Finding My Path

Regan Burke, Class of 2017

Everyone has a different story. I want to tell you what brought me here, and how I became a part of the progressive movement in New Hampshire.

For most of my life I thought I had no control over what went on outside my front door. My family did not have a history of civic engagement. My mom had bipolar disorder. Back then the stigma around mental health conditions was much worse, so it was always a big secret that we hid from others.

I was nineteen when my son Thomas was born. We lived with my parents for nearly eight years. I was too scared to move out on my own; I had no faith in myself. My experiences thus far had made me feel weak and powerless.

Thomas and I did get our own place eventually, and life went on. But everything changed when my second son was born. When Ethan was a few months old, we found out he had serious disabilities. We do not know what caused his condition, and we had no idea what he would and would not be able to do. This made every accomplishment precious and wonderful.

Being Ethan’s mom showed me the huge impact that a small group can have on our society. Ethan got supports from our Area Agency and Early Intervention from Easter Seals, attended public school, and lived at home. Not that long ago, a child with his disabilities would have been isolated and institutionalized. That thought turns my stomach. I am eternally grateful for those who fight for the rights of people with disabilities. Ethan’s life was infinitely better because of their work.

Ethan died unexpectedly when he was eight. My years of being “just a mom” were over.  With Thomas grown and Ethan gone, I had to find a new purpose for living. I could think of nothing better than becoming a part of the same disability advocacy that made the world a better place for Ethan.

I lived in Massachusetts briefly after Ethan’s death, but when I heard about the UNH IOD Leadership Series, I knew that I had to move back to NH and join the program. I learned about the history of disability rights in America and was given the tools to advocate at the state and local level. I was amazed to learn how accessible our elected officials are! Most importantly, I was introduced to a world filled with passionate, caring people who stand up and speak out for what is right.

It has been two years since Leadership, and I have already found so much joy in this work. I’ve come to believe that progressive policies are good for all Americans, including people with disabilities, so my focus has widened to things like Paid Family Medical Leave and Universal Health Care. I helped plan a rally at the State House with ABLE NH, I flew to DC with MomsRising for a national conference on child care and early education; I have done work with Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy; I recently got to know the people at Rights & Democracy. There are so many opportunities to be of service in New Hampshire – it’s one of the greatest things about our state.

Kent Street Coalition and Granite State Organizing Project are two groups I am affiliated with that do amazing work to bring attention to the plight of immigrants, plus they spend a lot of time at the State House advocating for all kinds of things! I do what I can for each of these groups. Of course, I can’t always show up, but everyone understands that each of us contributes what we can to reach our common goals.

Often our stories are the most valuable things we can offer. We are the experts; we know what our communities need. More importantly, our stories connect us to each other. Our strength comes from the strong relationships we build together. So tell your story, use your voice, reach out to the people around you. Find your power! It will definitely change your life, and it just might change the world too.