The Arcadia Institute

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

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.

Equity as a Principle of Organizational Life

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

In its leadership role within our community the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has affirmed three primary principles that can serve to bind us together as a community: Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.

In the work of The Arcadia Institute we have made the inclusion of people with disabilities our highest value and an integral part of our mission. We evaluate our work in terms of the extent to which we have contributed toward that end.

We affirm diversity as an explicit aspect of what we consider a good community to be. We appeal to a common affirmation of diversity in our efforts to persuade the broader community to value and support people with disabilities. We also affirm a community in which a wide variety of people with different characteristics and conditions take part.

I think that our colleagues and friends who work within other nonprofit organizations not only support diversity and inclusion, however they may define them, as a matter of course in their work.

It’s that third one, ‘equity’, that I see as the tough one. I think that the reason we may hesitate to affirm equity is that it is confused with ‘equality’. So let us examine these two terms. Equality is not so hard to define. Equal means the same, in both qualitative and quantitative ways, such as the right to happiness or the same share of the family inheritance.

Equity, however, is not so clear cut an idea, in part because it includes equality as part of its meaning. Getting an equitable share does not mean getting the same measure. It means getting what is fair, and in order to determine what is fair we have to dig a little deeper. Equity includes having your basic needs met, like what you need to eat and your health care needs met. It even carries the connotation of a right, or entitlement, to have those basic needs met. It also includes the idea of equal treatment under the law and equal access to the goods and services of the community.

People among us, like some people with disabilities, will not have access to a decent share of our community’s goods unless there is support for the principle of equity. Many of them will not be able to participate, much less compete, on the same terms as people without disabilities. Some will need both support and accommodations to take their rightful place among us. Other groups of people face similar difficulties. All both need and deserve equity.

When it comes to supporting rights and entitlements some folks back away from the idea of equity, or even say supporting equal treatment in our court systems. So it appears to me that the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is really stepping forward as a leader in adding equity to its core priorities or values. They are offering support and a challenge to organizations who seek their financial backing. Those of us leading nonprofit organizations are blessed with both the challenge and the promise of support. We are being urged to embody one of the toughest core values in American life. And when we meet the challenge, and especially when we enter into covenants to work together to achieve equity, we amount to a powerful force for good.

Count Down to Building a Community of Belonging Forum

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Five years ago, people came together to create the first Building a Community of Belonging: A Forum of The Arcadia Institute and Its Partners. In September 2014, many of these same people plus several more attended a luncheon at the YMCA Sherman Lake Center to celebrate the fifth birthday of Connect Kalamazoo. People who attended the luncheon are part of the following organizations:

YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo
Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo
Media Arts Academy
Kalamazoo Nature Center
Portage District Library
Boy Scouts Southern Shore Council
Pretty Lake Vacation Camp
Parent to Parent of Southwest Michigan
Just Move Fitness
Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Disability Network
People’s Food Co-Op
Southwest Michigan Second Wave
Interns from Project Search
Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run
Junior League of Kalamazoo

All of these organizations are committed to making Kalamazoo a community that welcomes, supports and respect everyone – specifically people with disabilities.

Now we are looking forward to the 6th Annual Building a Community of Belonging Forum on March 26, 2015. This Forum will celebrate the successes of Connect Kalamazoo in a way that builds on the theme of Kalamazoo: Where Everybody Belongs. The features of the 2015 Forum will be:

  • Using various media to promote Connect Kalamazoo leading up to and following the Forum
  • Promoting the use of the Connect Kalamazoo Commitment to Inclusion Checklist throughout all organizations in Kalamazoo
  • Using the Community Awareness through displaying the Connect Kalamazoo logo in organizations
  • Creating a community art piece that celebrates inclusion and can travel throughout the community
  • Guest facilitators for the 2015 Forum are:
    Kathy Jennings, Editor, Southwest Michigan Secondwave – Promotions
    Simon Borst, Front End Manager, People’s Food Co-Op – Artist
    Deborah Warfield, Founder, Media Arts Academy, Video

    Look for more information about the Building a Community of Belonging Forum 2015 beginning in November of 2014!

    AND – plan to be there!!!

    For information about how you or your organization can be involved in planning, funding or supporting the Forum contact Allison Hammond, Program Director, The Arcadia Institute at:

    269-217-2205 or

    Follow Alongs-The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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

    In order for us Community Brokers at The Arcadia Institute to “make it possible for people to be welcomed, supported and respected in their community” our participants must also learn how to welcome, support and respect themselves as well. “Follow Alongs” are another important tool that is part of the Future Planning process. At these sessions we help participants wade through some of the good, the bad and the ugly of finding your voice and learning to exercise it. What is discovered, explored and adjusted at these sessions often becomes the difference between attempts versus sustainable success.

    Jennifer reminded us last week “we invite their community circle to come alongside them”. Since the premise of the Futures Planning process is strength-based, so are the “Follow Alongs”. We together, as a circle take a closer look at the “Action Steps” and ask the questions: 1. What’s working? 2. What’s not working? 3. What needs adjusting? Adjustments are not considered failures. Oftentimes, new truths surface or we run into an unknown dead end or the participant discovers that they need to go deeper in order to reach that particular goal.

    The Futures Planning Process unearths a baseline garden to begin to plant new seeds. Whereas, the “Follow Alongs” pay closer attention to how can the soil be maintained as healthy for sustainable growth. It’s not unusual to navigate through a serious of emotions during these sessions. We laugh, we cry, we press and sometimes push our way to new and next best steps.

    I’ll close with an example of one of the most difficult “Follow Alongs”. One of my participants made several strides towards interdependence including moving into his own apartment and landing a job with our assistance. However, over time, due to the culture that he was born in, when the road began to get rocky regarding the push towards him developing deeper daily independent living skills, the parent began to make it easier for him to revert back to her for support. In her culture a mother reopens her arms and embraces the son and “Follows Along” back inside the familiarity of her own home.

    The win-win was that the Future Planning process grew both the son the mother and me, regardless of the end result. It was my duty to welcome, support and respect their choice to return back to a space that felt safest.