The Arcadia Institute

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

The Community Participation Initiative

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

This is the second in a three-part series on the history of the development of programs. The first part covered the period prior to our first contract with Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. During the first part of our history we tended to respond to situations and moved on ideas as they arose or came our way. With the Mental Health contract we entered into a period of more structured and intentional programming.

That contract was the result of a series of discussions that I had with Jeff Patton, their Executive Director, about possible ways for people served by that agency to take part more fully in community life and to move away from a primary emphasis on services provided by disability-specific organizations. These discussions took place over several months in 2006 and concluded with a decision by Jeff to provide initial funding from a special account, beginning in January of 2007 with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Since that time we have expanded the contract to work with children as well, and we have worked with several hundred individuals.

That is the short story of how the work began. The full story goes as far back as the mid-seventies when the mental health system in the state of Michigan adopted a policy of ‘deinstitutionalization’ and made the decision to begin the process of eliminating large state facilities. Beginning in the fall of 1976, I was responsible for leading a planning process to develop a comprehensive system of services to carry out deinstitutionalization in our county. Over a period of several years a number of volunteers and agency professionals laid the foundation for the system which provided alternatives for all our people in state institutions and large nursing homes to live within our community.

We did a good job, and many individuals and families have lived richer lives because of that work. However, the search for better alternatives has never really ended. Even as we were creating the local system of services, some of us were involved in developing pathways for people to not only be ‘in’ the community, but also to be a full participating ‘part of’ the community, as far back as the early 1980’s.

While some people who provide services directly have had a tendency to fall into a pattern of continuing the same programs over time, I have always believed that remaining in place inevitably leads to decline. To be sure, stability and long standing relationships, as well as somewhat predictably routines have been helpful and necessary for some people with disabilities. However, I think that improvements have always come when some people are pressing to do better, not settling for established ways. I think that the best mixture probably has been that of maintaining some continuity blended with some change, but always with support for people to grow, to exercise more freedom, to gain competencies and respect.

For many years I accepted the analysis that the community had to be prepared, that it was not ready to fully include people with disabilities. At some point it occurred to me that perhaps all of my assumptions needed to be questioned. Perhaps it was not the community setting up barriers. Perhaps it was me and others who were supposed to be experts about people with disabilities who were setting low expectations and limiting access to community participation. What if I based my work on the assumption that the community will respond if approached, and if they are unsure of how to include people they can learn with my help? This shift in thinking led to the development of what became the Community Participation Initiative, a conscious drive to open doors to the community and provide staff to coach the community if they needed it to take people with disabilities into the programs and activities that were available to all citizens. This is the work that Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services entrusted the Institute to do.

A number of people have directly influenced my thinking over the years as this concept of community participation has evolved, including the following:

  • Cindy Burkhower, one of the first people in Michigan to talk about ways to introduce people to community,
  • John and Connie O’Brien, who have more clearly and completely articulated the concept of community participation than anyone I know,
  • Beth Mount, whose pioneering work on person centered planning, supported employment and living in community,
  • John McKnight, who has translated his thoughts on community building for all into terms that apply to our work with people who have disabilities,
  • Tip Ray, who was the first person I know to do what we call coaching to assist community agencies to include people who may need adaptations and accommodations,
  • Rebecca Shuman, a colleague here in Michigan whose creativity and persistence in Midland taught the whole state how people should live,
  • Kathy Batholomeuw-Lorimer, down in Louisville, Kentucky, who figured out how to make community participation work for people with more significant intellectual and physical disabilities, and
  • Carol Sundberg who applied those ideas in our community, and the
  • Many individuals, parents, and other professionals who have contributed ideas and tried out ideas I have introduced we brought in from other places.

The work of all these people and more, as well as those who developed and advocated ideas for community-based instruction and inclusive education, self determination, supported employment and related ways that people must be, and can be, fully included among us.

In the third section in this series I will describe the elements of the Community Participation Initiative and the evolution of our newest component, Community Brokering.

Remembering and Reflecting

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

Since March 31st will be my last official day as the head of The Arcadia Institute, this seems like a good time to share some information and thoughts about the organization’s history. In the next two blogs I will focus more directly on the two most recent programs we have developed. This blog will lay the groundwork for understanding those two initiatives.

The organization was incorporated in 1994 and received its authorization as a tax exempt nonprofit under Section 501©3 of the Internal Revenue Code. The background work and the task of incorporating was part of the work of the Finance Committee of what was then known as Community Advocates for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, where I served as Executive Director. The Institute was envisioned as a source of creative ideas and new directions in the disability field.

Over the course of our history, I believe that the Institute fulfilled that vision. We have tried out a number of ideas that did not result in any concrete and lasting achievements. We have brought some new ideas and ways of thinking to people in our community and around the state. For Instance, one program idea developed here in Kalamazoo provided leaders in other counties to develop a variety of ways to provide an answer to parents to the question: what happens when I am no longer around to care for and advocate for my son or daughter?

Some of our publications have informed the development of public policy and provided new ideas for other leaders. At one point we served as the fiscal agent for Parent to Parent, which became a significant nonprofit corporation serving parents who need to be united with other parents to receive a unique kind of advice and support. We organized a workshop on Dialogue at the Fetzer Institute which attracted people from around the state and some from other states. These are but a few concrete examples of our legacy thus far.

