Saturday, December 12, 2009

How To Become Your Own Best Advocate

By Barbara Davis

Last week my son and I needed advice and advocacy on a matter involving a government agency. I asked a friend and advocate to go with us to meet with the agency staff. When I did this, some eyebrows were raised, probably because asking him to go with us looked like we could not advocate for ourselves. In truth, I was afraid of that myself. While my son usually does a pretty good job for himself, this was a new situation for him. Also, I was so overwhelmed at the time that I lacked confidence. I thought having someone come with me would serve as a reminder to stick to my guns, which it did.

Over the past thirty years I have come a long way from the non-assertive, shy wimp I once was. With the help and advice of others, I have attended assertiveness and self-advocacy workshops and read numerous self-help books. My favorites among these are The Dance of Anger, What Smart Women Know and So You Had Controlling Parents. Healing from the fallout of toxic relationships is a huge step toward healthy assertiveness.

It is not easy to become your own best advocate, but with determination and persistence, it is possible, no matter how shy and non-assertive you may be now. Below are some tips that I have learned along the way:

Learn everything you can about assertiveness techniques

Read, attend workshops, and seek advice from people whom you feel are excellent self-advocates.

Keep abreast of current legislation that can impact your rights

It is difficult to advocate for your rights if you don’t know what those rights are. The internet is a terrific place to search for information. Social service agencies often provide workshops pertaining to the rights of a specific group of people. The library and other community organizations generally keep postings on their bulletin boards about these workshops. Find a workshop that pertains to you and attend it.

Put what you learn into practice

Granted, learning your rights and how to become assertive is an important first step. The second most important step is to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t attempt the assertiveness techniques that you have learned, you are not very likely to become a successful self-advocate.

Don’t let your failures drag you down

You are not going to run before walking or crawling. Begin with baby steps. If you don’t succeed, give yourself a pat on the back for at least trying. Be patient with yourself, and don’t give up. Eventually you will see that the more you assert yourself, the easier it will become to continue doing so.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

We all slip and slide in our quest for self-improvement. Grief, financial hard times, an overwhelming number of hoops to jump through, and illness or injury can erode our self confidence and sap our energy. This makes it easy to fall back into old non-assertiveness habits. If you feel you need to, ask someone you trust to go with you. It could be that simply having that person there will serve as a reminder that you need to stay on track.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Some Random Thoughts on Job Search

By Keith Hosey

It’s no question that unemployment from the downed economy has affected many families across the country. Many people are submitting applications and interviewing for the first time in years, while others, who may have ever only had jobs through their personal networks, are doing it for the first time ever. There’s more competition for fewer openings and jobseekers everywhere, with and without disabilities, are looking for ways to get ahead of the crowd and stand out above the rest. In this economy, I believe traditional job search will only get you so far. Here are some tips and tricks for finding a job, some of which are anything but usual.

Network, Network, Network. I don’t think anyone can stress this enough. It’s still the staple of good practices for finding a job. Get out there and network. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for work. They may have a friend of a friend of a friend who is hiring. Not only that, they may become you’re best advocate by taking on your cause and helping with job leads, a good reference and more.

Stand out, but don’t stick out like a sore thumb. I’ve heard of some interesting things job seekers have done recently to stand out of the crowd and get the attention of recruiters. I’ve had people tell me they put their resumes on pink paper, so it will immediately draw the attention of the recruiter. I read an article a while back about a man who mailed a shoe with every resume and a note that said he’s “trying to get a foot in the door.” No joke. While these incidences make us laugh and do gain the recruiters attention, are they drawing the right attention or are they drawing negative attention? It’s important to walk a fine line between standing out and sticking out like a sore thumb.

Do something productive. They say that looking for a job is a full time job itself, but you can’t put that on a resume. Volunteer or join a group so you can show something current on your resume. Volunteering keeps your skills fresh and gives you something to put on your resume that says “present,” which is important on a resume. There are professional groups associated with many careers. Not only are you increasing your networking when you join your respective professional group, but many times you’re accessing the inside track on job openings and keeping you knowledge of the field current. It looks good on your resume too. You may want to think about joining other community groups like Toastmasters, where you can even polish your speaking skills.

