The Arcadia Institute

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

Leading with Uncertainty

Recently, I attended Catalyst University in Kalamazoo. It was quite a day and left me with so much to ponder. One of the presenters, Tania Luna, Co-founder of Surprise Industries, really spoke to me as the Executive Director of The Arcadia Institute. She invited the audience at Catalyst University to stop worrying about what are the right answers and to wonder about what are the right questions.

As we work with people with disabilities to support them to be included in the community, we are constantly living with uncertainty and surprise. We know that we do not have all of the answers and often are helping people in the community unlearn what they think they know about working with people with disabilities.

When we approach people with disabilities, they and their family members are often uncertain that they will be welcomed and supported in new situations. We have to help them explore new possibilities. Sometimes when they try new activities, it does not work – and that’s OK. However, when we find the just right fit – it is a surprise and a delight. People discover that their gifts and talents are valued. For example, we have a young woman who loves to read. She began volunteering for SLD Read in Kalamazoo. She likes to organize and file – her contributions to the organization are important for the work of SLD Reads to help students gain the ability to read and write.

On the other hand, organizations sometimes worry that they are not equipped to support people with disabilities to participate. They are uncertain that they have the knowledge and skills to make accommodations that will make it possible for people with disabilities to be successful. In our society, many people have the notion that only people with special training in disability can provide appropriate accommodations. When we provide coaching to organizations to support a person with disabilities, they are usually surprised that they can do it! More often than not, people who are not professionals in disability are more creative and open to trying new ways to support people with disabilities. An example of this is a young man who is deaf and needs an interpreter or iPod to communicate started volunteering at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. He began helping with some clerical work. The Nature Center staff learned that he is very good at drawing. So they started having him draw outlines of animals that could be used in educational packets for school children to color. He became a valued part of the organization.

On March 24, 2016, Connect Kalamazoo will host the 7th Annual Building a Community of Belonging Forum of The Arcadia Institute and Its Partners. Join us in conversations about how to welcome, support and respect people with disabilities throughout our community.

Out Beyond

Take a moment to ponder this poem by Rumi that Thom Andrews shared at a recent Peer Learning Group at OnePlace in the Kalamazoo Public Library.

So often in the work of The Arcadia Institute Community Brokering we are looking beyond doing this a right way or wrong way. We are constantly reflecting on how we can make the best connections for the people we work with. We meet people and the community in “the field” of possibilities.

Share what words or phrases touch, move or inspire you from Out Beyond.

Have you thought about . . .

Recently, I heard a presentation about a school district that is planning a career day for middle school students. It sounded very exciting as area business in the areas of manufacturing, health care, technology, arts and communication will be available to provide the students hands on experiences with those careers. The idea is to help students connect what they are learning in school to future career opportunities. In other words, answering questions like “Why am I learning algebra? I’m never going to use it.”

Reflecting later on the presentation, I began to wonder if students receiving special education services will be included in this career day. So often, students with disabilities are not included in school system wide events with everyone else. In fact, we see special education professionals creating separate transition/career fairs for students with disabilities.

So my questions is “Have you thought about truly including all students in system wide activities?”

What are some other questions that we might think about when we are working toward making Kalamazoo a Community Where Everyone Belongs?

Happy New Year from The Arcadia Institute

Happy New Year
Happy New Year from The Arcadia Institute

Peaceful and
Productive new

Excitement and
Welcoming new ideas and adventures.

Reimagining possibilities!


Curtains Up

Vivian really enjoys theater. She participated in a theater class when she was in high school. Now that she is out of high school and is working, she was looking for a way to get involved with theater again.

The Family Center for the Arts in Portage MI, has a theater company that is very community and family oriented. The owner Rebecca Achenbach is warm and welcoming to anyone who is interested in participating in visual arts, dance and theater. It appeared it would be a good place to connect Vivian.

In September, Vivian joined the theater company. Becoming a member of the company meant that Vivian could take classes as well as be part of preparing for a production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

During the preparation phase, Vivian helped work on building the sets, costumes and props. Mostly, she painted and glued things together.

Vivian not only enjoyed helping with the preparation, but she also enjoyed meeting with and working with new people. She said the best thing was working with a group of people to make the show come together.

Willy Wonka was performed the second weekend in December 2015 to sell out crowds of children and adults alike.

Now Vivian has started taking classes. Recently, she took an improvisation class called Stranger Things Have Happen!. First, the participants created their own character to share with the others in a situation the instructor designed. Then, as a group they created new characters and a new situation that they called “The Random Family.” Sounds like fun!