Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Going For Zero Waste

Like many companies this month, Imagine! hosted a holiday party for employees, families, and friends. Unlike most companies, this particular event lasted 12 hours … I know … it sounds amazing. I could go on and on, and provide many details about the fun and festivities, but that isn’t what is on my mind today. For this event we worked with EcoCycle (long time employer of people with disabilities) to create a Zero Waste event.

Here at Imagine! we are not just a pretty face. We have some Lofty Goals – some that may be out of reach for decades. One of last year’s “Lofty Goals” was to go GREEN; become a community leader for sustainable energy and recycling.

To that end, check out our report card from EcoCycle for our Imagine! 2010 Holiday Party.

In 2011, we now have something new to shoot for.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good News Friday!

Since my earlier post this week discussed ways of using social media and other technology tools to allow for more public input on key issues facing the DD system in our State, I thought I’d share another way social media tools can be useful today.

Imagine! believes that the social media revolution offers new and exciting ways for individuals to engage in their communities. That is why we are exploring a variety of ways to provide access to social media tools to those we serve. Check out the video below to learn more.

It is difficult not to be proud of Imagine!.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Are You Speaking?

As a follow up to “Who Are You Speaking For,” I am wondering when we will step up to contemporary methods of collaboration and public participation. We have watched voting go from the first whatever Tuesday (after the first Monday) in November to whenever before the first Tuesday in November (due to the increase in voting by mail). We are familiar with open source software, and at least the concept of open access research. When will we be ready (and I am ready already) and willing for open access collaboration on many more public issues?

Within our contract with the Department of Human Services as the Community Centered Board for Broomfield and Boulder counties, we must hold a “public forum” to gather information and listen to community comment related to issues of people who have developmental disabilities. Well, meeting the contract is no problem; we schedule an evening date for a couple of hours and voila.

Wouldn’t it be interesting, though, in addition to a public forum, to include all the information we gain from the engagement of our communities using social media tools? People can share comment when it is convenient to them and when the issues are clear in their minds. Plus, it does not require any public speaking skills.

How about this example, from an invitation I received recently: “You are invited to join us (Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing) for a public forum regarding Colorado’s application to participate in the national demonstration program, Money Follows the Person. This opportunity will enable you to provide input into the direction of CO-ACTS and to learn more about the Program.”

This is a two hour event scheduled for December 16th at 4:00 at the downtown Sheraton in Denver. The event will be web-enabled from Grand Junction. The “public” in this case is presumably the literal population of Colorado, and in particular anyone who might be affected by this demonstration project.

How would you know if that might be you? I don’t know – I guess you have to show up to find out. What better opportunity to engage a public online collaboration tool? How much better for the public servants who will administer CO-ACTS to know what the “public,” and I mean the real “PUBLIC,” really thinks?

Imagine - real public input.

Go ahead have the local meeting in Denver, but add a feature that has a video description of the program, a PowerPoint display and short narrative so the real public knows what the heck you are talking about. And then ask for input in a way that comments and thoughts can be coat-tailed and enhanced. We have brilliant people who will not be able to make the meeting. We have brilliant people who have no idea what this “public forum” is all about. Bring them to the table. Let their voices be heard.

Look at this picture of Alexander Graham speaking into one of the first telephones. That technology brought about a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Social media represents another fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Let’s start embracing that shift and opening up discussions to include many more stakeholders in the conversations that directly impact the lives of those we serve.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Good News Friday!

A couple of weeks ago, Dave Query, owner of Big Red F Restaurant Group, once again treated Imagine! clients and their families to a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.

Query donated the makings for a delicious Zolo-style repast with all the trimmings, and the wait staff volunteered its time. There was no charge for the meal for the clients and their families, and no tips were necessary. Query said that he just likes to make the day a little easier for families associated with Imagine!.

This is the seventh year Query has offered this generous opportunity, and in the last six years, The Big Red F Restaurant Group has donated Thanksgiving dinner to over 2,500 Imagine! clients and families.

So here’s a big post-Thanksgiving thanks to Dave (that's him on the right in the first photo below, along with longtime Imagine! supporters George and Kristin Karakehian) and his staff for providing such a fantastic holiday meal to Imagine! families.

Thanks also to Chris Sturgis for sharing her photos of the event.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Colorado Gives Day Is Today

Donate to Imagine! this Holiday Season and increase the value of your gift TODAY, December 8.

Imagine! is participating in this new initiative that will help raise $1 million in one day for charities. Help us bring in our share!

TODAY UNTIL MIDNIGHT, you have an opportunity to increase the value of your gift. FirstBank has provided $250,000 as the lead gift for a Colorado Gives Day Incentive Fund that will leverage donations made through The Incentive Fund (now at $320,000!) will be proportionally allocated across all donations received today, increasing the value of each gift. In addition, 100% of your online gift and the extra incentive will go to Imagine! – no bank fees! Just go to the Imagine! website at: and press the Donate Here! button on the right hand side. It will take you directly to Imagine!'s page on the Giving First website.

Note: Imagine! Celebration ticket, table, and sponsorship purchases (because you receive goods -- dinners -- back in return) are not eligible.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Who Are You Speaking For?

A value that many Americans share is the desire to speak for ourselves. We tend to resent it when someone else claims to be speaking for us, especially when we don’t agree with what that person says.

