Elise Sarvas, Advocate for Children’s Oral Health

Elise (second from right) with her pediatric dental residents in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

How are you an advocate?

I am the Public Policy Advocate (PPA) for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. You can read more about the position here. Basically, I serve as the representative for the AAPD on the state level to promote children’s oral health in state policies. Every state has their own unique needs for their PPA. In Minnesota, I am concerned with raising the reimbursement rate for children’s oral health services. We like to think of Minnesota as a progressive state when it comes to taking care of our children, but the reality is that we rank dead last in paying for dental services for kids. This means that children who are on state insurance like Medicaid or Medical Assistance programs can’t get the care they need because the dentists get paid too low to see them. So while they “have dental insurance” they can’t use it because the dentists can’t pay for staff, supplies, and time to see them. We are the worst in the country – it’s really shameful. 

How did you learn to be an advocate?

I’ve learned on the job! There is no one way to do advocacy and how I approach it changes on the day and who I’m speaking with. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to investigate who all the stakeholders are. Once you understand their perspective, you can start to make some ground. There are so many issues that seem like they have easy solutions, but if they were that easy to solve, I’d like to think we would have already done it. Once you understand who all is involved, you can reach out to them in a personalized way. 

What are skills that would be good to know?

I was at first a reluctant advocate. It’s outside my comfort zone to talk to people I don’t know. But whatever squeamishness I have is far outweighed by the chance to do good for someone who can’t speak for themselves. And that’s my trick – I’m not asking for something for me, I’m asking for someone else who needs it. It gets me outside my head and that’s the only skill you really need. That and some persistence 🙂

Every year Elise takes her pediatric dental residents to DC to learn how to talk to lawmakers. Here she is with her team and with Representative Betty McCollum (District IV – DFL, Minn).

Advocacy Event: Coffee with Congressman Keith Ellison

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN) hosts many events and trainings throughout the year, including a Coffee with Congress series.  These gatherings are informative and honest, giving citizens direct access to representative’s perspective and priorities.  It also provides a venue to ask questions and share your own ideas.  At the very least, it’s a great first step into Advocacy!

Join MCN for their next coffee with Congressman Keith Ellison, representing Minnesota’s fifth congressional district, onThursday, May 28, from 3 – 4 p.m. at the Lutheran Social Service – Center for Changing Lives in Minneapolis.

If interested, sign up here.  And be sure to reach out to next year’s Advocacy Chair Carrie Curtis to share your experience!

Successful Storytelling

“Storytelling” has become a big buzzword around the Junior League of Minneapolis lately. As members, we share stories with others to explain the Junior League, why we joined and what the Achievement Gap means to us.  I think we can all admit that effective storytelling can be hard though. That’s where the FrameWorks Institute comes into play.  They are a research group that helps nonprofits communicate on social problems.  Below are three of their tips for success:

Data are more powerful when woven into a story.  Given only data, the audience is more likely to mold that information to fit their beliefs than allow it to change their minds. But when you combine facts and values in a narrative, you’re more likely to change public opinion and policy.

Be careful when using vivid examples.   For example, sharing the story of a man who works his way out of homelessness may suggest that anyone who works hard can do the same.

Tell success stories about groups of people.  By telling success stories about collective triumph, you will prompt your audience to action rather than just sympathy.

You can read more about FrameWorks Institute and their tips for storytelling here. Consider these when telling your next Junior League or other personal advocacy story.

Post contributed by Carrie Curtis.