The Arcadia Institute

Making it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in their community

Entries for May 2012

Feeling Excluded is Universal

The blog this week was written by Michele Momotiuk, the administrative assistant at The Arcadia Institute

As far back as Kindergarten, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I was the tallest kid in my class and got teased for it. One little boy in particular, I remember, called me “Mama Long Legs” and I thought I stood out from everyone else. In high school I played in the band, I was on the basketball team and I was a straight ‘A’ student among all the other activities I did. Being involved in a diverse group of activities with many different groups of kids left me feeling like I did not fit in with any one group. Fast forward twenty years and I still struggle to feel like I belong in my neighborhood and feel left out when I see a social gathering of neighbors and realize my family was not invited.

When I came to work at The Arcadia Institute, I was easily on board with its mission to create opportunities for persons with disabilities to participate fully in community life and to make decisions about their own future. Inclusion of everyone made perfect sense to me and just feels like the right thing to do for individuals. I knew I hated to feel left out and wanted to help improve things so others did not have to feel that way. I did not realize that I was missing some of the picture.

I have two children who have been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. My oldest child is in Young 5’s this year and sometimes needs a little extra help to be able to focus on his school work. I was talking to his teacher one day and sharing with her the practice of my son’s OT to do some large motor work before settling down to the fine motor work. I was sharing with her how much that helps him and she pointed out that it would help all the children in the class. While retelling this story in the office, my boss, George Martin, pointed out to me that that is the true meaning of inclusion. I had my “aha” moment about inclusion at that point. It is not just that including someone benefits that individual, but that real inclusion benefits us all.

Nature and Youth Equal Leadership

This blog is a continuation of our observing the truth about the importance of children and youth being in nature.

Being in nature and having boys lead activities is a central part of Boy Scouts. Camp Rota Kiwan is the Boy Scout Camp in our area. Each summer, we go out once a week to do some training and coaching with Scout Leaders about supporting Scouts with disabilities. This story demonstrates just how being in a natural environment and learning to work cooperatively makes a difference in the lives of youth.

A few summers ago, a young man who uses a wheelchair was attending Camp Rota Kiwan with his troop. All of the scouts in this troop wanted to earn their swimming badges. To earn the badge, Scouts have to demonstrate various swim strokes and swim certain lengths. For the young man in the wheelchair these were not possible. The Troop Leaders were puzzled about how the young man could earn the swim badge.

While the adult Troop Leaders were discussing this as a problem, one of the Camp Counselors who was sixteen years old immediately saw possibilities. He suggested that the young man in the wheel chair could learn and demonstrate how to keep himself safe around water and in a lake. The Scouts in his troop helped him earn his badge. The Troop Leader that related this story to us was inspired by the way the Counselor and the Scouts worked together to find an opportunity in the face of a challenge.

Being outside, being given opportunities for leadership and supporting each other – can you think of anything more important for children and youth to experience?

The Importance of Outdoor for Children

“Research suggests that exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand.” Richard Louv, Blog, February 28, 2012

George is a little boy full of energy and curiosity. He does Tae Kwon Do and loves to run. He also struggles in school with learning, paying attention and behavior. Last summer, his mother wanted George to have new experiences and he wanted to go to The Kalamazoo Nature Center because he had been there with school. So we helped them with registration.

At The Nature Center, George got to run and play. He explored the woods and swam in the lake at Marken Glen Park. He met friends, rolled in the mud, found bugs and studied rocks. He was engaged with his day camp group and loved the counselors. This was one of the best experiences of his young life.

Following camp, Dawn, George’s mother called us to thank us for helping him go to The Nature Center. She was quite emotional as she told us that this was one of the few times her son really felt successful and part of a group. He had not had any behavior problems at camp, but more importantly the whole week he was at camp he had not gotten in trouble at home either.

This happened before our staff all read Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods. When we read the book, the first child we thought of was George. The outdoors was so important to him. In nature, George was able to be himself and not stressed about having to sit still and pay attention all the time. He was really able to learn because of the freedom to be in the world as his full inquisitive and energetic self.

George is going back to the Nature Center this summer – and he can’t wait!

Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. – Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment—but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. Excerpt from The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, 2008.

George is third from the left in the front. Photo releases are signed for The Nature Center.

George at KNC

Children look forward to seeing Ann

This week’s blog was written by Hyun Berkley, Community Participation Initiative Assistant.

When I met Ann Johnson 16 months ago, she was working full time at the Commission for the Blind yet she wanted to find volunteer opportunities in the community. She is kind, generous, nurturing and dependable.

Ann has volunteered at the Goodwill Industries with their on-line sales department helping them package products that have been purchased. Ann was always ready to volunteer but the work was not always there.

So, recently we explored other options. Ann has always loved being around children and she told me about her experience volunteering at the Kalamazoo Drop-in Childcare Center where she rocked the babies. She tried to volunteer there again but they don’t need any help at this time.

Through our network of community supporters including our partner the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, we were able to find a meaningful volunteer opportunity for Ann. Since early this year, Ann has been volunteering at the YMCA Maple Street Preschool.

Ann enjoys watching the kids play and helping them relax after lunch so that they are ready for a nap. She also interacts with them during lunch hour opening containers and listening to their stories. She looks forward to every Thursday when she volunteers at the YMCA Maple Street Preschool.

Tim Sheldon, Assistant Director, at the YMCA Maple Street Preschool said that the feeling is mutual. When the children come in from the playground, the children say “Miss Ann is here, Miss Ann is here!

Ann at YMCA Preschool

Time to Let Go

As with all children, there is a time when parents need to let go. They need to trust that the world will be good to them and trust that their children are prepared to go into the world. In the previous blog “Parents as Advocates or Road Blocks to Inclusion,” George Martin discussed the importance of parents championing full community participation. This story highlights one man with disabilities whose mother believed he would have an independent life and recognized the moment when it was time to let go.

Matthew is celebrating 20 years of living in his own apartment. That seems hard to believe to his mother Karen who shared his story with me.

Matthew has disabilities and needs support twenty-four hours a day. He had friends that were neighbors who would take him to sporting events. Other family and friends always included Matthew in what ever was going on. Everyone knew that Matthew’s gift was being social and connecting people. Matthew attended a school that was meeting his needs at the time and while the other students were friends, he really enjoyed spending most of his time with college students who were assistants or interns. He seemed to know that these college students were his connection to the real community outside of school.

Even though Karen was intentional about Matthew being part of his community, one day Matthew was going to meet friends at the mall – he made it very clear that Karen, his mom, was NOT welcome to stay with him. What young man wants his mom hanging around all the time? This was the day that Karen had an epiphany that would change the course of Matthew’s life. She knew that it was time to really prepare Matthew to have his own life. It was time to let go and the journey began.

Through careful consideration, Matthew and his family sought out a college student to be his roommate. Matthew would have support staff during the day, but the roommate could be the over night staff. They got along really well. So well, in fact, that eventually Chris bought a house in downtown Kalamazoo. Matthew lived (and still lives) in the downstairs apartment and Chris lived upstairs.

Spring forward a few years. Chris eventually got married and Matthew was in the wedding. Karen told Chris’ mom how wonderful he had been in making a great life possible for Matthew. Chris’ mom said that actually Matthew was the one who changed Chris’ life at a time when he was struggling.

Matthew still lives in the same apartment (17 years). Now a young man who happens to be an occupational therapist lives upstairs and serves as Matthew’s overnight support and with the assistance of others Matthew hires all other support to assist him in his daily life. A life of full community participation is possible when parents let go and plan well.