Unfortunately, many individuals with developmental disabilities aren’t in the position to be able to speak for themselves. A number of organizations have attempted to take on the task of speaking for these individuals. Although I admire those organization’s efforts, I do feel there are important questions that need to be answered when a person or organization undertakes the effort to speak on someone else’s behalf.

Let’s say I operate an organization called “Left is Right!,” a membership organization for lefthandedness, and I publicly profess that I speak for everyone who is left handed, and I take a position on wearing wrist watches on the right wrist. Have I reached out to all lefties and know my position is shared by all? Have I reached out to my “Left is Right” membership for the same feedback? Has my “Left is Right” leadership taken the position for which I am speaking? Does my position afford me the right to make group claims? Does my audience know the difference? Or care to know the difference? Do I even have an audience to influence? Does my organization, “Left is Right” have touch points with lefties from which I can profess my position about wristwatches? Can I produce the supporting data to my claim of touch points?

What about the unintended consequences? Wristwatch controls are on the right side of the clock face. Switching positions to the right wrist may exacerbate future adjustments. Have I researched the unintended consequences? Am I willing to take the responsibility for not researching the unintended consequences?

These questions are important: who are we really speaking for? How are we speaking for them? To whom are we speaking? What are we saying? Who is really listening? Are we just preaching to the choir? Are we speaking with one voice? Is there really just one voice? Can I support my claims? Is my opinion shared or is it personal?

Answering these questions are the keys to truly successful advocacy, in my opinion. It could be from a service provider, community centered board, faith-based organization, parent group, a list serve, or professional advocacy organization. And as I look at the organizations that have been able to answer those questions most effectively and have consistently served as a true voice for individuals with developmental disabilities, I see a common theme: family member involvement.

Families live life with individuals with developmental disabilities every day, and you don’t go through that experience without learning a great deal about practical solutions and innovative ideas. Harnessing that knowledge and using it to advocate for and serve others with similar disabilities has proven to be a recipe for sustained successes. The key is “harnessing that knowledge.” How can we do this? Social media collaboration tools can help. These tools can help substantiate a spokesperson’s claims.

Would you like an example? Well, Imagine! was formed in 1963 by a group of parents who just wanted their kids to have the same opportunities to engage in their communities as all of their friends’ kids did. We continue to use that philosophy as the cornerstone for everything we do at Imagine!.

I think that is demonstrated in our advocacy efforts. I am extremely proud of the endeavors we have undertaken to improve the lives of so many Boulder and Broomfield residents who don’t have a voice. On behalf of the individuals we serve, we lobby local, State, and Federal officials, we engage in fundraising, we write grants to increase and enhance our ability to provide services, we seek a variety of other ways to increase our funding streams, we have undertaken several efforts to address Colorado’s waitlist, and we are constantly raising awareness through media outlets of the many contributions the people we serve bring to their communities every day. We are also using social media tools to harness the knowledge of the families of the individuals we serve.

I have constantly stressed in this blog that we need to look for new and creative ways to fund and deliver services, and that all interested parties need to come together to find solutions. I’d like to add to that list: we need to listen to the families and loved ones of those we serve – they have the knowledge and answers we seek, and substantiate public claims.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Good News Friday!

Today, I’d like to congratulate the 2010 Imagine! Employees of Distinction.

This year’s Employees of Distinction were selected from an impressive list of nominess because of the great work they do every day to ensure that Imagine! is able to meet its mission of providing opportunities for the individuals we serve.

As you know, we are so fortunate! to have so many dedicated, talented, and passionate people working here at Imagine!. Even among this impressive group of employees, there are workers whose work ethic, compassion, and creativity allow them to stand out in a very gifted crowd. They are truly Employees of Distinction, and I am honored and humbled to call them colleagues.

All of our Employees of Distinction will be honored at Imagine!’s Holiday party tomorrow. In advance of the ceremony, I’d like to introduce them to all of my blog readers, along with a brief snippet from each honoree’s nomination.

Congratulations to all!

Nate George

“Nate does a great job at keeping a cool, clear head in any difficult situation and continues to provide a subjective point of view and innovative ideas when tackling unexpected problems.”

Tim Johnson

“Tim has not lost sight of why he does his job—to ensure that quality services are being provided to consumers and to make sure those who provide the services feel supported.”

Jennifer McLaughlin

“Jennifer embodies the balanced approach that is needed in behavioral services. This is demonstrated in the way she considers a person’s feelings, not just what motivates a behavior.”

Matt Mock

“Matt often requests to work with the more challenging participants, puts an incredible amount of energy in attending to their needs, and has such a gift for patience and insight.”

Mary Simonson

“Mary uses skill and diplomacy to orchestrate a host of people, organizations, and federal housing requirements throughout the ticklish process of finding homes for those we serve.”

Meagan Witt

“Meagan offers a high level of service to the students in her classes, providing them with greater avenues of communication and adding meaning and value to their lives.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Setting The Bar

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Two guys walk into a bar.

You’d think the second guy would have ducked after seeing the first one do it.

Now, if whoever put the bar up in the first place put it up high enough that no one would bump into it, there would be no need for me to torture you with that terrible joke. But, they didn’t set the bar high enough.

Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing a lot of that lately in my field – the bar not being set high enough. The regulations surrounding how we fund and deliver services in our State are designed to meet the lowest common denominator, and tend to be one-size-fits-all in a field where every individual served has unique needs.

