What do the Little Rascals have to do with standing up for yourself?
Well, if you ask advocate Jason Billehus – a lot.
Jason is a member of the Missoula Valley People First chapter and is part of the Montana People First Senate. He sits on the Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) board and is also on the Montana Council on Developmental Disabilities (MCDD). He’s worked on a variety of advocacy issues – from defending Medicaid to trying to end Social Security’s marriage penalty.
And it all started with the Little Rascals.
“I had friends in a group called People First,” Billehus said. “I always thought of it like Little Rascals. You know, the club. It sounds kind of cool—being in a club.”
So, back in the ‘90s, Jason was roped into a club that some of his friends were in. The club, People First, was an advocacy group that gave people a forum to speak up for themselves. And it was just what Jason needed.
The group was fun, but it also provided Jason an opportunity to stand up for things he believed in. He gave speeches on the importance of providing supports for and being respectful to people with disabilities. He attended rallies defending Medicaid, a program that provides medical supports for people that need them. He worked toward getting fair pay for working people with disabilities. And as Jason’s advocacy skills grew, so did People First.
In 2001, People First chapters across Montana convened to form the People First Senate. And Jason Billehus, who had originally joined a club to hang out with his friends, saw himself elected as the first President of the People First Senate.
After serving a maximum two consecutive terms as President, Jason kept working as an advocate to fight for things he believes in at local, state and national levels. And he continues to do so with the help of his friends, old and new, in People First, SABE and MCDD.
Although he’s done a lot, Jason knows that there is more work to do and that he, and other advocates like him, need to work with people with and without disabilities to succeed.
“When we all work together, they get a chance to know a person with a disability,” Billehus said. “They can know what we want. They can hear what we have to say and it’s new for them.
“A lot of people that don’t have disabilities are looking at us like we’re children. They speak for us, and tell us what we want. But when they hear us speak, they start to change and see. Whoa. They learn to work with a person with a disability.
“And when we work together, it’s communicating. That’s how I make friends with people that don’t have disabilities.”
Want to learn more about People First?
Contact Andrea Dahl at (406) 728-1630 or visit: http://peoplefirstmt.org/