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From Trepidation to Transformation | Aaron Ockerman on Lobby Day and the Volunteer Experience

“After every Lobby Day, people come back at the end and they are invigorated and excited and say—that was amazing! I’m so glad I did that! I felt like I made a difference!” our contract lobbyist Aaron Ockerman said. “Any trepidation they had at 9 am is completely gone by 3 pm.” Lobby Day participation has the potential to be genuinely transformative for many volunteers who initially felt intimidated but later realized the impact they could make.

Join Aaron Ockerman, Adoption Network Cleveland’s dedicated lobbyist and 2023 Advocate of the Year, in making a real impact at the Ohio Statehouse. For the past 18 years, Aaron has spearheaded Lobby Day, an event where volunteers from all over the state converge to meet with legislators and raise awareness about crucial adoption policies. Aaron, together with Betsie Norris, goes above and beyond to help volunteers feel well-equipped to enact change in adoption policy in Ohio.     

Aaron believes anyone associated with Adoption Network Cleveland, whether a board member, Public Policy Committee member, staff, donor, or anyone interested in lifting up issues they care about should volunteer for Lobby Day. “Don’t be nervous. Don’t be scared. You will be very well prepared. We spend a lot of time with the volunteers prepping them and making sure they’re comfortable.”

Volunteers may share personal stories connected to the key policy areas or follow the provided script. This year our Public Policy Agenda focuses on promoting specific ethical and equitable practices in adoption and child welfare, promoting truth and transparency in donor conception and adoption and fostering sibling connections.

Volunteers often find it easy to share their personal stories. When it comes to discussing our organization or delving into our policy platform, we equip volunteers with handouts, materials, and collateral. A comprehensive hour-and-a-half training session covers the day’s agenda, discusses collateral content, provides information about the climate at the Ohio Statehouse and what to expect, and addresses any volunteer questions. We prioritize pairing new participants with experienced volunteers, ensuring that no one navigates the process alone – you always have at least one partner, and often two.

“Ninety-nine percent of our experiences are incredibly, incredibly positive,” Aaron shared. “[Legislators] are very interested and very engaged. Seeing that you can come down as someone who’s not really an insider and make a difference is really a special experience for the volunteers who participate. I think they come away changed, fired up, more interested, and more willing to really engage—that helps the organization, that helps those individuals, and ultimately, it helps us get better laws passed.”

"You get lunch, and we hand out candy! Anytime you walk into anyone’s office with candy, you’re going to be welcomed!"

Lobby Day allows Adoption Network Cleveland members to educate legislators about the organization’s mission, fostering connections that lead to change. Through this, legislative champions are identified, like the sponsors for the access to records bill found during Lobby Day 2013.

This event also helps establish relationships with legislative staff who have a direct connection to adoption. “We offer ourselves up as a resource,” Aaron said. “If a legislator gets a call from a constituent with a question about foster care, adoption, or kinship care, they know they can call us, and Betsie or staff at Adoption Network Cleveland will be helpful in getting information out to that legislator and their constituents.”

Advocacy is at the forefront of the Adoption Network Cleveland mission statement. “Betsie has always made it a priority,” Aaron said. “If you think about it, it’s really kind of who we are. Betsie founded the organization [while knowing] she wanted to get that access to records piece of the law changed. Advocacy really is at our core as an organization, so any opportunity we get to get in front of policymakers and advocate, is time well spent.”

Lobby Day 2024 is May 7th, from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm in Columbus. Volunteers are needed! To sign up or inquire about volunteering, email Lindsay Domingo at Lindsay.Domingo@Swagelok.com with a copy to Betsie Norris at betsie.norris@adoptionnetwork.org by March 15th. Join us in making a difference!