I understand the reality of the situation – a regulatory agency needs to use the lowest common denominator when making the rules. They don’t have a choice.

Those of us in the field providing the services, however, don’t have to accept that the lowest expectations are all we need to meet. No, I believe we need to shoot much higher

I also believe that aiming our sights higher has always been a driving force at Imagine! – the idea that we can do better, that we don’t have to accept the status quo, and that we don’t need to allow others to set the bar for us. These ideas serve as the motivating forces for everything we do. Our commitment to excellence is something that has been recognized by other organizations locally, nationally, and even internationally. It makes me proud to say I work for Imagine!.

However, we must be ever vigilant against becoming complacent and accepting that meeting the standards set by the State is all we need to do to be “successful.” In an era of ever decreasing resources available to provide services, coupled with a steadily increasing demand for those services, it would be easy to capitulate and accept the lowered bar of expectations.

One of my goals as CEO of this great organization is to not let that happen. I want the bar set high for all of our constituents – our employees, our families, our funders, our providers, and most of all, the individuals we serve. I don’t want it to ever become accepted that doing the least is enough.

Yes, we are facing challenging times. That’s not an excuse to lower the bar, however, and I have no intention of doing so.

I usually end my blog posts with the phrase, “Then again, what do I know?” But of this I am certain - as we move toward the close of another year, we at Imagine! can’t, and won’t, allow external forces to cause us to lose our focus on achieving greatness. I urge everyone associated with Imagine! to join me in that commitment.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Good News Friday!

Sometimes, the best way to learn about an organization like Imagine! is to hear from the people the organization serves. The story below initially appeared in the Longmont Times-Call on Sunday, November 14, 2010. I think you’ll find what Mike has written captures the mission of Imagine! in a way that I could never even dream of. Great work, Mike.

To see the original article, click here.

To see more of what the CORE-Longmont Reviewers have written, click here.

Living With Disability: The Way I See It

By Mike Williams of the CORE-Longmont Reviewers

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mike Williams, and I am one of the CORE-Longmont Reviewers. The topic of my article is how society views the disabled community.

You know, folks, sometimes society makes me sick with the way they view us: the disabled community. Everywhere I go, there is always someone giving a disabled person a hard time by giving them a dirty look, cracking a joke about that person or just talking about them behind their back.

Folks, I don’t know you, nor do you know me, but allow me to tell you a little about myself: I am 25 years old, and I was born with autism. I can’t even begin to tell you how badly it hurt me with the way society treated me.

Thankfully, Colorado has an agency dedicated to helping those with disabilities. It is called Imagine!, a nonprofit organization based in Lafayette. I have been a client for seven years.

Not only does Imagine! help those with disabilities, but it also has helped thousands of clients to learn to live on their own. Sadly, some of their clients may never know what independent living is like due to their disabilities. Luckily, Imagine! has homes for them, be it a group home or with care providers. Imagine! also helps its clients find gainful employment through Labor Source, which teaches individuals work-related skills by working on a work crew.

Imagine! has many day programs, so the client isn’t always sitting around being bored. One of the day programs is called CORE: Community, Opportunity, Relationship, Education. There are two of these day programs. One is in Boulder and the other in Longmont. CORE offers many different classes, such as music, cooking, hiking, swimming, and (my personal favorite) photography.

If you have any questions about Imagine! or its services, visit

Until next time, your friend Mike Williams.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Insurance Agent

Why do we have car insurance? Or safety features on our cars? Because most everyone agrees that incidents such as those in the video below are a matter of when, not if, and we want to make sure we have planned accordingly.

If we didn’t think these incidents were likely to happen, would we have mandated insurance, or regulated safety features on cars? Heck no. These are examples of planning for what would otherwise be emergencies. It is interesting that we are OK with mandating and paying for insurance policies and safety features on cars.

I bring this up because this very logical and practical approach to planning seems absent in the way services for individuals with intellectual disabilities are funded and delivered in the State of Colorado.

The regulations we have seem to be directed towards the “ifs,” and tend to ignore the “whens.” As a result, a great deal time, effort, and resources are spent reacting to “emergencies” that are really a result of poor planning. It is not an “emergency” if there is a high probability of an event occurring. The “emergency” in this case is an adult with an intellectual disability, who has no support available, and no ability to fend for himself. The number of people in this situation in Colorado is growing. Barring any change, that trend will continue.

The citizens of Colorado, including the people we serve, need to know that because of the unwillingness to plan for our future, we are looking at the likelihood of an ever increasing number of adults with intellectual disabilities who have absolutely no services available to them, and no ability to fend for themselves. Where are the mandated airbags? Where is the mandated insurance policy? We do it for registered vehicles without batting an eye.

I don’t want to speculate where people without a safety net might end up.

Probably we’ll see examples of very unfortunate outcomes. And of course, no one will win in those scenarios – not the State, not taxpayers, not local communities, not the families, and certainly not the individuals who need the services.

It is not too late to change this course. But changing will involve creative thinking and a true commitment to ensuring we are creating a system of air bags, door locks, head rests and insurance policies that meets the needs of the individuals we serve. I hope we can make it happen.

Then again, what do I know?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Because I Said So

Remember asking your parents permission for what seemed perfectly sensible to you and getting the answer, “No?” And then asking, “Why not?” And then the inevitable response, “Because I said so.”

