As Director of Advocacy and Development for Minnesota's Minnkota
Health Project, it is often Aaron Wittnebel's job to serve as a spokesperson for consumers. But he can also see issues from the perspective of a policymaker. Having been a house sergeant/page for over two years in the Minnesota House of Representatives and later served for over four years as mayor of Lake Park, Minnesota, Aaron has an appreciation of policymaking at the state and local level.
"I'm the policy wonk that reads all the fine print and understands it," says Aaron. "While there are specific processes and requirements, sometimes someone needs to be there to make sure that they are being followed."
He drew on these skills as a member of the Minnesota HIV Services Planning Council. He served as the Chair of the Committee for Operations.
"I wanted to be on a committee that was making decisions and driving the process," says Aaron. "I just didn't want to be there casting a vote."
Aaron is currently serving on the Minnesota Cultural and Ethnic Communities Leadership Council, which advises the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) on reducing disparities that affect racial and ethnic groups within DHS programs. He represents Native Americans as well as rural areas.
"We look closely at DHS programs in terms of what is not working, what is missing, and what can be done better," says Aaron. "We report directly to the legislature."
Aaron is also on the board of Minnkota Health Project, which is an all-volunteer organization providing support services to 76 counties in greater Minnesota and North and South Dakota. In the past year, Minnkota has been re-organizing its peer support groups. This process grew out of information gained while attending the National Quality Center's Training of Consumers on Quality in 2015.
"While networking with other participants, we learned how they structure their peer activities," says Aaron. "We wanted to foster skills among our consumers so that they could take on leadership roles in the peer support groups and on the board of the organization."
Over the past year, Minnkota has been conducting facilitator training for the peer groups. This is designed to create a sense of ownership within the groups and to provide more stability-groups are no longer dependent on a single person since there are multiple people who can serve as the facilitator.