JoAnne at work at the Senate.

JoAnne Zoff is a former Living Well Board member, who spent her entire career in the Minnesota Senate. A lawyer by trade, who went to school in California at UC Hastings, now known as UC Law San Francisco, returned to Minnesota after graduation and landed in the Senate where she worked for 40 years.

JoAnne has always worked in nonpartisan positions and is mindful of both parties. She started first as the Counsel to Senate Tax Committee, where she was a drafter of bills and answered questions about tax laws and proposals. Then she became the Director of the Nonpartisan Research Office, where she worked with attorneys, researchers, and fiscal analysts. And she ended her career as Secretary of the Senate, where she was the chief administrator, and when in session the Parliamentarian. For those of us outside of government, this means she made sure people knew how to follow the rules, advising those who presided over the Senate.

JoAnne with her family.

Upon retiring she was looking for community opportunities, and says, “After being a part of something bigger than myself within the Senate, I was looking for some kind of purpose when I left. My friend was on the Living Well Board and they introduced me to Julie Manwarren, who was the CEO at the time.” It was a case of perfect timing. Over JoAnne’s time on the board, she became an advocate for the work we do, and a trusted resource on how to best communicate our messages.

Volunteering at the staff appreciation picnic last summer.

So, what does she think is the best way to advocate this session? JoAnne believes advocacy really becomes beneficial when you consider the volume of materials legislators are tasked with reading and understanding. Even if you read the bills, it is one thing to read, another to understand the impact of that language. Joanne says, “I think that is where advocacy comes in. Someone from Living Well can say, this is what the language says, whether it looks good or terrible, and they can help legislators understand the actual impact better as an expert, someone with direct experience with the people whose lives are at stake.” When people from organizations share knowledge and can explain what is going to happen if certain decisions are made, it makes the information more easily digestible. Advocates can offer amendments that would make something function better or offer small changes that can solve a problem ahead of time.

In the 2024 session JoAnn thinks three things stand out as exceptionally important— involvement of families of people living with disabilities, storytelling, and gratitude.

The importance of family involvement. When families reach out to legislators—the reach is greater. Living Well has 36 homes, in seven counties, in 15 districts in the House, and 10 districts in the Senate. Families live throughout the metro and can chat with even more legislators representing other neighborhoods in addition to the ones where we provide services. The more times an elected official hears a call to action, the more they will start to see it as a viable and important topic affecting their constituents. Advocacy in larger numbers gives more attention to the cause, and every bit helps. The impact of face-to-face meetings in addition to calls and emails is immeasurable.

Storytelling. Once involvement is cued up, then comes the importance of sharing personal stories of disability care services and the impact it has on the lives of people affected by disabilities—the people themselves as well as families and guardians. When we openly share the hardships and joys of loving and living with disability is where connection lives. We have proudly served this population for over 50 years, and when we tell the world what we do, and share stories of the people who live and work with us, it makes a difference in how people with disabilities are seen in the world. Sharing these stories with elected officials creates the opportunity for real people to share real life needs with the people whose decision-making power can create more or less opportunities for them to thrive or receive essential services.

Gratitude. It seems simple, but one of the biggest things to remember about this session is to thank our Legislators. We need to tell them that we appreciate the strides made a year ago in the 2023 session. And we need to tell them the policies they voted for last year has allowed us to introduce a wage increase. We need them to know that the impact on wages is essential to keeping people in this workforce, and that they need to keep doing more so one day we are a competitive workforce instead of losing them to other industries. The people we support rely on quality care 24/7/365. We need to thank our Legislators for listening, and tell them to please consider even more funding next session, so we can insure quality care and quality staff for decades to come.

We ask you to join us and let everyone know that you are advocating for disability services providers because you fear a reduction of services or funding now, or in the future, will have negative impact on the quality of life for thousands of individuals throughout the state.

Huge thanks to JoAnne for her dedicated board service and incredible advice and leadership. Thanks to all our elected officials for taking the time to hear our stories. And thank you to you, our supporters, for helping us advocate again this year. Please register to join Living Well staff, people supported and families at Day at the Capitol on March 19, by contacting And please contact your legislators here, and don’t forget to thank them for their time.



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