I still get that feeling when seeking answers from the various Colorado Departments and Divisions.

Unlike my parents, I don’t share unconditional love with State public servants, however I harbor no ill feelings and we do share mutual respect. When asking questions, from one Department, I often hear, “We will have to check with another Department.” Translation: “I’ll ask you father.” Sometimes when a question is posed, I often hear, “The federal regulations won’t allow it.” Translation: “Because I said so.”

Let me give you an example. In Colorado in 2006, the developmental disabilities service system shifted from a quasi-managed care system to a fee-for-service system. Before this shift, Community Centered Boards (CCBs) like Imagine! had a certain amount of leeway in how they used the funds provided to them, allowing them to be creative and innovative with how services were delivered.

Since the shift, resources are no longer viewed as tools designed to provide services to help people with developmental disabilities engage in their communities, they are instead viewed as insurance “benefits” payments based on a standard fee schedule throughout the State. As a result, we tend to direct our services to meet regulations rather than to meet the needs of the individuals we serve. Unfortunately, that often means we provide a lower quality service for the same costs (or often much higher costs) than we did before.

When we have pressed the State Department heads to consider other rate setting methodologies (such as geographic modifiers based of the cost of doing business), or suggest a shift away from the costly fee-for service, we are told the same thing – that the shift was made to meet requirements set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). Translation: “Because I said so.”

An article from the Poughkeepsie Journal increases my curiosity. Here’s a brief synopsis (although you should really read the article, it is fascinating): The New York State Office People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) is defending its $4,556 per-person daily rate at nine state institutions as "reasonable” in response to revelations in June in the Journal. (I know! …Upon my first reading, I thought the daily rate was a typo.) The rate, paid half each by the state and federal governments (similar to Colorado and some other states), is four times higher than any other nationwide and about four times the actual cost of care. For comparison, the average institutional rate in Colorado is around $606 per day, and the average community rate in Colorado is around $172 per day.

Now, I’m not pointing this out to say that providers in Colorado should be getting $4,500 per day for anyone, regardless of their needs – that would be hard to justify, and quite frankly, absurd.

Rather, what I’d like to point out is that there was a paragraph in the story that really hit home to me. Remember, a community based service is typically preferred, and funded by a different set of rules, funding mechanisms, and odd restrictions that, according to one of the three regulatory agents, insist the dollars must track all the way to the individual benefiting from the funded service. Have a look:

The state's argument in support of the rate . . . notes pointedly that the rate-setting formula was approved at every step by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Fifteen pages of rate calculations, institutional payments and "cost-finding worksheets" were also provided to make the state's case, which contends that the money has helped pioneer a successful system of community care of the disabled and pays for other services beyond institutional care.

Did you get that? They are saying that when justifying funds for institutional care CMS in fact is willing to allow NY, and other states, to utilize the funds for services other than those intended for the specific individual. Now this piece of information is not news to me. The daily rate however, is an eye opener – and should be for anyone. Oddly enough it seems OK for the New York tax payers, OPWDD, and CMS. Apparently someone in Poughkeepsie is worked up in a lather.

With my parents, I said, “But you let Bobby do it, why can’t I?”

“Bobby is older,” might be the come back. Well, institutional care is older, less preferred, and funded on a level that is inconceivable.

And people wonder why families, providers, and advocates are frustrated with the Medicaid systems.

Believe it or not, I’m not trying to point fingers at anyone. I just want to ask the question, why are things the way they are? Why do we have the system we have? Who is going to answer the questions? Who will be held accountable? Who will be willing to step up and say, “Yes, we can change and make this system better?” The fact of the matter is that information in this day and age is readily available, and should be to those who are seeking it. Got a question? Google it.

“Because I said so,” will not work anymore.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Good News Friday!

On Friday, Nov. 5, approximately 250 people crowded into the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder for an art show opening and performance by participants in Imagine!'s C.O.R.E./Labor Source classes.

Imagine! C.O.R.E./Labor Source Presents consisted of an Open House/Art Exhibit, with original art work and photography, and a live performance, which included poetry readings, short spoken presentations, musical interludes, dance, and theatrical pieces.

Almost one fourth of the art on display was sold at the reception and post performance gathering. More was sold earlier this week.

Artist and Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome resident Gerald was ecstatic to learn that one of his pieces, a calligraphy, became subject to a silent bidding. The demand was so high that after the original was sold, C.O.R.E./Labor Source agreed to make six more prints so others could purchase and enjoy the piece.

The packed house gave a long, enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of the performance. The hour long performance was very emotional, filled with laughter and the welling of tears in the eyes of some people in attendance.

Even if you missed the performance, there’s still a chance to see the art, which will be on display at the Dairy Center through Friday, December 10.

Congratulations to the C.O.R.E./Labor Source staff members who worked so hard to bring this creative extravaganza to life, and of course, congratulations to all the talented participants!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Good News Friday!

This past Wednesday, Left Hand Brewing Company and Instant Imprints hosted a fundraiser for Imagine! at Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont. Left Hand donated $1.00 per pint of beer sold, and Instant Imprints donated special Left Hand/Imagine! t-shirts, which were sold during the evening, with proceeds going to Imagine! as well.

In all, more than $500 was raised for Imagine!’s programs and services!

Thanks to Eric Wallace, an Imagine! Foundation board member and president of Left Hand Brewing Company, and Forrest Fleming, an Imagine! Foundation board member and owner of Instant Imprints, for organizing the event.

