Updated: Apr 27, 2019
My first “real” job, other than the typical high school/college role that helped pay for school, was in government. Specifically, I was the lead advance person for United States Senator Rick Santorum. My job was to map out the Senator’s visits to the Philadelphia region. From the mundane, like mapping out the driving route, to hosting dignitaries to constructing talking points. It was a great first job. The experience taught me a lot – including how to juggle a full-time job, a part-time job and graduate school (you do it for the experience, not the pay) and it is all part of MY history. However, the mere mention of the Senator’s name can evoke eye rolling by some. My assumption is that they disagree with his ideology, which is fine. Even as a staff person, I did not agree with everything he said; but despite being the lowly staffer, the Senator would always engage me in conversation, was extremely respectful and always kind. All things that I have grown to appreciate over my years and exposure to the political world.
What many people do not realize is the amount of respect our regional legislators actually have for the man. I have lost count the number of times I have introduced myself (and my background) to long-term Philadelphia Democrats. When I mention Santorum to these folks, it typically evokes a smile, followed up with “he’s a good guy”. I would learn of stories about how the Senator used his influence and stature to bring resources to Philadelphia, knowing that neither cameras nor accolades would follow. The Senator’s verbal commitment was as good as gold; he would do these things because it was right, and his decision making was based on need and not influenced by politics.
Fast forward to 2017/18.
We all have adversity, but despite that, I am very blessed. My adversity had exposed me to people and lessons that I am very grateful for; it has also helped me to find a calling of sorts – that is, to advocate for and help those in the disability universe. I have spent a lot of time in this space and I am proud of what we have accomplished so far. This has included raising funds for a playground for the autistic population at my son’s school, building a life skills room at this same school, as well as creating a non for profit that would expand our reach and capabilities. We call this fund the Royal Butterfly and the mission is to provide mini-grants to caretakers and teachers of special needs children in my community. In a region where the median income is $50,000, yet the average cost to care for a special needs child is $35,000, there is a dire need for these extra supports. So we created this fund, we started fundraising and we approached our elected officials. Soon thereafter, our sitting state PA Senator informed us that the Royal Butterfly would be awarded $200,000. We received a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in September solidifying the financial commitment and we had a check presentation at our inaugural event in October. We were elated by the opportunities this money presented - the creation of sensory rooms for the special needs population in our silo programs, expansion of the life skills room and the introduction of a culinary program at the high school … all in addition to fulfilling the fund’s mission. So. Much. Opportunity.
Fast forward to today.
I am running for a countywide office. I have been endorsed by the Republican Party. My work in the special needs world helped to create this opportunity and I see it as a way to be on a larger platform to talk about needs within our vulnerable populations, as well as other pressing issues; however, it seems that this has all come at a cost…literally. The funding pledged to the Royal Butterfly in September, even outlined in a letter, will no longer be honored. There has been no explanation offered to me by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, as the contact person has “ghosted” me, ignoring countless emails and phone calls. I cannot blame the bureaucrat, but I can blame the people in charge and that would be our Secretary of Education and ultimately our Governor. The same Governor who talks about wanting to right the wrongs of our education system in Pennsylvania is the same Governor who allows funding to be taken away from students according to politics. My former Senator lost his race and the new Senator does not seem to want to advocate on our behalf. I have reached out to all of them and their staff to no avail. It is not right. It is not ok.
So...in sum...I have learned some valuable lessons. Elections do in fact matter…and commitments are no longer as good as gold…even when it is in writing.