Advocates Reflect on the Impact of a Mentor
By James Harley
John Romer was a giant in the advocacy world. During his life and career, he lifted the voices of people with disabilities, always encouraging everyone to speak up for themselves and advocate for change. Romer started his career as a group home manager and retired two years ago as advocacy director for Hamilton County DD Services. He influenced and empowered many people, and his impact was recognized in 2021 with a statewide award for Lifetime Achievement in advocacy. Romer passed away suddenly last fall, but the lessons he shared continue to live on through people he mentored.
Personal advocacy starts with getting to know what you need and want in life. Romer inspired people to be involved and share their stories. He urged me to join a community advisory committee, which sparked my initial interest in advocacy. Romer also gave Robert Shuemak one of his first opportunities to speak about his disability and how it affects him.
“John got to know you as a person, learn your gifts and talents, and put you in the best situations to be successful,” Shuemak said.
Advocacy also involves helping others. Romer taught us to be a voice for people who can’t always speak up for themselves. He motivated us to help others find their voice.
“John taught me the importance of storytelling,” Diana Mairose said. “He always told me we weren’t tokens, but citizens that have a disability who want to change the world. We can do that through the power of relationships.”
A third part of advocacy is public policy, one of Romer’s passions. He helped found two local advocacy groups to encourage people with disabilities to solve problems with policymakers at all levels.
John Romer is greatly missed, and he will be remembered for positively impacting the lives of so many people.
To honor his legacy and the impact he made on so many lives, HCDDS is creating the John Romer Advocacy Award. Each year, this award will recognize someone whose exceptional advocacy work on behalf of themselves and others has made a significant impact on their community.
Visit HamiltonDDS.org in mid-April for nomination and other award details.