The Arcadia Institute

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

By Inclusion We Mean Community Participation

This week the Blog was written by Allison Hammond, Program Director, The Arcadia Institute

By “Inclusion” We Mean “Community Participation.”

Recently, I was asked very specifically by a Georgia Learning Journey guest and Dalanna Hoskins, new Community Broker, about how The Arcadia Institute and our Connect Kalamazoo partners define “inclusion.” That is a very good question and caused me to reflect on some of the blogs we have written on the topic in the past. I went to our training materials to see what we have distributed in the community.

For us at The Arcadia Institute, we prefer to use the phrase “community participation” as a way to look at inclusion. When people with disabilities are fully participating in the community with others who do not have disabilities that is true inclusion.

A person with disabilities is participating and fully included when the person is:

* Making choices about activities that a person enjoys
* Taking part in the activities with others who do not have disabilities
* Building relationships with other participants, co-workers and neighbors
* Gaining skills that can be used in the activity and in other places in the community
* Being respected and treated like others in the organization
* Making contributions by using their gifts and talents to move the organization forward.

The Connect Kalamazoo Network has created a Commitment to Inclusion Checklist that you can find at this link. Please feel free to use it with any organization that you think would be interesting in being more intentional about having people with disabilities participating in their programs and activities.

For more information about The Arcadia Institute or the Connect Kalamazoo Network please contact Allison Hammond, 269-217-2205 or

The Gifts From Georgia

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

A couple of weeks ago I sat in on one of the sessions for our guests on our Learning Journey. Four of the five were from Georgia, three attended my alma mater, North Georgia University.

Chatting with them was like a mini home visit. One of the topics we covered was our common tie to Beth Mount and John and Connie O’Brien.

It reminded me that so much of what we have been doing with community participation and lately community brokering can be traced back to the visits from these three for workshops here in Kalamazoo.

The ‘Georgia Mafia’, as I referred to them, back in the 80’s brought so many of the ideas that have influenced our thinking about people belonging to and in the community and about methods to enhance their participation, including the techniques we are using for person-centered planning.

We constantly remind ourselves that so much of the solid thinking was done a long time ago and that much of what we need to do today was what people like Beth, John and Connie were saying then. It is important to acknowledge the lessons from the past and to continue to draw upon them. It is also great to renew to Georgia connection.

Arcadia Institute Learning Journey Themes

The blog was written by Jacqueline Daniel; founder of ConnectAbility in Dahlonega, Georgia; and a recent participant on the Connect Kalamazoo and Arcadia Institute Learning Journey. Jacque came to Kalamazoo with three other women from Georgia and one from Colorado to learn about what Kalamazoo is doing to become a a community where everyone belongs.

The questions that I wanted to answer as a member of the Arcadia Institute Learning Journey swirled in my head:
How do people that lead community organizations think about inclusion when it comes to their programs?
What are their thoughts and questions?
How is it possible for people who don’t know about disabilities to lead inclusive programs?

After visiting 9 different organizations and seeing firsthand how inclusion is a seamless part of their programs, the answers to my questions emerged in themes. These themes came up over and over with the different organizations we visited.

• We are open to inclusion – we just need help with “how” to make it work

• Focus on the positive: we want to find out what people/campers can do, not what type of disability they may (or may not) have

• Consider inclusion broadly: How can we be inclusive of people across race, socio economics, disability, etc.

• Behavior is communication

• Being inclusive is the best for everyone – what’s good for people with disabilities is good for everyone.

• Being inclusive is good for business!

• We will need support sometimes and we are ok with asking for it

• People are people first

So, how is it possible for people who don’t know about disabilities to lead inclusive programs? Well, it turns out to be very simple: approaching with a positive expectation and providing supports as needed is how the Arcadia Institute makes is work!

Really getting to know the individuals with and without disabilities and understanding their preferences and talents is the place to start. The program leaders focus on what they are good at – leading their great camps, programs, libraries – and call on support from the Arcadia Institute when they need a fresh perspective or an expert opinion on how to best handle a situation.

What I saw in Kalamazoo was a culture of inclusion – not an “awareness” or “support” movement. Simply people with similar interests sharing experiences together. It was a beautiful sight and one that I long to see in my home state of Georgia.

Keep up the good work Kalamazoo!

Learning Journey Recap

Last week, 4 women from Georgia and 1 woman from Colorado joined The Arcadia Institute and Connect Kalamazoo for a Learning Journey. The purpose of the Learning Journey was for these visitors to meet, see and hear from organizations in Kalamazoo that have embraced including people with disabilities in their programs and activities.

The guests arrived on Sunday, June 22 and were taken to settle in at Transformations Spiritual Center located at Nazareth, MI. Transformations is a conference center operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph. After dinner, the guests received a brief orientation about the schedule for the next two days and got to know one another.

