The Arcadia Institute

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

Supporting Parents

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

In Community Brokering, we support people to lead the lives they want to lead. Our focus is on the individual; however, we do not underestimate the important role that family members play in an individual successfully reaching his or her goals. We have learned that we must place value on developing relationships with the individual’s family.

In our experiences in working with individuals, we have seen how parents can influence an individual’s movement toward their goals both positively and negatively. Therefore, while we spend time getting to know an individual, we also invest time in getting to know key family members. We learn about their hopes and dreams for their adult child, we listen to their worries and concerns, and we respect the path they have traveled to support their child in getting to where he or she is today.

I have worked with more than one individual whose family members, out of genuine love and concern for the vulnerability of their child, have expressed hesitation, sometimes out right fear, about letting their child try new experiences in the community. They worry about their child’s physical and emotional well being. Is their child going to be welcomed by the community? Will he or she be respected and valued? Will they be taken advantage of or led astray? Will they be given a chance to learn from their mistakes and share their gifts with the community?

I have also worked with parents who are eager to see their child try new experiences, but they have been burned in the past. They have seen people underestimate their children. They have been disappointed by people and services that offered assistance and then didn’t follow through. They have felt alone and unsupported in their journey to help their child fully participate in his or her community. When first meeting us, they can come across as skeptical, sometimes even annoyed, as they try to learn about who we are and what we do through Community Brokering.

Parents are protectors, advocates, and cheerleaders. As such, they can be a brick wall to their child’s future goals, or the wind beneath their wings. So, when we meet family members who are not sure they support having their child try a new activity, we don’t throw our hands up in the air and tell them to call us when they change their minds. Rather, we recognize that this is where we need to slow down and listen. We need to hear what the parents have to say. We need to understand and respect the journey they have been on with their child. When they talk about how they have been disappointed by services in the past, we must show through our actions that we are committed to our mission. This doesn’t mean we are experts, or that we will have the solutions to the difficulties an individual faces. What it means is that we are willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We will meet the individual where he or she is at and together we will take the steps needed to move ahead. We will talk through how we can move the individual toward her goal, but support the parent in gaining trust and confidence.

This does not mean that we ignore the individual and let the parent’s call all the shots. We always remember that we are working for the individual. There are times when we need to push and challenge the parents, and we do. But, through Community Brokering, we are able to develop the relationships that allow us the opportunity to speak to a family. To be sure, this can be a slow process! Results don’t always happen in just a few months. However, when given the time to build trust, respect and communication, goals are achieved, dreams are realized and our communities are made stronger.

Community Brokering: What We Do

The main purpose of Community Brokering is to connect people with disabilities to live a full community life as they choose. This is done through the person working with a Community Broker who does three basis things: 1) gets to know the person, 2) facilitates Personal Future Planning meeting and 3) continues to follow up on the plan as needed.

The Community Broker is an employee of The Arcadia Institute who works through the process above to help people’s lives be focused on life in the community rather than disability specific programs and services. The areas of community life that are addressed are recreation, well being, housing and competitive employment.

Hopes, Dreams, Aspirations, Jobs and Sustainability

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

Hopes, dreams and aspirations require resources. At the Arcadia Institute we understand the value of persons with disabilities deserving to actualize their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Hence, we include employment as one of our very important goals that we assist participants in being able to obtain. This journey varies with each and every individual. Follow along as Erika shares a few excerpts as a participant in the Community Brokering process involving her journey towards employment.

In Erika’s case, she has been gaining employability skill sets as a volunteer over the past few years. Because, Erika recognized during this process that she needed first and foremost to find and exercise her own voice regarding her overall readiness for employment. It’s one thing to roll out and just get any job. It’s another thing to be able to sustain employment doing work that matters and that is a good match.

One of her first stops along the journey included her volunteering as an Administrative Assistant with New Genesis Education Center. “Learning new computer programs, navigating there and back independently, being a part of a team who was involved with students and their lives. I had deadlines that I had to meet. Getting in the habit of dressing up professionally on a daily basis.” Since no experiences are wasted even “having to create a new newsletter every week came with pressures but also brought out the creativity that was there but kinda hidden below the surface.”

