The Arcadia Institute

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

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.

Summer Camp of 2012 was Life Changing

Summer camp of 2012 was life changing for my son. Alec is a high functioning Autistic child, he is also socially and emotionally delayed by three years. Summer of 2012 he decided to take the Swimming merit badge at camp, even though swimming was usually a trigger for his tic’s and meltdowns. We (his parents) were somewhat concerned; however, we always try encourage him to try new things. We looked at the requirements and figured that there was value in this merit badge even if he never entered the water and never finished the merit badge. This summer camp was also the first summer camp that his dad and I would not be attending with him. We were nervous and concerned about leaving him; how would the staff handle him if he had a meltdown? Would they be understanding? Do they know how to handle a child with Autism? Would they get frustrated with him and send him home? Because of these concerns his dad and I did accompany him to camp; so we would ensure that the staff knew that Alec is Autistic and that they would be prepared with the issues that might arise. Like every BSA summer camp we have been to, part of the first days activities was the initial swim test, we knew he was nervous about it because he has several verbal and nonverbal tic’s that tell us when he is stressed, excited, anxious, or nervous. As I am standing behind Alec on the bank I begin to her his verbal tic’s start to develop. At that time my anxiety grew, I was starting to second guess our decision to let him go to camp. Alec tired the swim test and was unsuccessful, and a meltdown ensued. The head of the waterfront came over to make sure Alec was ok, we then informed him that he was Autistic and the water and the waterfront was a trigger for him. We then talked to Rex about possibly pulling him from the swimming merit badge class, he discouraged that request and started asking us questions about Alec. He wanted to know what some of his interests were, and how we handle difficult situations like this at home. At first we were taken a little by surprise with these questions, as we are normally not asked these types of questions. We told him that he liked rocks, Legos, Video games and a few other things, we then talked a little about how we handle situations like this at home and we talked about his verbal and non-verbal cues so they could pick up on them as well. He then reassured us that Alec would be ok and he would have a great time, he also told us that he would have just one instructor work with Alec so he did not get frustrated with multiple people giving him direction. It was time for us to leave and Alec is still in his meltdown state we were still worried. Later that night we got a call from the Scout Master letting us know that everything was ok, Alec eventually got up and went to dinner and was enjoying the evening activities. On Wed. Alec’s Scout Master called me, when I saw his number show up on my phone I figured that they were going to tell me that Alec needed to come home because he was having too much difficulty at camp. So as I said hello an excited voice on the other side said I passed, and I almost began to cry, he wanted this so bad and to see him succeed was wonderful. As he handed off the phone I began to ask questions and they told me that they took the info that we had given them earlier in the week and used that as motivation. They put rocks in a bag and dropped the bag in the water and told Alec that he could have the rocks if he went down after them. I was told that he paced back and forth on the dock several times before he jumped in, but he did, I do to see a video of the staff working with him and patiently encouraging him as he took and passed his swim test, they were right there in the water right next to him every step of the way. Alec not only passed his swim test he also completed what will probably be the hardest merit badge he will have to do, all because of the caring and supportive staff at Camp Rota Kiwan.

Alec struggles to fit into society every day, to him passing the swim test like all they other boys can means that he fits.

Common Ground in Communities

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

The Arcadia Institute can honestly say that the only thing that is constant about a day in the life of a Community Broker is “change”. As challenging as that may sound, it falls right in line with how we can more authentically support the growth of persons we work with that just happen to have a disability. Conversely, we too are often transformed along the journey with others who exercise their right to want more than just a dream of increased quality of life.