Monday, June 23, 2014

First stop was the YMCA Sherman Lake Camp where Lorrie Syverson, Camp Director, led us on a tour of the Lodge. She spent time talking about how several years ago they began being more intentional about outreach to campers with disabilities. She spoke of their evolution of learning to support any camper through training, finding solutions and building relationships with parents.

Next, we went to the Kalamazoo Nature Center. There, Jenny Brennaman, Experiential Education Director, talked about how diversity is part of nature. It is in the very fabric of the mission of the Nature Center that children with disabilities be included at camp. We also learned about some adults with disabilities who are now regular volunteers there.

The People’s Food Co-Op was the next stop on the journey. We learned from Liz Hinz and Simon Borst about their commitment to bringing employees who become disabled through injury or health crises back into employment. They feel responsible for employees who have been part of their organization and are willing to work through learning how to support a person. Team work, creativity and commitment are what makes it possible.

The last stop on Monday was Camp Rota Kiwan that is the Boy Scout and Cub Scout camp in Southwest Michigan. Kat the Cub Scout Camp director gave us a tour of the facilities. She talked about the importance of a scout experience being available for boys with disabilities. Several Eagle Scouts over the past years have been young men with disabilities – from cerebral palsy, to autism to serious medical conditions.

That evening we talked about the themes that the guests noticed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The day started with our guests attending the Connect Kalamazoo monthly meeting. The guests learned that our typical agenda is Networking around community resources and events. Connect Kalamazoo also works to Align our community around what inclusion really is as well as conducts the Annual Building a Community of Belonging Forum – and The Learning Journey.

We then traveled to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo site at Edison Elementary School. Jessica, Program Director, shared the accommodations that they have incorporated into the Club that help all of the youth. For example, there is a large white board with a schedule of the activities the youth can choose. On the schedule there are pictures of the activities along with a picture of the staff person leading the activity. This is helpful for the younger club members who are just learning to read as well as club members who may related better to pictures of what the activities are.

Last stop of the journey was the Portage District Library. The highlight of that stop was the beautiful artwork in the Preschool area created by local artist Conrad; however, another highlight was the Ready Reads collection in the Adult area. Ready Reads are books that are for people to have access to material like science, fiction, history, biographies, etc.; however, they are not able to read at an advanced grade level.

The Learning Journey was a success. Not only did the guest say that they would recommend the trip to Kalamazoo to people in the future, but relationships were built among the guests and the Arcadia staff that will last for a long time!

Portage District Library

The blog this week was written by Marsha Meyer from the Portage District Library.

The Portage District Library has been an active member of the Connect Kalamazoo network and has appreciated a partnership with The Arcadia Institute for a number of years. Through this partnership the library and the community have benefited from art exhibits by talented, innovative an artist with a disability. Through our connection with The Arcadia Institute and Deborah Warfield, Community Broker, we have been able to connect students to a poet and mentor. Because of our partnership with The Arcadia Institute, we were very pleased to be introduced to Cody, a student with a hearing disability who delighted an audience at a poetry reading during the 2014 Kalamazoo Poetry Festival by “signing” his poetry. Hopefully that experience has encouraged him to continue writing and performing his poetry. We plan to invite Cody to the next Kalamazoo Poetry Festival.

Portage District Library has had the distinct advantage of enjoying the valuable assistance of many different volunteers, including those with special needs.  They perform a variety of helpful volunteer duties around the library, including: shelving books, sorting newspapers, straightening shelves, organizing papers and undertaking other useful tasks.  The best thing they do for us, however, is to brighten our days with their smiles, enthusiasm and desire to help in any way they possibly can.  We have also enjoyed meeting their families and building long-lasting relationships with them.

The library’s partnership with The Arcadia Institute has enriched our connection to area social service organizations and their clients. For example, it enabled us to be introduced to a wonderful interpreter for the hearing impaired, Jamie Rix, who signed at several poetry readings during the 2014 Kalamazoo Poetry Festival.  This definitely made these wonderful poetry events equally accessible to the hearing impaired population in our community.  Likewise, through our affiliation with The Arcadia Institute, many of their clients have now been made aware of our library resources.  Because of our collaborations with The Arcadia Institute, we have met talented artists, poets and valuable volunteers who are on their way to identifying and accomplishing their dreams and goals. Our hope is that they will continue to visit the Portage District Library as a desired destination, and share their talents and skills with all of us and our library users in and around the Portage community.  The continued partnership between the Portage District Library and The Arcadia Institute will evolve into many new fulfilling relationships for the people in our communities, particularly those with special needs.

We look forward to many more years of working together and sharing resources with The Arcadia Institute.