The Arcadia Institute

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

Community Brokering: Is it for the parent or the child?

The blog this week was written by Dalanna Hoskins, a Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute.

Community Brokering is the term that we use for those of us who bridge the gap between an individual and their community. The main gap that we are trying to close, is the exclusion of disabled individuals from their communities. The mountains that cross the paths of the people we work with are applying for jobs, finding a place to live, and finally a meaningful activity where a person can feel they belong and become productive citizens in their community just like “everyone else”.
When climbing these mountains, who would have guessed that parents and the families surrounding the individuals would also need “brokering”? I will give you a personal example of what I am talking about. My brother Isaiah Hoskins started the community brokering process a year ago, and let me tell you, it has been an emotional journey. Both of my parents as well as myself, were going into this thinking that the Arcadia Institute was just another peg in the system, that wouldn’t really give Isaiah the tools needed for him to make it in the “real world”, boy were we wrong!
My parents are very protective yet caring, and just like all good parents, they want what is best for Isaiah and his life. Growing up we were taught that family is all you have, and anyone or anything outside of that cannot be trusted. Most people out in the world do not have your best interest at heart, nor do they care about your safety, or want to see you succeed.
When we first started the process, my parents were totally against the idea of Isaiah riding the city bus, travelling alone, and even the thought of him living on his own was completely out of the question. In the beginning, the plan was to have Isaiah ride the city bus, as long as he had someone with him at ALL times. After three times, getting the schedule down and knowing when and what time to ride the bus, Isaiah wanted to show my parents how independent he really was. After being with my mom working at the church, Isaiah decided that she was taking far too long of time. Isaiah, knowing that he would be late to the bus, decided to leave my mom behind at the church, get on the bus, and get to his destination without moms help!
Let’s just say, mom had a panic attack, called dad, dad then gets panic attack. As mom and dad speed their way downtown, lo and behold Isaiah is where he needs. Isaiah gets on the right bus, at the right time, and gets off at his stop downtown, waiting for the next bus safe and sound.
The moral of the story is, it takes a village to help a person reach their highest potential. With the help of the bus drivers, the workers of Fresh Fire AME Church, and his community Broker Jennifer Goodwill, we were all able to see that Isaiah is fully capable of accomplishing tasks on his own. My parents also learned that sometimes, it is good to let go. They have not let go all the way, but the seeds were planted and mindsets were changed. It proved that Isaiah can do it and he is not alone in this cold, cruel, beautiful world.

Documenting our Work

The blog this week was written by Michele Momotiuk, Administrative Assistant at The Arcadia Institute.

Since I began working at the Arcadia Institute, documentation has always been a current flowing through the work we do. As the Community Brokering process was being defined; documenting the plan, work flow, and outcomes was the work of the organization. As we moved into doing the work of Community Brokering, documentation became important for other reasons. Time spent with individuals needs to be documented in order for the organization to get paid by our funding entity. Progress towards goals needs to be documented in order for individuals to be continued to be authorized to work with us. Our outcomes of meaningful activities, housing and employment in the community need to be documented to show that we are achieving the goals for community brokering and making a difference with the work we do.

We spent time initially creating the outcomes we wished to track as well as evaluating and updating them several times as we really got into the work of community brokering. We were able to refine our database to make the entry of results easier for the Community Brokers doing the work so as to minimize the time they spend entering data. We have spent time refining our reports to best reflect the work we are doing.

The following is an excerpt from our monthly report to show what outcomes we are looking at to evaluate the work we are doing.

Monthly Report for November 2014

Documentation helps us to let people know how effective we are, and more importantly, keeps us on track toward fulfilling our mission.

Why We Take Responsibility for the Whole Community

The blog this week was written by George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute.

For over 30 years I served as the Executive Director of an advocacy group for people with disabilities (The Arc Community Advocates). For much of that time my primary, and almost entire, concern was for that population. I was not unlike leaders of other disability-specific organizations. We believed that the best way to improve the lives of people with disabilities was to promote their interests almost to the exclusion of other interests. I believe that we had valid reasons for taking that stance: the people we served had too few people on their sides, and they needed our single-minded advocacy.

What I began to realize over the years was that I not only had an obligation for other people but also that the most effective way to build community support for people with disabilities was to work for the best possible community for all people. That shift began to make sense for both practical reasons and more idealistic ones. In order to gain community support I had to support the community. In order for people with disabilities to have a good community in which they could take part, that community had to be strong.

