The Arcadia Institute

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

What School Should Do

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

In 1985, I attended a conference out in Ellensburg, Washington, in the heart of apple country. One of the speakers was Barbara Wilcox, a professor in the field of special education. Her topic was “What High Schools Should Look Like”.

She started off by stating three goals for high schools: The first was to produce good citizens. The second was to promote growth for students to become as independent as possible. The third was to prepare students to participate in community life. Wilcox then suggested when they leave school students should have social competence and a social support network. They should possess community competence and a work history, specifically a resume. Finally, parents should have been involved in decision-making along with the student.

The rest of the presentation consisted of specific activities and areas of learning that would result in these outcomes. Finally Wilcox talked about the appropriate learning environment for students with intellectual disabilities, the community itself. That is, for people who experience difficulty in transferring what they have learned in one environment to the environment in which they will be expected to execute what they have learned, the two environments need to be the same. So, the curriculum should be constructed so that all but the academic components should be carried out in the community.

It seems to me that what was true about Dr. Wilcox presentation in 1985 is true today. If learning about how to live in the community were community-based, all of our talk about transition would be quite different that it sometimes is. Instead of preparing students to enter into another socializing system only meant for students with disabilities we would be preparing them to take their place in all aspects of community, including work.

It is encouraging to me to see the extent to which students are receiving community based instructions through programs like Project Search. Not only will graduates have job ready skills they will also have contact with potential employers who will have an opportunity to help them learn on the job, who will know what they can do. Even if a graduate chooses to work somewhere other than the Project Search site he or she will have solid references. The after school experience will thus be like that of regular education students, a life in the community.

Preparing for Life in the Community: Get Started Now

In community brokering, I am working with a young woman with disabilities who has been included in school since she was in preschool. Her mom understood that someday she was going to grow up and be a member of the community. If her daughter was always in segregated education settings; how was she going to be part of the whole community. This parent started early helping her daughter have experiences with her peers and introducing her to the community.

As we start working with more youth through Community Brokering, we will be offering more youth with disabilities opportunities to participate in activities that will help them develop relationships, explore new experiences, visit different places and perhaps learn to ride public transportation. This is important because at some point in these youths’ lives a transition plan will be created. The effectiveness of this plan is dependent on the time that has been spent on meaningful activities, work experiences and living skills the students have done in the real community.

Too often, people with disabilities and their families do not start thinking about preparing for life in the community until they have nearly completed their educational experiences. Some students with disabilities finish high school and go on to more special education programming until they are 26 years old. Others finish high school and are done. The problem is that while some special education takes place in community settings it is often done with one instructor and a group of students with disabilities. Independent living and self-care skills are taught in classrooms rather than natural settings. This may or may not really prepare the student to live independently in the community.

As more students with disabilities are being included in regular education, more of them are going to be looking forward to a life in the community that is similar to their peers without disabilities. Transition services should be a set of coordinated activities (not necessarily a special program) that support the students to prepare for life after school. These activities can be academic, community based experiences, supported employment, and independent living experiences. These activities should create pathways to the community rather than special programs. The plan should be based on the students’ desires, interests and choices about how they want to live their lives.

That’s where Community Brokering can be done in tandem with Special Education programs and other services for people with disabilities. We can help the youth explore new places, activities and relationships that provide opportunities to think about the future in the community. If it is done well they will be prepared for a life in the community that is of their choosing.

Expectations

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

Expectation, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a belief that something will happen, or is likely to happen. A feeling or belief about how successful or good something or someone will be.

In the work we do through Community Brokering, we are very aware of how our expectations impact those with whom we work. When we are first getting to know an individual, we are intentional about discovering what interests them and what they feel they are good at doing. We spend time finding out more about their past and current experiences, as well as their connections within the community. We spend this upfront time with individuals, because we believe we need to focus on the individual and start building their future based on where they are today.

A young man enjoyed volunteering as part of a group at a retirement community while he was a student at a local school. Upon graduation, his volunteering came to an end. Because he enjoyed the experience, we decided to reach out to the retirement community to see if there was an opportunity for him to volunteer on his own. It turns out he had built close relationships with some of the staff and residents. They welcomed the opportunity to have him continue volunteering with them. He started working in the dining room, which was a different experience from when he volunteered as a student. It required training and time to learn new routines. The volunteer coordinator felt it was her responsibility to support him each week as he learned the new skills; However, this proved challenging because of her other responsibilities. We then spent time with him while he was working, offering our support. We observed that the other staff was easily able to provide guidance and help as he needed it. When we shared this with the volunteer coordinator, she talked to the staff and found that they were happy to provide him with the training he needed. It didn’t need to be her responsibility.

