The Arcadia Institute

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

Networking and Relationship Building

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

Networking according to the Webster dictionary is defined as the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.

The idea of networking and how it applies to employment has been a frequent topic of conversation at our office. Many of the individuals with whom we work are very interested in finding paid employment. We know that when it comes to looking for work, it isn’t always about what you know, it is about who you know. For this reason, we are very intentional about helping individuals think about the people in their community circles who may be able to connect them to job openings and help them get in the door for an interview.

We have also been thinking through how we as an agency might help to open up doors for employment opportunities. We have been asking ourselves how we may use networking and relationship building to develop connections between employers and potential employees. Recently, several members of our staff attended a meeting at ONEplace with the Kalamazoo Foundation facilitating a discussion about community alignment and relationship building. It highlighted how organizations need to communicate and work together to build a stronger community.

In the work that The Arcadia Institute does, we have the opportunity to interact with other agencies in town who are also helping people with disabilities find competitive jobs in the community based on their individual interests. While we are working toward a similar cause, our individual missions and strategies are unique. It’s like we are each a spoke on a wheel. The work that we do is different, but complementary. So, when we work together for the benefit of the individuals we serve, we build stronger outcomes for individuals and for our community.

We value the interactions we have with these organizations and we have decided that we want to be intentional about inviting these organizations to come together to have a conversation about employment in our community. Nothing fancy – just talking around a table at a local coffee shop. We want to provide an opportunity for each of us to share about the work that we do. Through this dialogue, we hope to build a better understanding of what we have in common and what is unique about the way we each approach our work. We know there are areas where we overlap in working with an individual, so we believe there is benefit to us coming together to learn more about each other.

Are you interested in participating in the conversation? Please let us know.

Aligning the Community

In the last blog, I talked about the Connect Kalamazoo Network as being more than a group of people who meet monthly and conduct an annual forum. On occasion Connect Kalamazoo takes action to promote aligning the community around what full inclusion of people with disabilities really looks like. Here is an example of one of our activities.

A couple of years ago, a hair salon in our community found itself in the middle of a firestorm of social media and national news coverage. Unfortunately, a young boy with autism his mother were abruptly asked to leave the salon because he was being noisy. Another person who was at the salon posted the story on Facebook and it went viral.

The members of Connect Kalamazoo decided to write a View Point article for the Kalamazoo Gazette to make people aware that there is support for organizations to become more welcoming and supportive of people with disabilities. Below is the View Point article:

Recently in the news there have been stories about adults and children with disabilities in our community. Some stories have been positive about people with disabilities being included in very meaningful ways. Yet, other stories have been about people with disabilities being misunderstood and even unwelcomed. The Connect Kalamazoo Network would like to offer support throughout our whole community about how to welcome, support and respect children and adults with disabilities. We are a group of people and organizations committed to aligning the community around full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life – meaningful activities, competitive employment and living arrangements of choice.

Who is the Connect Kalamazoo Network?

Some of the community organizations that are partners and supporters of the Connect Kalamazoo Network are: The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo; The Kalamazoo Nature Center; The YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo; The Media Arts Academy; Portage District Library; Boy Scouts of America, Southern Shores Field Service Council; YMCA Sherman Lake Camp; The Arc Community Advocates; Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run; Advocacy Services for Kids; Prevention Works; Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; Big Brothers, Big Sisters, A Community of Caring; Comstock Community Center; Disability Network Southwest Michigan; Friendship Village and more.

Through the Connect Kalamazoo Network coordinated by The Arcadia Institute organizations are provided training, opportunities to network and share ideas as well as work together on an annual Building a Community of Belonging Forum that is held in March. In addition, these organizations continue to reach out to other community organizations to let them know that full inclusion of people with disabilities is possible. The community just needs to learn how not only to support people, but support each other in this endeavor to create Kalamazoo as a Community Where All People Belong. For example, one camp program director may contact another camp program director for ideas about how to successfully include a camper with autism.

The Connect Kalamazoo Network has been together for three years, and reaches out to all aspects of community in this effort. The network has created a Commitment to Inclusion Checklist this is available for any organization or company to use. For more information you can contact Allison Hammond, Program Director, The Arcadia Institute at 269-254-8224 or Join the Connect Kalamazoo Network to make Kalamazoo a Community Where All People Belong!

