On November 15, 2019, Shelly Anderson passed away, and the world lost a powerful voice. She and I were co-workers and fellow advocates for our peers at Far Northern Regional Center. Shelly was a mentor, who showed me through her passion, her dedication and her life how a true peer advocate should be. She was a strong advocate for people with developmental disabilities, those who suffered abuse, and children. She did this through working as a Peer Advocate and as a founding and longtime member of People First of Shasta County.
Shelly Anderson was employed as a Peer Advocate for Far Northern Regional Center for nearly 20 years. She did many things through her work as a Peer Advocate. When she was first hired, one of her jobs was doing Quality Assurance checks for group homes. These checks would insure that people were getting their needs met and that they were happy with their living situations. She loved to work and be an advocate to others and she did this best through her gift of speaking.
When Shelly’s Quality Assurance duties ended, she became one of the original members of the Abuse Prevention and CAAT (Consumer Abuse Awareness Team) speaking teams. Shelly was the first person with a developmental disability to speak at the Shasta County Women’s Refuge Take Back the Night event. For the first time in her life, Shelly talked about her own abuse suffered at the hands of people who were supposed to love her. She did not want pity, but wanted people to be encouraged to rise above their abuse and do great things with their lives. Her speech was so moving that she drew a standing ovation and as a result, she received many offers to speak across the north state. Because so many groups asked Shelly to speak, she and three other advocates formed a team to teach professionals inside and outside of the developmental service system about the culture of abuse surrounding people with disabilities. According to Tammy Torum, the CAAT team was known as the radical arm of the abuse prevention team. It was radical because they spoke the truth about the abuse of people with disabilities and the attitudes and practices that enables this culture of abuse to thrive.
Besides being an advocate against abuse, Shelly was a strong advocate for hand washing and healthy living. Shelly started the Clean Hands presentation class about 15 years ago. She took this presentation to day and work programs and to schools. Back when I started my presentation series, Clean Teeth, I had my very first presentation with Shelly. It was wonderful having her as a mentor in showing me how to connect with an audience and to be passionate about my message. Later I would end up taking over Clean Hands so Shelly could start up her new project, Healthy Living. Shelly was passionate about everything she presented. She took it so seriously, it changed the way she lived. She got very healthy and she said she did it mainly for the children (nieces and nephews of a friend), so she could live longer to see them grown up.
Shelly also was a founding member and editor/writer for the Watch Out! newsletter. Shelly worked on Watch Out! until it concluded three years ago. A few years the Watch Out! Newsletter became digital. Shelly was at first very apprehensive about using Facebook. Shelly was happy to learn that using social media helped expand the message to a wider audience. Shelly eventually took to using Facebook and it was through messenger I kept in contact with her up until the very end.
The last project that Shelly worked on was Way to Work. Way to Work helps people to prepare for a job interview and teaches people the soft skills necessary for keeping a job. Soft skills are things like team work, dressing for success, manners, and doing your best.
Shelly found her voice and her passion to advocate through People First. As mentioned, Shelly was a founding member of People First of Shasta County. For Shelly, People First was not just hanging out with a group of friends or spending a weekend at a conference, People First was a vital and important part of her life. She held many positions over the years with her last being a Welcome Committee member. It was her job to welcome everyone new. Through the years and the many roles she had at People First, Shelly maintained a passion and love for speaking up for others and helping them feel welcome and included.
In addition to helping people with disabilities to feel welcomed and included, Shelly wanted the same for children. When Shelley first began working alongside We Care A Lot, she advocated that employees with babies be allowed to bring them to work with them. Because of Shelly’s advocacy, five babies have enjoyed coming to work with their moms.
Whether it was speaking up for people with disabilities, speaking against abuse, or speaking for children, advocacy was a way of life for Shelly. Her passion and dedication to live by what she preached helped her to live a full and rich life. She was someone that I watched and appreciated over the years for how a true advocate speaks not only for his or her needs but also for everyone else around them.