Make the internet work for you, not against you. Have you ever Googled yourself? Well you should. Fifty-five percent of employers report checking candidates out online, including through Google and social media sites like Facebook and Myspace. So if your Facebook profile has pages and pages of pictures or comments about you that you don’t want a potential employer to see… make it private. Hopefully that’s not the case. I would suggest examining your email name too. I had an individual whose email address was similar to (I’ve changed it to protect identity). You get the idea. I suggest

We live in the information and technology age, so don’t limit yourself to only real world networking. Get a LinkedIn profile, you’ll be amazed at who you might find. You’ll be amazed at who might find you. There are also free and cheap web hosting options. You can set up a website touting your skills and achievements (let them Google that). Get on Twitter or use, seriously. There are a lot of professionals tweeting resources, including job openings. I saw three job opportunities in my feed today alone and I’m not even actively searching for them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thirteen Economy-Friendly Christmas Gift Ideas

By Barbara Davis

This Christmas can be a challenging time for many who are unemployed or in fear of becoming unemployed. We may think that we have to forgo Christmas gift-giving altogether. Fortunately, with some planning, creativity, and a little help from Google, we can manage to put together some low-or-no-cost gifts. A few of these are listed below:

Help a local charity

Charity donations fall during economic hard times. To help offset this, and take care of your Christmas shopping at the same time, make an affordable donation to a charity someone on your gift list is passionate about. You can also purchase inexpensive gifts or treats from charity thrift stores and bake sales.

Make life easier for someone

If you have an elderly or chronically ill person on your list, think of some budget-friendly items that will make his or her life easier. Assemble these things in a box, booklet, folder or other container. Items assembled can be anything from an address booklet complete with contact names and numbers, stamps, gift cards, pens and papers, a pill organizer, a box of non-perishable food, large-print books or anything else that might benefit the intended recipient. This same idea is useful for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances in their lives.

Frame a child’s artwork

Purchase an inexpensive frame for the adorable picture a little one created. Let the child decorate some plain brown wrapping paper or plain white paper. Wrap the picture in the paper for a gift Grandma and Grandpa (or others in the child’s life) are sure to love.

Shop at a dollar discount store

A treasure-trove of nice-looking gifts can be found in stores where everything is a dollar. Depending on your budget, you can create themed baskets or boxes for the college-bound teen or the young adult who just rented her first apartment with gift items from these stores. is an excellent source for buying cases of items throughout the year, which can help in creating themed baskets or boxes without blowing the budget.

Turn used items into neat gifts

Plant some herbs in a never-used ceramic teapot for the cooking enthusiast on your gift list. Transform a variety of old clothes and accessories into a “dress up box” for a child. Decorate a box or purchase one at a dollar discount store. Glue colorful buttons on the box in the formation of the child’s name. Use your scanner and printer to create copies of Grandma or Grandpa’s old photographs to give to the history buff on your gift list. Used book stores and flea markets are excellent sources of inexpensive gift items as well.

Craft a favorite quote

If you sew, needlepoint, paint, or have artistic-looking handwriting, create your favorite quote on cloth or paper to frame. If you don’t feel you possess any of these skills, get creative with your computer or printer to create a beautiful and unique framed quote.

Use your printer and computer to transform ordinary household items into pretty gifts

Experiment with colors, font sizes, border art, and Google Images to create labels and pictures. Almost anything can be personalized in this way. Plain candles get a boost when several of them are labeled with beautifully crafted letters and grouped together to spell words.

Fill a pretty container with samples or trial size products

Pretty containers found in discount and thrift stores, yard sales or flea markets can make wonderful gifts when filled with sample or trial sized products. These can be purchased a little at a time to be easier on the budget.

Inventory your talents

Take a good look at the many things you do well – almost any type of talent can lend itself to gift-giving. A child is sure to enjoy a tape of you reading their favorite book. Your parents might like the scrapbook you made of trips you took with them. Delight others on your wish list with hand-made booklets containing household hints, favorite recipes, or anything else you may be skilled in or knowledgeable about.

Raid the flower garden or house plants

If you have plant-lovers on your wish list, buy several inexpensive containers and pot some flower cutlets in them. Wrap a decorative ribbon around the containers.

Decorate a large home-made cookie

Instead of making a dozen cookies from your recipe, bake the entire batch in a large round cake pan. Decorate it in whatever theme or colors is inspired by the intended recipient. Wrap with colorful plastic wrap and a pretty ribbon.

Create a “throw” with fabric remnants

Fabric remnants come in a wide variety of materials, designs, colors, patterns and themes. Choose something that reflects the interest of the intended recipient, and trim with matching ribbon. If you don’t sew, use hemming tape to secure the ribbon.

Brainstorm your own ideas

Write down the names of the people you want to give gifts to. Beside each name, write their interests, passions, or personality traits. Explore your own talents and the magic of cyber space to come up with unique and thoughtful low-or-no-cost gifts that are sure to please everyone on your list.