The Arcadia Institute

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

Building A Community of Belonging: An Interview with Jill and Kaley

Watch what Jill Angel, Executive Director of Parent to Parent of Southwest Michigan and Kaley Ford, Youth Director at Advocacy Services for Kids have to say about inclusion.

Building a Community of Belonging: An Interview with Jenny

For this week’s Blog, view an interview with Jenny Brenneman, Kalamazoo Nature Center. Jenny talks about how community agencies can be part of Connect Kalamazoo and what she has learned about including people with disabilities.

The Kalamazoo Nature Center has been a partner of Connect Kalamazoo since 2009. Jenny shares her insights about inclusion.

For more information about Connect Kalamazoo contact Allison Hammond at

The Dignity of Failure

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

Life is full of learning experiences. Some of our most significant learning and growth can take place as the result of a failure. Of course, no one enjoys the experience of not succeeding in a situation. However, it is these types of experiences that give us insight into our strengths and weaknesses. It is through the struggle of trying to figure out how to accomplish something that we often find the right way to move ahead. We don’t always know what the right answers are going to be; rather, it is through trial and error that we are given the opportunity to discover the right steps to take and to develop the skills we need.

In working with individuals with disabilities, I have found there are times when the fear of failure is so strong, that individuals become stuck. They are not able to progress, learn and have new experiences. And, it isn’t always the individual that is afraid of failing, it is his family or community circle that is afraid of the “what if…” What if he misses the bus? What if she is rejected by a potential employer? What if he gets hurt? What if she needs more time to learn a routine? What if she needs to ask for assistance? Of course, this doesn’t mean you just throw someone into a situation and hope for the best. You think through in advance where the challenges may occur, create safeguards and have a contingency plan in place. We need to prepare for the worst, but expect the best.

I am a parent myself, so I understand how easy it can be to focus on the “what if…” It is out of love and concern that family members want to guard an individual from having a negative experience. There are conflicting emotions related to giving your child independence and letting them take a risk. As a parent, I am responsible for protecting my daughter. So, if something bad happens to her, how will I ever forgive myself for allowing it to happen?

But, what we need to recognize is that in our efforts to keep the bad stuff out, we keep the good stuff out, too. It is through the discovery process of trial and error that we learn and experience new things. No outcomes are guaranteed. Things don’t always go as planned. That is ok. There is dignity in allowing everyone the opportunity to try new things. And, if at first you don’t succeed…try, try again.

Community Brokering: Getting to the Porcupine’s Belly

Recently, I was attending a community gathering for an initiative of the City of Kalamazoo called Shared Prosperity. One of the focuses of this initiative is employment, particularly for people coming out of prisons. As I was listening to the speakers who are local employers talk about their commitment to employing people who may have barriers in the whole application, interview and hiring process someone used the phrase “Getting to the Porcupine’s Belly.” Meaning that when we get past these barriers, often the people who have the most difficult time finding employment are the best employees.

This seemed to very much parallel what we experience in the Community Brokering Process when we are supporting people with disabilities to find employment. The application, interview and hiring process can have many thorny, spiny and sharp places that can be barriers in the path to jobs for people with disabilities. However, when we get past these places people with disabilities are wonderful employees.

Through the Community Broker Process we discover the unique interests, gifts and talents of the people we work with that help us find the “Porcupine’s Belly.” The soft places that offer possibilities for employment. Also, as we navigate the hiring process we are starting to find employers that are willing to make accommodations in the hiring process so that people with disabilities are able to demonstrate their job skills. They are willing to remove some of the things that might be like porcupine quills that get in the way of finding an employee who may be the just right fit for a job.

In Kalamazoo, there seems to be an atmosphere of as expanding willingness for businesses and organizations to welcome and support people with disabilities as volunteers and participants. Now we just need to continue that expansion in the area of employment. Perhaps we can flip the Porcupine over more quickly to find that soft belly and make more opportunities available for people with disabilities.

If you are a business owner do you have jobs that need to be done that you are having trouble finding that just right employee who will be committed, dedicated and capable? Contact The Arcadia Institute at or 269-254-8224!

Community Brokering: Planning for Transitions

Supporting people with disabilities to lead the lives they want to lead in the community.

For the past few years, we have been using the Community Brokering Process to support people to transition into their lives in the community. It has been particularly useful for students who are in the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency Young Adult Program. Many of these students have spent years in special education programming from an early age. Now these students are in their early 20’s and are thinking about what they will do when they leave special education services.

Often students and their families have only been exposed to other special services for adults with disabilities. There are day programs and group homes available, but what are choices for leading a life in the community just like anyone else.

This is where Community Brokering comes in as we open up new possibilities for the student with disabilities, their family and friends. In a futures planning meeting, we use tools called MAPS or PATHS to talk about the student’s strengths and interests. Then, we look to the whole community to explore places and activities the student can do that matches these qualities. We ask their family and friends to support them through action steps that lead to meaningful activities, competitive employment and independent living arrangements.

While the student is still in the Young Adult Program, continuing to learn skills that they will need to navigate the community, we are able to prepare them for life after school. They can try new activities, volunteer, and sometimes even part time jobs. We also help them explore various living options in the community and think about what supports they will need to live independently.

Check out our video about Community Brokering here.

If you would like more information about using the Community Broker Process to transition into life in the community please contact Allison Hammond, Executive Director, The Arcadia Institute at or 269-217-2205.