Fortunately, the community of Kalamazoo has organizations that repeatedly experience similar roller coaster rides along their journey towards fulfilling their inclusive missions. A great example of an organization’s willingness to expand and grow in areas of increased inclusion-as-a-way-of-life is the Boys and Girls Club of Kalamazoo. Historically, the Kalamazoo Chapter of the Boys and Girls Club lives out their commitment to include by investing in staff that train their own staff regularly about the value and matters of inclusion

One of our participants, Greg Daniel, had a desire to volunteer as an Associate Art Instructor with the after-school drop in program at the Douglass Community Center this past winter. Program Coordinator, Josh Campbell was extremely committed to engaging in exploratory conversations with myself, his staff and the participant. Josh expressed and modeled a sincere desire to make sure that this volunteer opportunity was safe, respectable, accommodating and all-around doable. From the very start, Josh and their staff partnered with all areas to be problem-solved, even down to the smallest detail of literally meeting Greg at his Metro bus in the dead of winter, to unload and load Greg and accompany him safely into the building each time.

Greg was consistently treated like an average volunteer as the program rolled out, but whenever my participant needed to adjust his availability due to transport, staffing or health concerns he was never made to feel bad about it when life smoothed out and he was able to resume without missing a beat.

Being able to connect Greg with an opportunity to express and share his passion, with an organization that is passionate about engaging youth in healthy, productive character-building, is one of a Community Broker’s cha chings…. Everybody benefits when everyone connected to the program experiences persons with disabilities as part of the valuable fabric of life.

I will close with a direct comments from the participant himself. ” It is important to teach kids to be able to think outside of the box. Using art as an alternative to choosing to not just be out on the streets. The life that they are used to doesn’t need to be their life they chose to live in the future. Staff were very helpful and wanted very much to open their arms and open their minds.”

As organizations like The Arcadia Institute along with The Boys and Girls Club open their arms and open their minds our community will continue to look more and more like the beloved community we strive to help build through The Arcadia Institute vehicle for change, Community Brokering.

Successful Camp Experiences

Over the years that The Arcadia Institute has worked with various summer camps in the Kalamazoo area, we have helped camp staff to make accommodations for children with disabilities that benefit all of the campers. The staff have also become more creative in making accommodations that benefit all campers.

Several years ago, Jenny Metz Brenneman, the Camp Director at the Kalamazoo Nature Center made an interesting observation. As parents of children with disabilities would complete registration forms they would often include lengthy letters about all of a child’s challenges and limitation that need accommodations; however, what works the best for camp staff to support a camper is knowing the children’s strengths, interests and what they want to get from the camp experience. She asked that we develop a handout for parents that describes what information she really needs to make camp a successful experience for all children.

So we created the handout called Successful camp experience handout_update2013. We have distributed this handout through camps, during various presentations and camp staff training sessions. In addition, we helped The Nature Center develop welcoming language on their camp web page that other camps have now adopted for their camp information.

“Everyone Is Welcome!
We believe that all kids can participate in our program. We ask parents to be honest on the health forms about their child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being and anything else our staff should know to help their child succeed in our program. Director Jenny may contact you to discuss how we can adapt camp to provide a safe and successful environment for all children.”

Jenny has reported that with these two things along with consistent communication with parents has helped her really know campers before they arrive the first morning. Knowing a child’s strengths and interests is critical to assist camp staff to know how to quickly redirect a child before issues arise. Knowing situations in which a child might be uncomfortable is good, but knowing what things the child enjoys that helps them feel at ease is better.

Here’s to all campers having a blast at camp!


Two and a half years ago, I got an interview for a job at The Arcadia Institute thanks to a connection I had from Newcomer’s Club and The Junior League of Kalamazoo. Thanks to that woman, I had the opportunity to come work for and with a great group of people, do work that I believe to be valuable, and contribute to making Kalamazoo a better place. If it had not been for that connection, I would never have heard about the job. One big lesson I have learned in my time working at The Arcadia Institute is how important connections are in our lives.

Last summer, I was looking for a way to get in some exercise and wanted to be part of a group. I ended up joining a Couch-to-5k Training Program an acquaintance was coaching put on by Your Turn Women. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, but due to the connection I had with that woman, I decided to give it a try. I had tried to do the Couch-to-5k program on my own before but only lasted a few weeks. This time, I loved training with the group and I was quickly hooked on running. I ran my 5k in September and felt great about the accomplishment. I don’t think I could have done it alone, but thanks to the connection of the group, I now have my first 5k under my belt.

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.” – Margaret J. Wheatley