In October of 2012, this line of thinking influenced my decision to convene the first meeting of what became the Steering Committee for the first Kalamazoo Poetry Festival. I had a personal stake in this event because my wife is a poet, and I wanted to support her and her colleagues. I also saw the possibilities for strengthening community support for people with disabilities. I wanted people to know that The Arcadia Institute was using its resources to further a broader community interest than just our mission.

This kind of thinking undergirds a concept that I call ‘community leadership’, which I think should be part of the mission of all nonprofit organizations. It is not sufficient just to be about fulfilling our specific organizational mission. We must embrace the broader good of promoting what is best for the whole community. I know that some will say that nonprofits have so few resources that we have to use them for our narrower interests. Yet, I believe that unless we join in the broader cause of making the whole community a better place to live, the lives of those we have a specific responsibility to serve will not be as rich as they could be.

In my most recent blog I pointed to three of the key values of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, equity, inclusion, and diversity. My focus was on equity. With my leadership on the Poetry Festival my focus was on diversity. I wanted to be part of creating an event that would bring together established and emerging poets, poets of different races, ethnic groups, ages, abilities and sexual orientations. As over two hundred people who attended activities of the Festival attest, we succeeded on all counts. One highlight was the Friday evening in which we had readers from eleven highly diverse organizations. The person who almost stole the show was the reader the Institute selected who had no verbal communication but whose rendering of a poem with the assistance of interpreter evoked instantaneous applause!

People with disabilities and those of us who serve them do our jobs best when we are Community leaders.

Investing the Time to Achieve Long Term Goals

The blog this week was written by Jennifer Goodwill, Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute.

Since 1994, The Arcadia Institute has held the mission to make it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in our wonderful community. Three years ago, we expanded our work and started on a new journey, Community Brokering. Through Community Brokering, we help individuals work toward their goals of independent living, meaningful activities and competitive employment.

As we have worked with individuals, there is much that we have learned in all three of these areas. But, recently, we have been having more discussions and focus on the area of employment. Employment has always been a component of Community Brokering. We have given it attention according to the priority individuals place on this goal. However, lately, it seems that the goal of having a paying job is the highest priority for many of the individuals with whom we work. Previously, it seemed to be more of a long term goal for many of our participants. They had other goals related to independent living and meaningful activities that they wanted to work on first.

As I think more about this, I realize it makes sense that more of the individuals are ready to tackle their long term goal of employment. These are individuals we have had the opportunity to work with for awhile now. One of the strengths and unique qualities about Community Brokering is the holistic approach we take to working with an individual. We are not an employment service whose sole focus must be on finding someone a job. We are intentional about getting to know the whole person, which gives us a much better perspective on the bigger picture of their life.

By using the tools of a MAP and our Follow Alongs, we are able to see all the different parts of a person’s life and how they need to work together in order for the person to be successful in reaching their goals. For instance, one individual said she would like to get a paid job someday in the future. But to start, she really just wanted to volunteer somewhere in the community. She needed to build confidence and develop independence by experiencing life in the community outside of her parents and school. After talking about her interests, we introduced her to an organization in town that needed help that matched her specific strengths. We went along with her to get started until she felt comfortable going on her own. The next step was to help her start using public transportation. We scheduled Metro County Connect to take her home from her volunteer job. The first couple of times, I rode with her. As she felt more comfortable, she rode the van by herself, but I met her at her pick up and drop off points. Today, she uses Metro County Connect to get to and from her volunteer job, and she schedules the rides herself. She told me, with a smile, that she feels more independent today. I think these were important steps that she needed to go through so that we can get to the point of seriously talking about her goal to be employed one day.

Another example is an individual who was applying for many different jobs, but he was not getting any job offers. With his community circle, we were able to work with him on speaking confidently and understanding his strengths. We were also able to talk about who would be his references on applications and how he would overcome the challenge of having transportation if he needed to work on a Sunday, when the buses do not run. We had the benefit of bringing the people in his life together to problem solve and talk through the challenges he was facing in his job hunt.

Doing this upfront work of getting to know an individual and involving the people in their community who are supportive of them, allows us to help the person build a foundation to support them in moving toward their desirable future. It makes sense that it may take time for some people to feel confident in saying they are ready to turn their long term goal of employment into an action step they will start working on today. I feel fortunate to be working in a job where I can invest time in going alongside an individual and help them work through the steps that will move them forward. It takes time, but it has a sustainable impact on their future.

One Less Pink Elephant

The blog this week was written by Deborah Warfield, Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute.

