his story. Legislative Assistant Paul Johnson was like a character out of a ZZ Top song. He wore a suit that makes heads turn. Paul listened intently and made RJ feel very comfortable.

I was blessed to have met Ken Naegle and Robert Daniels at this meeting. Ken is the CEO and President of Pioneer Adult Rehabilitation Center (PARC), and Robert is the former CEO.

Rep. Paul Gosar was next up on our list. I introduced RJ to Rep. Andy Biggs, who was waiting for the same flight as us on our way to Washington. Rep. Gosar was also on our flight, but we unfortunately didn't get to meet him. Today he had planned to meet with us, but his schedule took him away from his office at our allotted time. We met with his Legislative Director, Rory Burke, who is a first-class guy. He helped RJ with a question or two when RJ was stuck. Congressman Gosar is another one of those genuine guys. Looking at pictures of Congressman Gosar, I can see his passion for the AbilityOne Program. He is truly a champion.

Senator Martha McSally was off at the D-Day celebration. Senator McSally is a true patriot, and I wished RJ would have had the opportunity to meet her. We met with Emily Crow, who has the same patience as my wife, Laura. Emily is Senator McSally's Legislative Correspondent. She was genuine and compassionate as she listened to my son's story along with the stories of Kenny and Jessie.

Next up was Senator Kyrsten Sinema's office visit. We met with Sylvia Lee, her Policy Adviser. Ms. Lee was kind, and I could tell in her eyes of her interest in the AbilityOne Program and in RJ's story and those of the others who were with us in the conference room. We spent quality time with her as the photographer from SourceAmerica repeatedly touched the button of his camera. We also had a nice group photo taken outside Senator Sinema’s office, bringing another long day to an end. But the night was just beginning.

After our cab ride back to the hotel, we quickly changed and headed downstairs. We scarfed down some pizza and wings and climbed aboard our Old Town Trolley Tour with Virginia as our guide. Virginia added her personal touch to our tour and made it super special. Old Town Trolley Tours is lucky to have such a great employee.

Sleep came easy to us on day three. Our trip was coming to a close. On day four, which would be our last day, we would be done with meetings by lunchtime and would be able to do a few things to check off RJ's dream list.