This experience started with our expectation that his volunteering did not need to end just because he had graduated from school and could no longer volunteer with a group. By helping him to maintain a connection he had already made, he was able to follow his interest, and he was able to keep the relationships he had already built. And, once the volunteer coordinator invited the staff to help with training, she was able to let go of the expectation that it had to be all her responsibility to provide support. Not only did this make her schedule more manageable, but I believe it allowed the staff to develop a deeper relationship with this new member of their team.

Expectations shape the way that we approach our future. They influence how we set goals for ourselves and they set the tone for our relationships with others in letting them know how we expect to be treated. We need to believe in growing the good and have the expectation that better things are yet to come if we seek out the opportunities.

Connect Kalamazoo Network: Growing the Good

Join us for the 5th Building a Community of Belonging Forum of The Arcadia Institute and Its Partners on March 20, 2014 from8:30AM – 3:00PM at the Ladies’ Library Association. For more information click here.

What do the Kalamazoo Nature Center, Humphrey Products, the YMCA, Portage District Library, Boys and Girls Club, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency (KRESA) and the People’s Food Co-op all have in common?

They are all part of the 5th Building a Community of Belonging Forum. They along with the other organizations of the Connect Kalamazoo Network are committed to Kalamazoo being a place where everyone belongs.

During the past 4 years, the Connect Kalamazoo Network has come together to “grow the good” momentum toward full inclusion of people with disabilities in the community in activities they choose. These organizations among others (see a full list below) have committed to including people with disabilities in their programs and services that are open to the whole community.

Besides creating the Connect Kalamazoo Network that meets once per month, the Network has produced:

  • The Commitment to Inclusion Checklist – available Commitment to Inclusion Checklist 9.15.11.
  • Four Annual Forums with guest facilitators John and Connie Lyle O’Brien, John McKnight and Beth Mount
  • The Connect Kalamazoo Facebook page where people can share what is going on in the community and help each other participate
  • A Viewpoint article in the Kalamazoo Gazette that addressed misunderstanding about people with autism

This year the Building a Community of Belonging Forum will continue to “grow the good” work that the Connect Kalamazoo Network has been doing. We are focusing on the momentum of community awareness that people with disabilities have interests, gifts and skills that employers can benefit from. Most people find their jobs through connections and relationships that people with disabilities often lack. Coming out of this Forum we hope the community will be enlightened about the possibilities for employers to benefit from the gifts of people with disabilities as employees.

Join us on March 20, 2014 from 8:30AM – 3:00PM at the Ladies’ Library Association for the 5th Building a Community of Belonging Forum. Registration information is here.

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

Advocacy Groups
ARC of Michigan
Arc of Kent County
ARC of Western Wayne County
Advocacy Services for Kids
Autism Society
Community Advocates
Disability Network of Southwest Michigan

Sponsors
Center for Disability Services
Community Living Options
Residential Opportunities, Inc.
Family & Children Services
MRC Industries
Parent to Parent of Southwest Michigan
Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency

Supporters
4-H
Community Living Services
Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services
Julie Pell
Girls on the Run
Kindermusik, Debbie Long
Douglass Community Association
Kalamazoo County Head Start
Portage Parks and Recreation
Pretty Lake Vacation Camp
Prevention Works
USA Tae Kwan Do
YMCA Sherman Lake
Kingdom Sports
Air Zoo
Kalamazoo Metro Transit
People’s Food Co-op of Kalamazoo

Additional Funding
Kalamazoo RICC
Irving S. Gilmore Foundation
Dorothy U. Dalton Foundation
Junior League of Kalamazoo
Connections Council
Joseph Cekola Memorial Fund
Support for this forum was provided by a grant from the
Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

What’s Difference Got to Do With It?

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

One of the ways in which we as Community Brokers of The Arcadia Institute walk out our mission of “making it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in their community” is to factor in the need for each of us to be careful to filter our decisions and procedures through a lens that remains open to different.

Community Brokers have the opportunity to work with, not only different types of participants who receive our service but also different types of community partners, community circle members and different types of families. In order for us to be effective in assisting persons with disabilities to reach their desired goals of inclusion within our community, we must establish relationships that value those differences.

This helps to grow the good ground needed for all of us moving forward safely through the action steps towards different. This work in valuing differences piggybacks on the topic of last week that stressed the importance of taking our time.

Valuing differences may not come overnight. It requires intention to include. It requires a willingness to check yourself whenever “familiar” and “comfortable” try to rise up in the face of opportunities for change. It requires a willingness to educate yourself about areas of ignorance. It requires a willingness to “self-locate” regarding certain systemic privileges and assumptions that are in your head and also in the room.

Walls go up or come down depending upon how differences are handled. As an African-American woman with a disability you can believe that I have experienced both inclusion and exclusion based upon my myriad of differences. Community Brokers take responsibility for how safe the ground is as we invite persons with disabilities, their community circles and our community partners in to assisting them with helping their lives become more different through inclusion in their own communities. Have you checked your lens lately?