Young Advocate Finds Disability Day on the Hill “Very Exciting”

/ February 8, 2016

By Katie Zarnowitz

About the Author


Katie Zarnowitz is a student in the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program.

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Katie Zarnowitz sits in the Senate Chambers

Katie Zarnowitz sits in the Senate Chambers


When we arrived at Legislative Plaza, I had to go through security. After I went through the security checkpoint, I walked through a huge hallway with a lot of booths that had a lot of different organizations like TennesseeWorks. We got in the elevator to go to the second floor. We went to the debate chamber. I sat at the senators’ table for a few minutes, and I got my picture taken. I wasn’t there long because me and Lindsey Herrin (social worker intern) and Jamie (2nd year student at Next Steps) decided to go find our legislators.

The really fun thing that I did was Lindsey, Jamie, and I looked for our legislators. I felt lucky because I found my legislator, Rep. Bo Mitchell, walking down the hall from his office. We knew it was my legislator because we had a photograph of him. I introduced myself to him, and I briefly explained about Next Steps beginning a four-year extended program. The legislator had to go somewhere else, so we went to his office. His office is located at the very end of the whole building and the final office of the whole hall. The representative’s assistant gave us the Tennessee Blue Book, which is an encyclopedia that contains all the representatives of Tennessee and lots of other information. We talked to him about Next Steps being extended to four years. After we left, we looked for Jamie’s Senate representative. Then we returned to the debate chamber, and we sat in the balcony section for a few minutes and watched a debate below us. After that our group got together with the rest of the Next Steps students.

After I got lunch from the cafeteria, I met a state representative named Darren Jernigan, who is good friends with Lindsey, in his office. He asked me what I had learned and why I like Next Steps. I told him that I like Next Steps because I can interact with students, teachers, and Ambassadores and that I have gained skills and confidence. I told him that Ambassadores are Vanderbilt students who act as mentors in four categories like daily planning, tutoring, lunch, and working out in the fitness room. I also told him about the need for affordable housing for young adults with disabilities. He said that affordable housing was a good idea. Lindsey Herrin said that she was proud of us for answering all the questions.

This was a whole new experience for me. It felt very exciting for me because I saw my legislator and some other representatives in person. I’m glad that I was able to tell the representatives about affordable housing for young adults with disabilities because I think it’s very important. I’m hoping that I made a difference. I’m grateful to Tammy Day (program director for the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program) for giving us the opportunity to experience Disability Day on the Hill. I will never forget that day.

Full photo caption:
Katie Zarnowitz sits in the Senate Chambers, listening to the Disability Policy Alliance’s Celebration of Successes and Briefing on Critical Issues during Disability Day on the Hill, on Jan. 27.

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