If you happen to be in Olympia during a legislative session, you’re likely to run into Eric Matthes, The Arc of King County’s Coordinator of Community Change Champions. His eloquent testimony influences legislators and impacts individuals with varying abilities statewide. It’s worth a trip to the state capitol to see him in action and learn from his years of experience working at the Arc. When you see him, he’ll often have his camera in hand. We’re so excited to catch up with this mover and shaker and ask him a few questions about his work and his photography!
Please tell us about your work at The Arc.
I work with the Community Change Champions which uses a mix of peer mentoring and skills development, along with partnerships with local government to increase public service and participation in public events. This empowers emerging activists to be fully included in their communities. We envision a society in which people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not only respected but engaged as equal citizens who make valuable contributions to their communities.
What are your specific responsibilities at The Arc?
Along with other Outreach staff, I help self-advocates learn about issues affecting them, such as access to employment, housing, healthcare, and transportation. I also host workshops that help self-advocates engage in their community. In addition, I host meetups to mentor and support self-advocates, and create opportunities for self-advocates to learn from and share with others about issues that affect their lives.
How does your work influence the legislature and change laws?
I am involved in engaging self-advocates to have opportunities to testify on issues that are important to their lives and speaking up for themselves. [We’ve included a link to a photo of Eric at the governor’s bill signing for new legislation that prevents discrimination with regard to ability for organ transplants. His testimony was invaluable in helping legislators understand the injustice of the law the way it stood before this change!]
What do you love about your job?
I love advocacy and also working with my team!
Do you have any great moments or memories to share in your years of work with The Arc?
Yes, one time when I was participating with Advocacy Days in Olympia during a briefing this year, my supervisor was talking to everyone in the room. I didn’t know what he was going to do, and he was saying a lot of positive words about somebody — that person was me! In giving me a nice speech, I was so surprised and humbled that a tear of happiness rolled down my cheek while I received the certificate of appreciation in recognition of 10 years of outstanding dedication to the mission and vision of The Arc of King County and full inclusion of people with developmental disabilities.
What do you like to photograph?
I like looking through a camera lens as I take photos of self-advocates in Olympia, as well as photos of Arc events I attend, and I share them with co-workers. I also take photos of family and friends, landscapes, flowers, animals — lots of things — and I enjoy sharing them on social media.
How did you get interested in and learn photography?
It came to me naturally. I am self-taught in learning about the cameras I have. My family – mom dad and brother – noticed that my photos are really good. I’d take photos at family birthdays and during holidays. I keep taking photos so I can keep learning more about photography.
What would you like to tell our community?
My hope for all of you is to be yourself and live the life you have. For your loved ones and for yourself to also be happy with what you have right in front of you each and every day.