The Arcadia Institute exists to make it possible for persons with developmental disabilities to be included in every area of this community. This often involves educating individuals, families and organizations who may have been misinformed, operating from some form of stereotype or simply afraid. It is challenging enough to assist with the overcoming of these barriers for mainstream persons with developmental disabilities. Imagine how difficult it gets when you have a developmental disability and you also happen to be from the Black or Brown community.

Even though the larger percentage of our participants are from the Black community and we can proudly say that these individuals have successfully set and achieved various goals across housing, meaningful activities and employment, the Black and Brown community as a whole, struggle with overcoming the barrier of perceiving persons with developmental disabilities as someone to be ashamed of. Fears and shame make it possible for some Black and Brown families to gloss over, get frustrated about or often remain silent partners in perpetuating isolation and borderline abuses due to their inability to be comfortable naming and managing symptoms associated with persons who have a developmental disability. Often times parents and family members of young Black and Brown children deny that the problem deserves attention, assistance or guidance in the early stages of identification and called it a behavior issue.

It is challenging enough in an ever-so-no-longer-predominantly-White-but-still very-biased-privileged-White America to access lanes of acceptance and equality if a person is Black or Brown. Having a developmental disability can be perceived as just one more negative stripe, stigma or hurdle to have to work hard to overcome. Black and Brown families in general already suffer from often undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder associated with navigating race, class, color, oppression, identity, safety and a myriad of inequities on a daily basis. Couple all of that with a developmental disability and you have several accidents waiting to happen regularly.

Intentional bridges beyond The Arcadia Institute must be put in place for all community members to respectfully continue to embrace and include persons with developmental disabilities. As a Community Broker from the Black community I have several opportunities on a daily basis to breakdown stereotypes and help to dispel myths as I go about my inclusion service providing assignments. The Arcadia Institute went beyond having just a token of one Black employee to intentionally employing another Black Community Broker in the past few months who also becomes another face of changing the way Black and Brown community members perceive persons with developmental disabilities. In other words two of our three Community Brokers are Black.

Silences for Black and Brown community members have been broken in several areas over the years in this and other communities, including the silence of violence, the silence of gender identity, the silence of individual rights and choices across the board. It becomes increasingly important to find ways to support the need for the breaking of silence around developmental disabilities and the stigmas, issues and barriers within Black and Brown communities that accompany this.

Ask yourself these questions. Is it safe for every person with a developmental disability to be among and around your average Black or Brown family? Are Black and Brown parents comfortable reaching out for support and help across their own family or beyond family into community organizations? Are organizations adequately trained and prepared to serve Black and Brown families with cultural competence? How many Black and Brown persons go unserved for years because of stigmas associated with having a developmental disability? If you as a Black or Brown parent are already struggling to navigate through your days filled with injustices and inequities, what type of toll does that place upon the entire family of a person with a developmental disability?

So how do we as a community organizations contribute to bridging these gaps?

Here is an example of how the Arcadia Institute found a way to invite, engage and include other overlapping organizations as partners in furthering an agenda with mutual benefits and broader community implications.

Connect Kalamazoo was birthed out of The Arcadia Institute to provide a medium for organizations who desire to grow in the areas of becoming more inclusive specific to their organizations and in tandem with other organizations. Organizations can get assistance through trainings and monthly network meetings where issues and celebrations are shared across the table while relationships build over time. This network has expanded and Connect Kalamazoo facilitates an Annual Forum. Connect Kalamazoo meets monthly and is a great vehicle for growth and change, but is only one of the many community tools available for individuals, families and organizations who have a desire to move beyond silence and isolation and into broadening our collective community impact around increasing the safety, support and service net for Black and Brown families and communities.

Dalanna has experienced challenges first-hand as a sibling of a person with a developmental disability she states “everyone knows the African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. But when it comes down to raising a child with a developmental disability it seems like you would need two villages. After the epidemic of crack/cocaine there has been a break down in Black/Brown villages “communities” across the nation, therefore contributing to the lack of support for those with developmental disabilities. Not to mention, a lack of support in many other areas of our community.”

In closing, it is imperative that individuals, families and organizational leaders of the Black and Brown community begin to step up and say “nothing for us without us” as opposed to remaining in the background and settling for attempts made to address these issues outside of the Black and Brown community on behalf of the Black and Brown community. Health and Wellness Fairs and Workshops include allusions to this issue but we have much more work that needs to be done in this area.

I challenge you to reexamine your own mindset as a Black or Brown person around issues associated with persons with developmental disabilities. Challenge your church and organizational leadership to reexamine their policies, procedures, language, identification, accommodating acceptance with and of developmental disabilities. We are running out of room for anymore Pink Elephants.