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Advocates explore forming Clay County Disability Council

First organizational meeting held last week at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship

By Lee Wardlaw lee@claytodayonline.com
Posted 4/27/23

ORANGE PARK – Stakeholders from the county’s disability community held their first collaborative meeting on April 20 to create a preliminary blueprint for the Clay County Disability …

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Advocates explore forming Clay County Disability Council

First organizational meeting held last week at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship


Posted

ORANGE PARK – Stakeholders from the county’s disability community held their first collaborative meeting on April 20 to create a preliminary blueprint for the Clay County Disability Council.

The council, which will serve as a liaison between the county’s disability advocate community and municipal and county governments, would be the county’s first group of its kind.

If formed, the council would seek to become a division of the Clay SafetyNet Alliance, a nonprofit committed to expanding the platform of committed social service partners among faith-based, nonprofit, for-profit and local government organizations.

Residents with mental and physical disabilities, their parents, caregivers, nonprofit providers and representatives from county nonprofits Challenger Enterprises and BASCA, attended along with Clay County Community and Social Services, a department within the county government dedicated to the well-being of all residents.

Jose Morales, who is blind and a former county resident and a highly successful professional, moved to Jacksonville to be the ADA Manager for CIL Jacksonville and led the meeting alongside DeAnn Burgess. She is an advisor for Clay County Changemakers, a nonprofit dedicated to helping persons with mental and physical disabilities and fighting for change to aid the quality of life through advocating for change in political policy. Morales said that the first order for the Disability Council was to create a mission statement.

The statement will be drafted with help from Lauren Eakin, a woman who lives with cerebral palsy and is required to utilize a wheelchair. Eakin has become a well-known advocate for people with disabilities living in Clay County.

Eakin is the co-founder and board member at the Changemakers, a board member for the Florida Self Advocates Network and Clay County Transportation Disadvantage. She’s also a graduate of the Florida Partners in Policymaking program and has been fighting for disability rights since 2017.

The statement is to be completed in the next two weeks. They hope that will be a significant step for the county’s disabled community.

Among other details discussed at the meeting by Morales included plans for an open public forum at the Clay SafetyNet Alliance’s July meeting to explain the direction the Disability Council needs to move forward, as well as the key and crucial highlight differences of a Disability Council and Advocacy Group according to Florida Sunshine Law.

Morales used his Duval County Mayor’s Council as a blueprint for a successful council model while creating the Clay County Disability Council.

Morales laid out the details of the council can install members, create subcommittees and address issues as they arise.

He told the group how to approach businesses and nonprofits to establish funding, support, and goodwill that can help promote policy changes for persons of disabilities within the community, which is what the proposed council would seek to do if formed.

“We started from Ground Zero (in 2017), and we’re trying to build this disability council in Clay, and I’m really excited to see where it goes. This is something I’ve been working on for a while. I want to get Clay where Duval is,” Eakin said.

“In 2017, I became very aware of the lack of services for people with disabilities in Clay County and throughout the state. Since then, we’ve been pushing hard through advocates trying to make the change, and it’s very difficult to do so. I’m very happy about the progress from the meeting today and what could be in store moving forward,” Burgess said.

Burgess said working to bridge partnerships to gain further support within the county community will be one order of business.

“We’re going to attempt to pull together some partnerships to help expand the Clay County Disability Council,” she said.