Extra special thanks to all who showed up to support people with developmental disabilities.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Collaboration Part II

And speaking of nets - one thought keeps coming to mind – we need to work together to improve the safety net for the people we serve who have the most difficult needs to meet.

Let me explain a little further. For a long time, Community Centered Boards (CCBs) in Colorado were the presumptive provider of last resort for individuals who had needs that no other provider could meet. The fact of the matter is CCB is function that specifically does not include providing services. Coincidently, Imagine! is also a leading provider of services and also struggles to meet the needs of some of Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens.

Unfortunately, a combination of dwindling resources and regulatory changes have made the task of serving individuals with complex needs much more difficult in recent years, even for leading service providers. And if the best leading providers can’t do it, there is no other safety net for serving these folks. In most scenarios, the lack of a safety net means there are few alternatives, and in those alternatives no one wins – not the State, not the taxpayers, not the local communities, and certainly not the individuals who so desperately need services.

So I have begun the effort to reach out to all of our local service providers and other organizations to see if we can pool our knowledge and resources to ensure that even the individuals in our community with the most challenging needs are able to develop the skills and tools they need to become productive and contributing members of society. If all the right players are on board, I believe we can make this happen.

Then again, what do I know?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Collaboration Part I

One theme I keep coming back to time and again in this blog is the need for collaboration among all of the organizations who are responsible for determining how services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities are funded and delivered.

At Imagine!, we have embraced collaboration whole-heartedly. In just the past few months, I can think of several local and national organizations that we have collaborated with to improve the way we do business in one way or another, including the Human Services Alliance of Boulder County, the Mental Health Center Serving Boulder and Broomfield Counties, Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA), and the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), just to name a few.

It’s not just disability-specific organizations we collaborate with, either. Every day, we collaborate with local school districts, recreation centers, businesses, and governments to improve our service delivery.

And our SmartHome project? We at Imagine! are so indebted to the many partners who have helped make our dream of using technology as a cost effective way of delivering services. You can check out a list of all of our partners here.

Part of being willing to truly collaborate is demonstrating a commitment to transparency, and we are doing that as well. For example, anyone who is interested can take a tour of the Charles SmartHome in Boulder to see first hand how technology is improving the lives of the residents living there – you can even sign up to take a tour online.

Another example of our willingness to be open and share what we do can be seen in our documents website. This site is loaded with non-proprietary, non-consumer information-related Imagine! documents. You can check it out here. Could anyone who wants to go in to our documents website and see what we’re doing? Of course. We even encourage it. If another organization thinks something we are doing is an effective way to improve the quality or efficiency of their own service delivery, then by all means borrow it, copy it, or re-use it.

If you think I am bragging here about how great Imagine! is, you would be dead wrong. This is nothing more than what an average not-for-profit needs to do during times of financial uncertainty. We’re no where near where we need to be in terms of collaboration. We may be throwing a wide net, but the holes in the net are too big. We need a net with a finer weave that will produce “mass collaboration.” The effort we need will connect us to every business, every government entity, and every family in every neighborhood. This is our challenge.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Good News Friday!

Well I have some unfinished business to attend to. Last year we lost a dear friend, former member of our Board of Directors, and consumer of Imagine! services for many years, Richard Tarvin. Richard was a terrific ambassador for Imagine!, was in regular attendance, and was part of the team that welcomed new employees during orientation to Imagine!. Richard had a great influence on his employers, friends, and supports. What many of you may not know is that Richard had a trust fund that named Imagine! as the beneficiary. Last February, the Imagine! Board of Directors deliberated an appropriate recognition of Richard’s generosity. As a result of this deliberation, the Board unanimously decided to name Imagine!’s home on Linden Avenue in Boulder, Colorado in honor of Richard.
Be it known from that day forward, the Linden Home will be know as the Tarvin Home. This is a fitting tribute for a wonderful individual who I for one will never forget. Thank you, Richard Tarvin.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Good News Friday!

Yes, I know I’m actually posting this on Thursday, but meetings and conferences have made for a crazy schedule this week, and I really wanted to share the video below.

You know, the best endorsements of what we do at Imagine! come not from us, but from the folks and the communities we serve.

Broomfield United Methodist Church made this video below and showed it at their services on October 3rd. The video includes comments by Carl, the church’s custodian who receives support services from Imagine!, and his brother Scott, regarding the partnership between Broomfield United Methodist Church and Imagine!.

Thanks to the good folks at Broomfield United Methodist Church for their support of Imagine!, but more importantly, their support of Carl.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Virtual Workshop

I have been thinking about meetings a great deal lately. That is probably because I have been attending a great deal of meetings lately.

And although I see some value in these meetings, I can’t help feeling that, considering some of the social media tools that are out there, many of these meetings are unnecessary.

Information sharing, idea generating, and genuine conversation about issues ranging from day-to-day operations all the way up to Big Hairy Audacious Goal planning don’t have to be done in face-to-face meetings anymore. Those exchanges can (and are) being done online using social media tools.

Now, I have talked about Imagine!’s use of social media before. And while I consider our use of social media a great example of finding low cost/high impact ways to improve our business and service processes, I think there is so much more we can do.

Social media presents opportunities for people to share what is on their mind, when it is on their mind. Clarity of thought and information tend to be greater when a person has time to reflect on a situation, rather than being placed in the position of having to come up with ideas and solutions in an artificially created time constraint.

