The Arcadia Institute

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

Building A Community of Belonging Forum 2015

On Thursday, March 26th from 1-7pm we will be gathering at Vanguard Church, 2020 Fulford in Kalamazoo, to celebrate the successes of Connect Kalamazoo building awareness of inclusion and a community of belonging. The Forum this year will include discussions on using the Connect Kalamazoo logo and creating a community art installation. It is a happening.

If you would like to be a part of this year’s Forum, you can go to the website at: for more information.

We would like to thank our community partners, sponsors and supporters for their contributions to the Forum and the Connect Kalamazoo network. Without their support, this event and the work of the network would not be possible.

Building a Community of Belonging Forum Partners
The Arcadia Institute
YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo
Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo
Southwest Michigan Council of Boy Scouts
The Portage District Library
The Media Arts Academy
Kalamazoo First Presbyterian Church
Humphrey Products

Advocacy Groups
ARC of Michigan
The Arc Community Advocates
Disability Network of Southwest Michigan

Center for Disability Services
Family & Children Services
Residential Opportunities Inc.
Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency

Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services
Kalamazoo Nature Center
USA Tae Kwan Do
YMCA Sherman Lake
Just Move Fitness and More
Parent to Parent of Southwest Michigan
Advocacy Services for Kids

Community Brokering

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

This is the last article in a series of three of my reflections on the work of the Institute since its founding in 1994. The first covered the period prior to our current contract with Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (KCMHSAS. In the second article I discussed the background and beginning of a program that we have called the Community Participation Initiative. In this last piece I will be looking back on the Initiative and the development of our Community Brokering work. I will conclude with some thoughts on future directions.

With the Initiative we developed a multi-level strategy that included working directly with the individual, assisting the community agency that the individual chose to be part of, and the third level of attempting to move the whole community to become a natural support system for people with disabilities. In taking this approach we affirmed to importance that agencies that only serve people with disabilities are in peoples’ lives. We acknowledged their good and necessary work but chose to focus our efforts on the agencies and organizations that serve everyone.

Our primary method for our work at this third level was an organization made up of people from agencies with whom we had developed through our work with individuals. Our work at this level has a long history that goes all the way back to the 1970’s when I was involved in organizing interagency groups. A key development was the convening of what we called the ‘Community Village’, a group that Dawn Robarge, then on my Community Advocates staff, and Michele Miller, at that time the Executive Director for Parent to Parent of Southwest Michigan. The concept of the Community Village was that we needed to invoke the whole village to support children with disabilities. Most of the agency people invited were from agencies that served everyone. The core of the leadership of our current group, Connect Kalamazoo, comes from the Community Village group.

The concept of community brokering came out of the work of Connect Kalamazoo. During one of our annual Forums a small work group that I sat in on decided to continue to meet and work on the idea of developing what the Mental Health system called a system of ‘natural supports’, that is people involved in the lives of their clients who are not paid to do so, including family, friends, neighbors and others not part of a typical service plan.

For some time prior to the convening of this work group, I had been trying to figure out how use a methodology called Person Centered Planning in our Initiative. Even though the Mental Health Code requires that each client have such a plan, the deas and techniques used were rather pro forma, rather than the highly individualized approach contained in the original concept that I had learned in the 1980’s from Beth Mount, John and Connie O’Brien, and people from Canada. I had been looking for ways to go back to the original concept that began with an in-depth sharing of ideas, hopes and dreams about a person’s future that were drawn out of a broadly representative group of people who were convened to develop a plan for an individual. My thought was that our staff could facilitate that kind of planning.

One of the short-comings of our Initiative was that we only worked with most people for a short period of time, assisting them to gain access and become included in community activities. After that we may or may not have ongoing contact with them, usually depending upon whether they contacted us. Even with the addition of facilitating an authentic Person Centered Plan we would still not be able to have an ongoing relationship. The work group, composed of Karen Longanecker, a Self Determination staff person and Kathy Lentz, a program manager, both with KCMHSAS and Sheldon Schwitec, who had worked in Canada using person centered methodologies drew a program concept out of the Medicaid Manual called Supports Brokering, which we changed to Community Brokering to make it clear that we only work with the broader community and not disability specific services.

The central idea is that a broker negotiates on behalf of someone, such as a potential homeowner and someone desiring to sell a home, or someone seeking to invest money and a financial expert who guides the investment process. We became brokers on behalf of the person with a disability and the community, and the aim of the brokering was participation as a full and equal partner in the community, rather that transfer of a home our making money

The work group spent almost a year developing the plan for brokering, and once we started, we spent several more months defining the program. What emerged was a well thought out and intentional effort to go into great depth to prepare the person and the community for a relationship that is mutually beneficial. We are constantly meeting, analyzing, and reflecting on our efforts, seeking ways to help people get jobs through their natural support system, a place to live, and as always meaningful community participation in activities of choice.

As the Institute looks to the future beyond my tenure, which ends on March 31st, I hope that the staff and Board build on our history, our tradition of action and reflection as the approach to decision making and execution, deepening the understanding of the power of the natural community and the strengths of relationships as the heart of participation, drawing upon the work prior to the KCMHSAS contract to make future decisions about the work of the Institute, believing in the possibility of new beginnings for each person, for organizations and the community as a whole, and drawing deeply upon the dreams and the ability to lead and create of each person on staff, in other agencies, each person who gains from our support. I believe that the work of the Institute has exemplified what I call Community Leadership. That is we have acted directly to address the needs and best dreams of people with disabilities, but we have also embraced the responsibility of doing what is best for our whole 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.