The Arcadia Institute

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

Broadening my perspective…

The blog this week was written by Jill Angell, Executive Director of Parent to Parent of SW MI.

From the moment I stepped foot into the Boys & Girls Clubs, I knew what my goals were going to be for the Club. My goal was simple; make sure every kid that walked through the doors felt included, special, and left with a positive childhood memory. It probably helped that I already had built a relationship with George Martin, and some idea what inclusion was all about.

My journey at the Club began in trying to change each activity and program to fit the needs for each child, and I soon realized that it was overwhelming and very difficult. I felt like I was failing more than I was succeeding at making the Club an inclusive environment. After several conversations with Allison Hammond, and talking honestly with other directors, we decided to take a different approach, change the whole environment. Provide universal supports for the kids at each unit. We started with the program board; it was a big white board that had pictures and words, to list the day’s activities. We use pictures to accommodate kids’ reading skills, hearing abilities, and give them an idea of what the schedule was. We put up red and green lights to display when activity area was open and closed. We gave each age group two to three activities to choose from each hour. We provide timers for pool tables, and some pool tables were reserved to serious players. We developed behavior expectations we wanted to see in each program area. This began our philosophy, if there was an issue with a child, we would brainstorm, how to incorporate that into a universal support in the Club’s daily routine.

I had to broaden my perspective when I became the Executive Director of Parent to Parent of SW MI. I learned from the parents we serve that there is a bigger picture, and belonging is about the whole family and being part of the community. I’ve noticed that when the community is not inclusive, and understanding of all of its members’ needs, it results in families being isolated. I had to learn that our parents are the experts in their child’s life, and that I have to work with our parent support partners to help parents find their voice to educate the community about their family’s needs. My view is wider now; it is about being part of a community. I no longer live in my little bubble at the Club; I have to think bigger, so my question now is how do we draw awareness to everyone in our community’s needs and help them to belong?

Now They Know My Name

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Connect Kalamazoo held the 6th Annual Building a Community of Belonging: A Forum of The Arcadia Institute and Its Partners on March 21, 2015. This year we included a video booth for people to share on site what they were experiencing as a result of the Forum. While reviewing the interviews, one person’s comments touched me and have been resonating in my head ever since. His comments reminded me why the work of The Arcadia Institute and Connect Kalamazoo are so valuable.

When asked if he had met any new people and made new connections, he simply said, “I’m Tory and now they know my name.”

Being known and connected in one’s community is precious and those of us who can navigate the community without needing extra support or accommodations may take this for granted. So many people with disabilities in our community continue to be invisible and set apart where the rest of us don’t know their names. When we do not see them or learn their names, we are missing out on their unique gifts and talents that make our community better.

Through Community Brokering, we introduce people to the community. People learn their names and get to know them. People with disabilities become seen as people with gifts and abilities that the community needs. No longer are they invisible or seen as part of a group of people that need to be set apart in special programs. The community as a whole benefits when people with disabilities are welcomed and supported.

So when you see people with disabilities in the community remember they each have a name and perhaps you would ask them, “What’s your name?”

Being Intentional About Inclusion

The mission of The Arcadia Institute “Making it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in their community.” Although our founder, George Martin moved his passion in this area beyond his heart and into an organization devoted to this important work, inclusion is the responsibility of everyone, every organization and every institution if you say that you exist to provide services and work with individuals within your community.

I was fortunate to be a recipient of intention as a registrant at the recent Scientific Meeting of the American College of Physicians from April 30-May 2 of this year. The conference was held in Boston at the World Trade Center “Celebrating a Century of Leading Internal Medicine, Improving Lives”. The first round of inclusion started when my former doctor whom has since become a friend, invited me to be her guest at the conference. She also does community organizing and partners with me in health prevention with marginalized girls of color. Dr. Marguerite Saith is very intentional about inclusion because it was a family value that she grew up with. She serves on the advisory council of Gurlz of Color:Set4Life!, which is an initiative of the Media Arts Academy that targets complex empowerment opportunities for developing young girls of color as leaders.

Intentional inclusion was very apparent from day one of the conference as I quickly observed that scooters were made available for person with mobility challenges. Although the sessions did not have any signing or braille material available, the options for alternative access to the various formats could be requested through an application that was made available. The huge exhibit hall was easily accessible to and through each of the myriad of displays and booths. I was concerned about being able to identify presentations that I could attend that would not be over my head. However, the non-medical presentations were excellent and relevant and well attended by members of the medical field as well.

Dr. Saith and I will be preparing a Community-Based presentation of our findings: her from a medical perspective and me from a community-based perspective. Details will be made available on the website and through Connect Kalamazoo links. But, I will give you a glimpse of the presentation by a gentleman who was diagnosed at an early age with Muscular Dystrophy. The stories he told included several steps along the road of his challenging journey to be included. He spoke of his encounters with supportive service providers as well as with mainstream providers who lacked an inclusive, intentional lens. He overcame hurdle after hurdle to go on to graduate from high school, undergrad and a Masters program. He is currently married with children and continues the fight for improved quality of life and inclusion on a daily basis. The greatest takeaway at the end of his message was when I rolled up in my wheelchair to appreciate his words. I was close enough by when the administrators of the conference were so moved by his stories, that they offered him a full time position within the American College of Physicians to become a consultant to their curriculum, programs and services. He too had been invited years ago by his doctor to attend a conference that began to empower him even back then. Hopefully his impact will leave an even more lasting legacy in a very important branch of service provision.