Network: A Verb

Over the past five years, The Arcadia Institute has facilitated the Connect Kalamazoo Network of organizations committed to bettering our community through including people with disabilities in all aspect of life. While Connect Kalamazoo is a Network in the sense of a being “something,” I have come to realize that the only way that we move the community is thinking of the word network as a verb.

Connect Kalamazoo has monthly meetings and plans an annual Forum, but the real work is done in the spaces between these sessions. As the facilitator, I have had to learn how to manage an active Network. Not everyone can attend the meetings or even the Forum; however, there are people and organizations that make the efforts of Connect Kalamazoo come to life everyday. I have to be aware of these efforts and support them on a regular basis – not just at a meeting.

Some people I connect to via text message, Facebook, phone calls and emails. I am continually getting input and ideas from our partners and supporters. I know that Connect Kalamazoo participants talk to each other and support each other in their efforts to include people with disabilities and not just at monthly meetings. Particularly, I know that people in Connect Kalamazoo organizations contact each other to learn how to better make accommodations that improve opportunities for people with disabilities to be welcomed and supported.

On March 26, 2015, Connect Kalamazoo will host the annual Building A Community of Belonging: Forum of The Arcadia Institute and Its Partners. This will be a specific day of learning and interacting with each other. We will celebrate our accomplishments as well as plan ongoing ways that the community can continue to focus on equity, diversity and inclusion – specifically for people with disabilities.

Look for more information to come soon!

Our Big Rocks for 2015

During Arcadia Institute staff meetings, we often talk about “Big Rocks.” This is a practice promoted by Stephen Covey that helps us decide what are the priorities we will work on during the week, month or even year. You can see a demonstration here

For 2015, we have prioritized a few “Big Rocks” to focus on as we do our community building work around people with disabilities being welcomed, supported and respected throughout all community life.

* Opening doors for employment opportunities
* Aligning the community around diversity, equity and inclusion
* Being intentional about bringing people of color into our work
* Documenting our work through collecting relevant data and telling stories

Employment Opportunities
We are beginning to reach out more to the business community to let them know that people with disabilities make great employees. Also, we want employers to know that The Arcadia Institute staff are available to support not only employees with disabilities, but also, coach coworkers about how to support each other in the work place. All of us have strengths that we bring to our jobs, but we also have times that we need help from co-workers to be successful. Arcadia staff and our other partners are available to find the just right fit for all in the work place.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The Connect Kalamazoo Network that The Arcadia Institute facilitates with area organizations works year round to build a community of belonging. This year Connect Kalamazoo will host the 6th annual Building a Community of Belonging Forum on March 26, 2015 at Vanguard Church. This Forum brings that community together to have interactive conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion specifically for people with disabilities, but knowing that this influences these ideals for the whole community. More information about the Forum for 2015 will becoming!

People of Color
George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute has long been intentional about having a diverse staff. Also, in a previous blog Deborah Warfield wrote about the stigmas around disability in the black and brown community. Going forward we are committed to working toward unraveling misinformation about disability throughout the whole community, especially for people who have not been part of the conversation.

Documentation of our work
Collecting data and information about the outcomes of our work has been an ongoing activity. We want to continue to enhance how we tell the stories of Community Brokering as well as the Connect Kalamazoo efforts.

We believe that if we keep these “Big Rocks” in focus throughout 2015 our work will have increased lasting impact on our community!

Pausing to Reflect on 2014

Where did 2014 go? It seems like just yesterday we were in the midst of continuing to build our Community Broker process for youth and planning the fifth annual Building a Community of Belonging Forum. As a staff, we had a retreat to continue to refine how we work with people to increase their community connections in the areas of meaningful activity, employment and living arrangements.

In the Community Brokering Process, Deborah and Jennifer have supported people to increase their involvement in community activities such as art lessons, volunteering on a regular basis, working toward employment. In the process they have increase linkages for individuals as well as among the community organizations that have welcomed, supported and involved people with disabilities.

As I reflect over 2014, it was also a year of learning about working with youth. Often the youth we are meeting are struggling with school. When we can connect them to community activities that are meaningful to them, we find that they become more motivated to complete school and stay on a more positive pathway toward the future. While this does not always make school easier, it gives them encouragement and hope that they matter. They add value to the community and see a future for themselves that perhaps they could not imagine before.

So, as we move toward 2015, I do not see December 31, 2014 as the end of the year – I see January 1, 2015 as the beginning of new growth and learning for not only the Arcadia Institute staff and the individuals we work with, but also, a year of continuing to improve the Kalamazoo Community as a whole. Happy New Year!!!