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Citizen Advocacy Retreat with Al Condeluci

Introduction: Disability Rights Nebraska provides training and consultation to five independently-operated Citizen Advocacy offices in the state of Nebraska. These offices serve the purpose of creating one-to-one matches between ordinary citizens and vulnerable individuals in their communities who have a disability. At this year’s Citizen Advocacy Retreat, Al Condeluci, CEO of Community Living and Support Services, presented on the concept of Social Capital. North Platte Citizen Advocacy coordinator, Don Kurre, agreed to write a guest blog about his takeaways from Al Condeluci’s presentation.

The Retreat Committee spent several months researching possible speakers for Citizen Advocacy’s annual retreat.  We needed to identify someone who understood the principles and mission of Citizen Advocacy. This person would be able to energize and enrich those involved in Citizen Advocacy as advocates, board members, and coordinators.

The Committee finally agreed to invite Al Condeluci. We appreciated his energy, enthusiasm and insights. His notion of Social Capital fit with the values and principles of Citizen Advocacy. Al, we decided, offered a unique perspective, language and tools to enrich our efforts not only to match people but to fulfill the key office activities. We were not disappointed. 

Al ventured into this career path to advocate for and protect his niece Carrie. 
Carrie and Al spent most of their time growing up exploring life on Condeluci Hill. When Al went to school, he noticed that Carrie got to stay home. When he asked his Mom why Carrie didn’t go to school too his Mom said, "Carrie, is special, she has Down Syndrome." 

“If that is all it takes not to have to go to school,” Al mused, “how do I get Down Syndrome?”

This conversation with his mother and his love for Carrie started Al on a journey that became the focus of his life for over 40 years. 

Al’s experience and studies helped him see the deadly effects of social isolation. He saw the effects of a lack of Social Capital, which refers to the value of our relationships and their impact on our lives.

Research shows citizens with a large supply of social capital live longer, are healthier, are less likely to have depression, have better cognitive function and are happier. People with a disability have 60% less social capital when compared with ordinary citizens. Socially isolated people feel disconnected, excluded, and alienated. They also have more sick days and die sooner. Social isolation kills people and is as lethal as smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day.

As an example of a way to foster a person’s social capital, Al outlined his efforts to enable Carrie to join a photography club. Participating in the club not only nurtured her interest in photography; it also fostered her social capital.

New skills and insights are useful to support advocates as they bring their partners deeper into the community of ordinary and valued citizens. The advocate's efforts reduce the isolation and protect their partner from the deadly consequences of social isolation. 

Al’s style and energy inspire me to explore unfamiliar territory discovering ways to incorporate his teaching into my own efforts as a coordinator. My ability to support advocates as they journey with their partner in building social capital was enriched by this retreat.