In closing, although I described my encounters with an international and national medical organization that is considered specialized, inclusion is the responsibility of everyone, every organization and every institution, if you say that you exist to provide services and work with individuals within your community then there should be some evidence of that lens in how you do business. Opportunities are all around us daily, to consider beyond our automatic and sometimes programmed actions and interactions, when it comes to inclusion. Accommodations should be considered intentional not a burdensome request to be negotiated. The game changes when you or your family end up on the need-to-receive end. I truly benefitted from the opportunity for such international exposure to an event where my voice and presence became an addition to the fabric of what were some of the takeaways.

As I shared with several attendees of the work that we do as a Community Brokers, one of the administrators of the organization asked for my card so that she could follow up. I spoke of the opportunity for considering community brokering as a component of how they may improve the provision of more authentically serving their patients. So I challenge you to grab more than your keys on your way out of the door tomorrow. Make sure your intentional inclusion lens is with you as you move about and through your friends, family and this community. Leave a lasting impact that makes it better for both now and for generations to come. Some of these changes are policy and procedure but the most important changes are personal.

Brokering for Employment

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

In late February, our organization invited a few other agencies in Kalamazoo to meet and have a conversation about the work we are all doing around employment in our community. The intention is that by learning more deeply about each other, we create the opportunity to have better understanding and synergy in the work we are doing. The hope is that we would then be able to take advantage of our individual strengths to work together in community for the benefit of the people we serve.

Here are some of the strengths I see of Community Brokering.

One big strength is Future Planning Meetings and MAPs (Making Action Plans). We work with individuals to invite members of their community to come together in one place, at one time to hear directly from the individual about their goals and interests. We create a safe place to bring concerns and worries out into the open. Having everyone together participating in the conversation allows the individual to address challenges and then to highlight strengths and gifts they have to contribute. Next, the community circle works together with the individual to name the places in the community where he or she may start looking for jobs. We are able to network with the people in the room and lay out the specific steps needed for starting the job search.

Another strength I see is, through Community Brokering, we work with the individual and their community circle to support them in moving through the smaller steps that need to be accomplished in order for someone to be successful in their job. Often, people feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the process of getting started. They need someone who will help them prioritize the steps they need to take and connect them to the resources in the community who are able to help them. Do they need a resume? Do they need knowledge about and confidence in using public transportation? If they need assistance with developing a routine to get them out the door on time and looking presentable, who can they reach out to for help? Are they interested in volunteering to gain job skills, references and more confidence?

A third strength of Community Brokering is that we facilitate follow along meetings. As we are supporting someone in reaching their goals, we will invite members of their community to participate in the process. We invite these individuals to come together on an ongoing basis to continually identify new action steps that need to be accomplished and to address difficulties as they arise. By facilitating this communication with the people in their community circles, we are able to keep the focus on helping the individual keep moving toward their goals.

An additional strength I see is that we take a holistic approach to the person living a life of their choosing in the community. We support them in the areas of independent living, meaningful activities and employment. I see this as a benefit, because if an individual is struggling in one area of their life, it will impact their ability to move ahead in other areas. For instance, if someone is struggling with their living situation, it may sidetrack their ability to be employed.

What are some of the unique strengths in your organization? How can we better use our individual strengths for the benefit of the community? I believe the more we learn about each other, how we are alike and how we are different, helps us to create synergy in our community to support individuals to succeed.

Getting Ready for Summer Activities

It is the time of year when plans are being made for summer activities. Families are looking for opportunities for their children to attend camps and other programs. Organizations that provide summer activities are in the thick of preparation as well.

As part of summer activity preparation most programs provide training for their summer staff. The Arcadia Institute is part of that preparation by providing training and coaching about how to support children and youth with disabilities to be successful in programs with children who do not have disabilities. Some of the programs we have provided training for are the Southern Shores Council of Boy Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo, The YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo Nature Center, the Portage District Library, Kalamazoo City Parks and Recreation, Pretty Lake Vacation Camp, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, etc.

Throughout the training sessions, we consistently talk about the importance of getting to know the children and youth with disabilities as well as their families. Preparing for a successful camp experiences by building relationships with all children and youth is important, but it is even more important when working with participants who have disabilities.

In order to facilitate developing these relationships, we developed a handout with suggestions for what information program staff need to know from parents about their children’s needs as well as strengths. Here is a link to that handout.

Program staff has found this handout to be valuable. When staff has adequate information, they are able to include children with disabilities who attend their activities. Do challenging situations still arise? Yes, but any child or youth may struggle at times. Having a strong relationship built on knowing gifts diminishes these challenges. Program staff and parents can work together to successfully navigate rough situations.