And let’s be honest – scheduling big meetings with multiple stakeholders can be very difficult. Not everyone can create meeting spaces and gather attendees as quickly as the folks in the video below.

Again, I don’t want to say that there is never a reason for a face-to-face meeting. But I think there are many times when using social media can make organizations more agile, productive, and innovative without having to gather everyone around the conference table. I firmly believe that as we move forward, successful organizations in both the for profit world and the not-for-profit world will bring more and more social media tools into their everyday work flows, resulting in the ability to leverage information in valuable new ways.

I also believe that those who are uncomfortable with this fundamental shift in the way we communicate risk becoming irrelevant if they can’t embrace these exciting new social media tools.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Good News Friday!

Imagine! has been selected as one of four Community Centered Boards in Colorado to participate in an in-depth training/pilot program site for “Early Intervention Colorado Autism Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers”. We will have staff members from our Dayspring, Imagine! Behavioral Health Services, and Service Coordination departments take part in monthly mentoring and coaching for 14 months.

In addition, staff members will participate in full-day trainings that will focus on:

-Developing evidence-based Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs);

-Selecting intervention strategies that best match child characteristics, family strengths, and routines that are challenging for the child and/or family; and

-Developing formative evaluation systems to facilitate data-based decisions.

Staff members will be coached by leaders at the University of Colorado Denver/Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center:

Phillip S. Strain, Ph.D.
Ted Bovey, M.A.
Patricia Oliver, Ph.D., BCBA
Edy Purcell, M.A., BCBA
Kelley Bramlage, M.A.

We look forward to the training and coaching we receive, knowing it will benefit everyone we work with!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Good News Friday!

There are a couple of upcoming opportunities for viewing some interesting films that provide insight into the lives of individuals with one or more developmental disabilities.

On October 14, the documentary Monica & David, chronicling the event-filled first year and beyond of a marriage between adults with Down Syndrome, will debut at 6:00 PM MST exclusively on HBO and HBO Latino. Check out the trailer below.

And on October 18, right here in Boulder, there will be a free screening of the documentary of Act Your Age: The Kids of Widney High Story. The Kids of Widney High are a group of young adults with developmental disabilities in a rock band based out of Los Angeles. The screening will take place at 7:00 PM on the University of Colorado Campus, ATLAS Building, Room 102. Take a look at the trailer below.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Positive and Negative

Today I’m going to return to a theme I have discussed several times before: the need for those of us in the field of services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities to make a united stand in our efforts to create a new system of service provision and delivery.

This has been on mind a great deal recently, for two reasons, one positive, and one negative.

On the positive end of the scale, our experience at our Juniper home has made it more clear to me than ever that what we do at Imagine! is a community endeavor. I met recently with folks from the St. Vrain Valley School District, the Boulder County Health and Human Services Department, and the Boulder County Mental Health Center to discuss serving the boys who will be living in the Juniper home, as well as other individuals served in our Foster Home Program. The discussion was open and candid, and I came away from them impressed by the commitment to collaboration among the various participants.

Even organizations beyond the DD world have stepped up to see if they can help the kids in our Foster Home program. The City of Longmont and especially the Longmont Police Department have been integral in working out a plan to make sure our Juniper home and other Foster Homes are a success for the kids, the staff, and the neighbors. Without this kind of support, there is no way an organization like Imagine! can succeed, and we are most appreciative.

A less positive reason I have been pondering the need for those of us in the DD field to align ourselves for the greater good is the turnout I saw at a recent political forum hosted by the Human Service Alliance of Boulder County. Congratulations and salutations to those who attended or listened in, for you understand the importance of public participation. This was a low cost, low effort opportunity to engage with your local community leaders. For those who were not there to see, the turnout was disappointing, to say the least, especially in a year when there are ballot initiatives in Colorado that threaten the very existence of human service organizations, and a wide variety of candidates running for office who will be making very difficult decisions about funding cuts to so many programs in the State.

If we can’t even gather together to meet candidates and share our concerns with them before an election, why should we expect them to listen to us when they are making tough decisions? If we don’t demonstrate our common ground and our voting power, then we put ourselves at a great disadvantage going into a legislative session where we will need every advantage we can get.

The stakes are too high for us to remain disjointed and disorganized. We need to communicate, collaborate, and act as team.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Good News Friday!

A few weeks ago, some Imagine! staff members dedicated to providing assistive technology solutions for the individuals we serve met with Melinda Piket-May, a professor at CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Following the discussion, Professor Piket-May broke up her one of her classes into several teams, and assigned each team a project intended to create a few simple tools that would allow some consumers served by Imagine! to be more independent, and to be able to complete everyday activities on their own.

Want some examples? Well, one team has agreed to create a wheelchair laundry carrier and wash machine loader for one of the residents of the Charles Family SmartHome in Longmont. The carrier and loader will allow the resident to transport his own laundry and place it in a front loading washing machine.

Another team is working on creating a wheelchair broom attachment that will allow that same resident to help with cleaning chores around the house.

Other class projects include a wheelchair tray that can be folded and stowed and would have a contoured edge with magnetic plates bowls and cups, and a five switch programmable infra-red remote control that will give simple access to environmental functions for individuals with limited mobility.

