Staff Associate focused on the future and the rights of people with disabilities

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Access Living Staff Associate Josie Newson. This photo was taken in April at a Health Care Resource Day at Access Living.
One of six interns on staff, Josie Newson has been working at Access Living since November of 2012. Though she has been on staff for a relatively short time, she is not a stranger to the disability community and disability advocacy, particularly within the mental health community. She served on the Advisory Board for and volunteered with the Englewood Mental Health Clinic. Also, she was affiliated with STOP (Southside Together Organizing for Power), an advocacy group for people with mental health issues. Last year, Josie rallied in Woodlawn as part of the movement that protested against the closure of mental health clinics in Chicago.

Josie works with Access Living through the Staff Associate Program, a partnership with the Illinois Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. The program allows Access Living to hire a small number of vocational rehabilitation clients with disabilities. While associates partner with Access Living staff on organizational issues, they learn job skills that will equip them to find full-time employment after graduating from the program. Josie has worked with Vivian King, a Department of Human Services Counselor, for 12 years. Vivian has helped Josie through her academic career and helped place Josie with Access Living. Prior to Access Living, Josie completed an internship with Esperanza School, a school for children with Autism and cognitive disabilities.

As an Access Living intern, Josie advocates on issues related to health care. She helps coordinate the monthly meetings of both the Task Force on Attendant Services and Independent Voices, organizing groups that advocate on behalf of independent living services in the community and of people with disabilities who want to live in their own homes instead of nursing homes. Josie says her favorite part of working at Access Living is “The people. Everyone comes together to resolve the problem so we can have a great solution.”

Josie also helps plan regular advocacy trips to Springfield, where disability advocates raise awareness and build support for legislation that will enable more people with disabilities to live in communities of their own choice rather than institutions. On April 10, Josie joined nearly 30 others from the Access Living Community who traveled via Amtrak to Springfield for a statewide advocacy day. In Springfield, the Access Living group joined hundreds of others who rallied for the closure of the Murray Developmental Center, a State Operated Developmental Center for people with disabilities. “It was beautiful,” Josie said, speaking about the rally day. She said she happy that all the participants came together on one day. In terms of the legislators in Springfield and their actions on institution closure and community supports, Josie said, “Hopefully, we made a difference.”

Looking ahead, Josie plans to return to school. With a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Northeastern Illinois University, she plans to study for a Master’s Degree at Governor’s State University. “I would like to open up a social service agency in a poverty stricken area,” Josie said, talking about her goals. The agency would focus on services for kids. Josie explained that “I want to instill in the (minds of) the kids that there are people out there who will steer them in the right direction.” With Josie at the wheel, the kids are sure to be put on a good path.