By Melissa Zeleny

This past June, our family had the opportunity to represent Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in Washington, D.C. as a part of Speak Now for Kids Family Advocacy Day, an annual initiative of the Children’s Hospital Association.  Hayden was one of 42 children from across the country that traveled to our nation’s Capitol with a unified mission:  to raise awareness, among members of Congress, of the important issues impacting children’s hospitals and pediatric health care today.

Our first official event was a lunch where we met families and children from across the U.S.  During the lunch they also had mock meetings where kids got to role play and see what their congressional visits might be like.  After the lunch, we took a bus tour of some of Washington’s landmarks. It was pretty exciting to see icons like the Lincoln Memorial and Korean War Memorial. Hayden stood in the exact same spot Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous speech and raised her arms with a great smile as she remembered being honored for her essay on her own dream:  that all kids are treated the same, regardless of their disability.

The next morning we headed over to the Capitol.  Our first appointment was with Senator Amy Klobuchar. Hayden was nervous but told her story well and covered all of her speaking points. After taking a group photo, Senator Klobuchar noticed Hayden’s Vivo fit and the two compared steps and talked about how much walking there is around the Capitol.  One of Hayden’s goals with her cerebral palsy is to stay active, so her Vivo was an early birthday present. She was proud to be able to count her steps with a Senator.

Next we headed over to see Representative Betty McCollum who we found very welcoming. She also showed us some eggs from the annual White House Easter Egg hunt that the kids thought were pretty neat. We ended our day with Senator Al Franken. Franken entered the room with his trademark smile and immediately had the kids engaged and laughing.  My father and I are old school Saturday Night Live fans and although he is past his comedian days, Senator Franken did not disappoint.

Throughout the day Hayden did a great job of representing Gillette and being sure her message was heard. We left the Capitol feeling like we achieved our mission of highlighting the importance of specialty health care for every child. We were proud to be chosen to represent Gillette.

Hayden has always said she wants to be a nurse or child life specialist when she grows up. After her time on the Hill, she now says she could see a career as a lobbyist or in politics. We say GO HAYDEN!

Editor’s note:  Read Hayden’s story here.

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