How Shinoa Became an Advocate

Photo of Shinoa, a woman with glasses, dark brown hair, and wearing a floral blue and green dress.

Through her partnership with Lifeworks, Shinoa learned to advocate for herself and others in the disability community.

Photo of Shinoa sitting in a chair with a purple guitar in her hands. Meet Shinoa

Shinoa is a musician, poet, artist, and self-advocate who lives in Maple Grove. In 2015, she began accessing day services at Lifeworks to be more involved in activities and to be out in the community. With Lifeworks, she has found many ways to explore her passions by creating art, playing guitar in the winter concert, and volunteering at local organizations like Feed My Starving Children.


Shinoa, wearing a blue coat and a mask, taking part in an archery activity with Lifeworks.Overcoming Barriers

Shinoa remembers feeling nervous when she first came to Lifeworks. She had previously been a part of a day services program where she felt excluded by staff. While other folks in the program would go out on outings, Shinoa often had to stay back to wash dishes or clean counters.

I was always the one that had to stay back. I didn’t have a choice. -Shinoa

Shinoa spoke out against how she was being treated – but staff weren’t responsive. Being the only person of color in her program, she felt that her concerns were ignored because of her race. This experience impacted her belief in her ability to advocate for herself.

I was the only person that got treated rude because of my color and how I try to advocate. -Shinoa

Shinoa sitting with her mother in their kitchen. They are working on an art piece together. Discovering Her Voice

Arriving at the day program in Brooklyn Park, Shinoa knew she wanted to sharpen her advocacy skills. Through the self-advocacy program at Lifeworks, she found opportunities that allowed her to build self-confidence by advocating for herself and others. Rather than minimizing her voice, Lifeworks staff empowered Shinoa and urged her to speak up for herself and what she believes in.



She’s become more independent and grown to advocate for what she wants and needs, things that she will or will not do. -Raeanne, Shinoa’s mother

Shinoa at the state capitol building in Saint Paul with a pink sign that reads: "Self Advocacy is the ability to articulate ones needs. To make informed decisions about the support necessary to meet those needs!"Becoming an Advocate

One of the staff that made an impression on Shinoa was Lori Noland. Now a Team Lead in our Brooklyn Park community program, Lori played a significant role in developing and sustaining the self-advocacy program at Lifeworks. Lori introduced Shinoa to ways she could make her voice heard. Part of this was connecting Shinoa and other clients to their legislators.

We would go to the Capitol, and we would advocate with our legislators and our representatives. -Shinoa

Since her first time at the Capitol in Saint Paul, Shinoa’s interest in advocacy has blossomed. She has returned to the Capitol many times and has developed relationships with her legislators. She has met with them to discuss issues important to her, sent letters back and forth, and even sold her artwork to one of them.

Creating art is one of many ways that Lifeworks staff have encouraged clients like Shinoa to convey messages to decision-makers. Advocating through art or sending letters isn’t just a way to fill time – they are incredibly important methods to influence legislation that has a direct impact on people with disabilities in Minnesota, as Lori explains:

The people we serve are the ones that benefit or get hurt by what the state dictates the budget is from year to year. Very few truly understand the need there is for properly funded services. Who better to tell their stories than themselves. -Lori Noland, Lifeworks Team Lead

Shinoa, wearing an orange shirt and blue patterned pants, in a group photo with over 20 people who are part of, or associated with, the Partners in Policymaking program.Growing as a Leader

Shinoa’s involvement in advocacy has grown tremendously since her first visit to the Capitol. Her efforts have connected her to opportunities outside of Lifeworks, including the Partners in Policymaking, a program for people with disabilities and parents to become stronger advocates. Shinoa and her mother, Raeanne, applied and were accepted to the 41st cohort of the program. They were 2 of just 35 applicants accepted by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, which created the program in 1987.

Through group exercises, lessons from experts, and classes on topics like self-advocacy movements and competitive employment, Shinoa has acquired tools to become a leader in disability advocacy. Last month, Shinoa and Raeanne graduated from the nine-month course. Reflecting on what she has learned, Shinoa urges others to find their voice, just as she did:

Speak up and advocate for them. -Shinoa

For others wanting to become better advocates, Shinoa recommends researching Partners in Policymaking. Learn more on their website.

A photo of Shinoa.What’s Next for Shinoa?

Now a graduate of the Partners in Policymaking program, Shinoa hopes to keep invested in her other interests, like enrolling in classes through Project Power and The Arc Minnesota, writing her music and poetry, and getting out in the community with Lifeworks.

She also wants to continue increasing her independence. One day, she hopes to move out of her mother’s house and into her own place.

My mom said that I can be independent and live on my own. -Shinoa

Raeanne is proud of Shinoa’s growth since she began attending the day program at Lifeworks. Whether communicating her opinions to staff or encouraging her friends to join her at the Capitol, Shinoa has come a long way in her journey as an advocate. By learning to advocate for herself, Shinoa has gained the confidence to be a changemaker for the disability community.