Projects such as these help provide individuals with limited mobility opportunities to take more control over their own lives. Most of us take those opportunities for granted, but for some of the folks we serve, the chance to do simple chores independently can have a profoundly positive impact.

We would like to offer our sincere thanks to Professor Piket-May and her students. We can’t succeed at Imagine! without the support of our community, and your commitment to your community is quite impressive!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Channeling Mike Singletary

Today, I’d like to channel my inner Mike Singletary.

For those of you who don’t know, Mike Singletary is the coach of football’s San Francisco 49ers. After an opening season loss three weeks ago, Singletary actually thanked his opponents for beating his team. Here’s the quote: "We played into Seattle's hands today and, once again, they got us. And I do want to say thank you. I wanted very much so, to tell Pete Carroll thank you very much for kicking our tails. It was good medicine and we are going to take it and we will go from there."

It is an interesting concept – I feel like he is acknowledging that Seattle’s victory exposed some weaknesses in the 49ers, weaknesses that otherwise most of the 49er players would have preferred to have kept hidden.

In that same spirit, I think I need to thank our new neighbors at our Family Care Group Home at 1503 Juniper Street. For those of you who don’t know the story, our proposed home there has met with some resistance from some neighbors. Rather than give you a detailed explanation, it might be easier if you take a look at a couple of news articles about the situation:

A story following a meeting we held with the neighbors on September 13.

An editorial piece about our proposed move.

Now, I want to make clear that I respect and understand our neighbor’s concerns. Our home on McClure Street had undue police contacts and the resolution was late in coming. At this point, our job is to rebuild the trust of our Juniper neighbors. It won’t be easy, but we are committed to the process.

In addition to changing the types of kids served in the Juniper home to individuals who do not have the significant mental health issues that some of the McClure residents had, we have set up a hotline for neighbors to use for issues around the home, we will be hosting monthly neighborhood meetings, and we are working with a Longmont city mediator to develop a "memorandum of understanding" with the neighbors.

Back to my initial point, I think I need to thank neighbors because their vocal opposition to the home has shed some light on a weakness that many would rather not have exposed: these kids, the ones who were responsible for the majority of police calls at our McClure home, are teenagers with dual diagnosis of a developmental disability and significant mental heath issues, and they exist in a kind of service limbo in the Colorado DD system. The options for serving them, and other kids with similar diagnoses, are limited and not very promising.

Without homes like our McClure home, these boys are likely to end up incarcerated or sent to Tennessee to institutions where they are "served" (at the considerable Colorado taxpayer expense of $450/day as opposed to the less-than-$300 Imagine! was getting to serve each individual) with little skill-building or hope of eventually becoming integrated members of society. Either way, at age 21 they are likely to return to Colorado, where they will continue to need to be served for the rest of their lives. In that scenario, no one wins – not the State, not the taxpayers, not the local communities, and certainly not the kids.

For the past several years, Imagine! has been trying to draw attention to this problem, asking why, for example, services for these particular individuals were under the direction of the State Division of Child Welfare and not the State Division for Developmental Disabilities. The Governor created a commission to study Child Welfare after recognizing design shortfalls and has implemented some recommendations from the Commission. Yet, the system still has shortcomings. The system of rules, regulations, and payment for limited services is extremely complex causing many advocates and potential providers to avoid addressing the needs of these kids

Imagine! made a commitment to serve these kids to the best of our ability. But our commitment isn’t unlimited and our mission is not a one way street – we need support and resources from our State and our community in order to succeed. Without that support, we can’t serve the kids, or the community, properly. And in the end, it is the State and the communities that will pay the price for not serving the kids – not Imagine!.

So I hope the outcry among our neighbors at Juniper St. will open up a dialogue about the bigger issue that few seem to want to address – there simply aren’t good service options for these kids. Now, there are newspaper stories and legislators asking questions. Imagine! has taken a bit of a beating, and that’s OK. We are not above accepting critical advice, and we admit we should have done a better job communicating with neighbors in the first place. But we hope that the discussion can grow from there to address the heart of the matter – how are we, as a State and a community, going to serve some of these kids with significant needs in the future?

It is unfortunate for both Imagine! and the Juniper St. neighborhood that the issue had to come to light this way, but in the end, maybe the whole community will be better for it.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Good News Friday!

Today, rather than writing a lengthy post, I thought I would share a video we made at Imagine! a couple of years back, highlighting a young lady who receives services from us. The video is only three and a half minutes long and I think you will find it well worth your time to take a look.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not Paying Attention

Before you read anything else in this post, please take a look at the video below and take the test.

In a study where people were asked to watch the video above and take the test, half the people who watched the video didn’t notice the gorilla. It is an interesting trick of the brain. Because test takers are told to focus on the ball, their brains tend to make assumptions about everything else in the scene. The brain fills in details by itself, even if those details don’t actually match what is happening on the screen.

I was thinking about this test recently because of a Conflict of Interest Task Force report just issued by The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) and the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF).