More than any other contribution, however, the Institute has been a source of new ways of thinking strategically about issues and coming forth with different approaches to problems. During my tenure as President, I have been fortunate to serve under a Board of Directors that has allowed me a great deal of latitude to try out new ventures, even though the number of them that led to few concrete results. However, I think I can support the contention that taken together all of our ideas and trial projects have fed into what we are currently doing and provide us with a framework for reflection as we move into the future and face new challenges.

I think that the disability field has often been too attached to current ways of doing things and thinking to learn from the broader currents of social change within our country. We need an organization that is raising the questions: Why not?, What would happen if?, What would we need to…?, What parties do we need to call together to…? These are the kinds of questions that give rise to new ways of doing things. They are the kinds of questions I have been able to raise and try to mobilize others to answer in my time with the Institute. I have been fortunate, also, in my search for talented people to work with me.

I hope that as our current Program Director, Allison Hammond, assumes leadership for the organization she will draw on the richness of our history in designing new ways assist people with disabilities, their families and professionals to do their very best realize their full potential. Doing so, I am sure, challenge her and those working with her to explore new trails, follow new leads, envision things that do not immediately make sense.

In the next two blogs I will talk about the development of the Community Participation Initiative and our current Community Brokering program.

Pebbles Make Ripples

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

Welcome, supported and respected can only be measured by the impact that is made. Here at the Arcadia Institute we pay very close attention to the impact that we can make in the area of opening the eyes of the community around opportunities for more inclusion of persons with developmental disabilities.

I liken the work that we do to the casting of a pebble into a body of water that makes a ripple. Arcadia staff members “pebble” themselves into the lives and networks of our “bodies of water” within this community.

A few examples of this rippling is when we impact the individuals by challenging them to imagine/envision themselves expanding their gifts and talents more deeply into their communities. We impact in another rippling fashion when families find out that their loved one is connecting with The Arcadia Institute. It challenges family members to begin to view their loved ones with developmental disabilities in a different light. Especially when they hear of goals that have never been perceived of by the individuals as reachable. The other important ripples happen in the “bodies of water” within organizations, businesses, groups and schools that have chosen to adjust and accommodate in efforts to become more inclusive.

In closing, how many of us have heard our elders, friends, teachers and family remind us as we grow up, that we should do something that makes an impact. In the Navajo tradition it is understood that their moccasins that are worn upon their feet are actually walking prayers. Everywhere they walk they intend to impact and bless. Everywhere The Arcadia Institute moves we intend to be like a pebble in the water, troubling the waters in a beautiful but intentionally transforming way.

Why is Youth Brokering Important?

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

As a Community Broker, I have had the honor and the privilege of meeting new people, and bridging the gap between families and communities. In this day and age, I can only imagine how hard it is to be a parent and raise a child, let alone a child with physical and/or mental disabilities. Parents have the hard job teaching, caring, and navigating their children through life’s biggest challenges and decisions.

Part of my job as a broker, is to assure parents that their hard work and dedication to their children is not in vain. I also help parents break down barriers that they must face with their children, and to prepare them for the best quality of life they can possibly get.

Our youth need positive role models and community advocates to let them know that we support them, and at the same time teach them how to give respect and honor to everyone. Youth in general are bombarded with constant negative images of what it takes to make it in this world. We need to work together and embrace positive images, and provide positive support letting our youth see what the “real world” is like and how to maintain a balanced positive life.

With mental illness on the rise and 80% of American people dependent upon medication to sustain a “normal” life, we face a problem as well as a societal question of how do we deal with the day to day issues of life? Our youth face pressures that the previous generation may never have had to face when they were the same age. So what is the solution to these issues and problems youth face today?

It is overwhelming to think upon such questions, but in light of all this, I wake up every morning and tell myself “I am a problem solver” I may not fix everything that the world may face, but I help solve the issues with the families I deal with. When we have found a meaningful place in our surrounding community for them to feel safe, welcome, and at ease, then we have done our job.

Building a Community of Belonging Forum: A Happening!

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On March 26, 2015, Connect Kalamazoo will host the 6th Building a Community of Belonging Forum at Vanguard Church. This year will be a Happening! So mark your calendars.

We will be celebrating the successes of Connect Kalamazoo building awareness of inclusion of people with disabilities. One of the highlights of the Forum will be the creation of a community art project that shares the vision of Kalamazoo: A Place Where Everyone Belongs.

As the community art project develops, at the Forum we will:

• Tell the success stories of Connect Kalamazoo that is a network of community organizations leading the community around diversity, inclusion and equity for people with disabilities
• Learn how to build community awareness through the use of the logo in organizations that have met the Commitment to Inclusions Checklist and criteria.

The facilitators for the event include:

Kathy Jennings, Editor, Southwest Michigan Second Wave – Media Campaign
Simon Borst, Front End Manager, Peoples Food Co-op – Art Project Coordinator

To date the following organizations have committed to support the Forum:

Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo
Portage District Library
Southern Shores Council of Boy Scouts
People’s Food Co-op
Media Arts Academy
Just Move Fitness and More
USA Tae Kwon Do
Family Center for the Arts
YMCA Sherman Lake Camp
Disability Network
Residential Opportunities Inc.
Center for Disability Services
Arc Community Advocates
Humphrey Products

We hope to see you there!