Not every road was easy for Erika but still and all yielded lessons learned. “Once the volunteer projects end it was frustrating having to look for new opportunities at different sites.” There were also several times when maintaining the balance between motivation and preplanned annual family vacations collided. “It was hard to get back in the groove. Self motivation was not as strong, too.” “Jobs are important but so is maintaining family relationships. People with disabilities rely on family for strength and encouragement and on the flip side also become discouraged at times by family regarding employment.”

Overtime Erika has gained strength, confidence and self-esteem. Now “I currently volunteer for Connect Kalamazoo in hopes to use those skill sets to add to my resume. My socialization opportunities and community circle connections have increased. Being a part of something that lets me be get out there more and gain more knowledge about the community and what other opportunities exist for people with disabilities.”

Lastly, “I think with now being involved in the partnership with MRS/Arcadia Institute I will be exposed to even more job-related training opportunities. Years ago was not a fit for me with MRS because I did not have the self-confidence that has been gained through the Community Brokering process of finding my voice and being more exposed to pre employment.” “I have found that self-employment is actually the best fit for me at this time.” Erika suggests “that self-confidence and believing in yourself can often take time.” It continues to be a community team effort and the timing must be best for Erika or it’s merely another statistic.

Building a Community of Belonging: Employ People with Disabilities

When people with disabilities are part of the competitive work force there are huge benefits for the:

Employer and co-workers
Climate of the work environment
Public image of the business
Economy of the community at large

and more.

We have been working with some people through Community Brokering for awhile now. They have learned how to sustain a regular volunteer routine, communicate effectively and use public transportation. They are now ready for competitive employment and we are reaching out to businesses to help connect the people with opportunities.

Fortunately, this has been a real learning opportunity for The Community Brokers. We are learning that many prospective employers would like to hire people with disabilities, but they still hold misconceptions that we need to dispel. While this may seem like a challenge for us to overcome, when employers are honest about their concerns in hiring people with disabilities, we have an opportunity to introduce them to a person who would be a great fit for a position they have available. We are able to coach the employer to see how this person would be a great addition to their work force. Employers see that there often is no monetary expense to make accommodations – they just may need to take a bit longer to train the person and how to support the person on the job.

So we are working, albeit slowly, to reach out to prospective employers based on the strengths of the people we work with to build a community of belonging. People with disabilities becoming part of a business community and the business now belonging to a growing community of organizations employing people with disabilities.

If you would like more information about how to support people with disabilities in your organization or business please contact Allison Hammond, Executive Director of The Arcadia Institute at or 269-217-2205.

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Community Broker: Successful Youth Story

The blog this week was written by Dalanna Hoskins, Community Broker with Youth.

Brokering Develops Family Relationships

I am proud to write for all to see on the progress of one of our participants of the Arcadia Institute. For the sake of confidentiality we will name him Maxwell Smart.

For those of us who work as brokers, we have come to learn how to be patient, think outside the box and how to work with not just the individual, but key members of the persons family as well. Maxwell’s mother is a very hard working lady. She makes sure that all questions are answered when it comes to Maxwell’s safety and wellbeing. She is very much like my mom. She is protective, caring, and will call anyone out that does not have Maxwell’s best interest at heart. Maxwell’s mother and I have bonded over the past 6 months since working with him. My relationship with her has been a learning experience for me, and I appreciate who she is as a concerned parent who wants what is best for her son.

Because of this blossoming relationship, Maxwell has been able to volunteer at the Nature Center since the 10th of June once a week. He has loved every bit of it. He has developed a relationship with Garden Coordinator Dave Brown and his parents who are regular gardeners, and the Volunteer Coordinator Rose Norwood.

Two weeks ago the Nature Center celebrated their volunteers and Maxwell’s mother was able to attend along with him. This event introduced his mother to those that work closely with Maxwell. She was able to see how much her son was appreciated and that his gifts and talents were being used with purpose. She also has a higher level of trust, and is able to let her son get closer to the independence he may one day have.

This is what we are about, here at the Arcadia Institute. We are all about connecting our people with their community, sharing their gifts and talents as well as building relationships with the parents and families of the participants we work with.