In the last few weeks, I have read news stories about teens that are simply depressing. Teens arrested and charged with breaking into over 100 vehicles. Teens wounded in knife fights. A teen arrested in the death of another teen outside a baseball game. And another teen wears an inappropriate dress to her prom and is arrested after a heated discussion with school officials.
As a mother of young children, I want to read stories about teens that assure me that our children know the difference between right and wrong. That there are teens who will inspire us and give us hope and make a difference. Where are those stories?
I found one on Tokoni that shows us exactly that and restores my faith.
When I was 11-years-old, I was diagnosed with a chronic digestive disease called Crohn's. The doctor said I would expect the more frequent usage of a restroom as well as some dietary limitations. Although I knew this incurable disease would bring about many obstacles, I never thought one would actually be for the better.
During the summer before my freshman year in high school, my mom and I were shopping at a large retail store in the Chicagoland area when I suddenly needed to use the restroom. My mom alerted an employee who said they didn't have any public restrooms. Already hunched over in pain, I knew I was in trouble.
The manager met with us, and although he claimed he knew what Crohn's was, he continuously denied me private restroom access. With tears racing down my cheeks and my arms wrapped tightly around my stomach, I felt defeated.
It got to the point where my mom and I were pleading for him to let me use the store's restroom. "I'm making a managerial decision," he said and walked away.
Walking out of the store in pain, I was humiliated. However, my mom and I knew we would not let this go unnoticed. My mom promised that this would never happen to me or anyone else ever again. With that promise, I contacted Illinois State Representative Ryg. I met her while on an eighth grade field trip to Springfield, Illinois where my class toured the capitol and learned how a bill was created and passed.
Within months I was helping Representative Ryg write a state bill that would allow anyone with a medical emergency to use a private restroom.
I traveled to Springfield and testified in front of a judicial committee. I reiterated my horrible experience to the 12 to 13 people in front of me. The head of the committee, Representative Fritchey, said, "I have a dear friend afflicted with Crohn's." With that, the bill passed unanimously through the committee. It also passed unanimously through the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate.
It was signed in 2005 as Ally's Law, otherwise known as the Restroom Access Act. Now anyone in Illinois with a medical emergency must be allowed private restroom access in any establishment as long as there are three or more employees.
The first of its kind, Ally's Law has also passed in Minnesota and Texas. It is pending in 12 other states.
Three years ago, I never would have imagined helping to write and testify for a state law when the manager denied me restroom access. However, through my experiences and political activism, I have learned that one voice can really make a difference.
I recently learned from the Illinois Speaker of the House's analyst that Ally's Law is now pending in 23 other states due to grass-roots efforts from citizens around the country.