According to the report, CDHS and HCPF:
“have been aware of potential conflicts of interest in the developmental disability services delivery system related to the multiple roles that Community Centered Boards (CCBs) hold for some time. Several Community Centered Boards and the Division for Developmental Disabilities developed and implemented various safeguards intended to mitigate the potential for conflicts of interest. However, results of the State Auditor’s Office 2009 Audit of the Home and Community Based Services Waiver for People with Developmental Disabilities indicated that the potential for conflicts of interest, examined in a December 2007 study by the University of Southern Maine (USM), Muskie School of Government titled “Addressing Potential Conflicts of Interest Arising from the Multiple Roles of Colorado’s Community Centered Boards” had not been resolved. To this end, in February 2010, the Departments solicited applications for and convened a stakeholder group to develop recommendations for resolving the conflict of interest issues inherent in the developmental disabilities system, the Conflict of Interest Task Force (COITF).”
Now, is there a potential for conflict of interest in how our system is set up? Of course. Are there some families who feel that they have not gotten the proper information on the full range of services available to them because of this conflict of interest? Again, yes.

But by all accounts, the number of families and individuals who feel that way is very small. Most families feel as if the system of selecting services works for them. That’s not just me saying that. Here’s a direct quote from the report: “A large majority of the public, both family members and self-advocates, did not want change in their current services or personnel.”

I can’t help feeling that this Conflict of Interest Task Force is simply counting the number of passes, just like in the video. So much time, energy, and focus is being spent on this one issue while the many gorillas in the room are completely ignored.

What gorillas? Well, here are some issues in the DD world that no task force has been convened to study:

• Currently 30% of adults with a developmental disability who are eligible for services in our service area are not receiving any service. This figure is projected to exceed 40% by 2020.

• Hundreds of children who have a developmental disability and are served through the Division of Child Welfare lack knowledgeable advocacy on their behalf.

• There is no single entity accountable for knowing how many children in the Child Welfare system have a developmental disability.

• Dozens of children who have a developmental disability and are served through the Division of Child Welfare are in placements in the state of Tennessee due to the lack of qualified providers and adequate rates to Colorado providers. This is a tremendous financial burden on the counties of Colorado.

• The developmental disabilities services system has endured program elimination, jobs lost, cuts in levels of service, and service rate cuts, all as a result of uncontrolled Medicaid Waiver expenses unrelated to the current recession.

A fraction of a percentage of adults with developmental disabilities enrolled in services through the Department of Human Services have encountered an acknowledged, unmitigated conflict of interest associated with case management and service provision.

In better times, it might make sense to address that issue. But not now. Not when we have so many other issues to address. Issues that have a far greater impact on the ability of our State’s service providers to deliver quality and meaningful services to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Good News Friday!

Today I’d like to put the spotlight on a young man who receives services from Imagine!. But I’d like to recognize him not because of what Imagine! has done for him, instead, I'd like to recognize him because of what he has done for Imagine!.

In the spring of 2009, Joe Hansen joined Imagine!’s Board of Directors. “One of the Board’s goals is to help find ways to improve services, and I want to be a part of that. A challenge for the Board is to balance looking out for the best interest of the client, while also considering what is best for our entire community,” he told us at the time.

As a person who receives services from Imagine!, Joe brings an invaluable insight to the Board of Directors that strengthens the Board’s ability to serve consumers and their families.

Joe’s participation and counsel on the Board would be enough reason to highlight him in this blog, but recently Joe helped Imagine! in another, and very impressive, way.

Joe has worked at the Safeway in Louisville for eight years. A couple of months back, Joe and his mother both wrote letters of support for a grant request made by the Imagine! Foundation to Safeway. Joe and his mom must be some writers, because Safeway recently presented the Imagine! Foundation with a check for $10,000!

In the picture to the right, Kris Staaf (left), Safeway's Regional Director of Public Affairs & Government Relations, is presenting the check. That’s Joe in the middle and I’m on the right.
Joe’s efforts on behalf of Imagine! demonstrate perfectly the contributions the individuals we serve can bring to their community if given the opportunity.

On behalf of all of Imagine!, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Joe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vote No On Amendments 60 and 61 and Prop. 101

You may have heard about a few initiatives that will be on the ballot in Colorado in this November’s election that are causing quite a stir: Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101. Imagine! is opposed to all three measures.

I could provide a lengthy explanation, but our friends at the the Bell Policy Center and ProgressNow Colorado have teamed up to create a video to explain how the initiatives would work and what they would do -- in plain English. Take a look.

I normally end my posts with “then again, what do I know?” But in this case, I am certain. Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 are bad for our State. Vote no on all three this November.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Good News Friday!

The week beginning September 12 has been designated as “National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week” by the U.S. Senate. The designation recognizes the invaluable supports Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide and the difference this workforce makes in the lives of Americans with disabilities.

Direct Support Professionals, often referred to as caregivers, personal assistants, or home care aides, are the lynchpin to the ultimate success or failure of community-based long-term supports. DSP workers build close, trusted relationships with the millions of seniors and people with disabilities they assist each day. They work in community settings assisting people with disabilities with medications, preparing and eating meals, dressing, mobility, and handling daily affairs.

Unfortunately, these critical supports are being threatened by a growing workforce crisis. The U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that the average U.S. worker makes about $16.75 an hour, while the average DSP makes about $9.26 an hour for the close, nurturing, and intimate critical support they provide. Many DSPs work two jobs to make ends meet for their own families. The daily challenges these front-line workers face are both physically and emotionally demanding. Inadequate wages have led to high turnover (as high as 86% in some residential settings) and ongoing vacancies in the direct support workforce.

Despite these significant challenges, we are so fortunate here at Imagine! to have so many dedicated, talented, and passionate people who are willing not only to take on this difficult job, but to excel at it.

In anticipation of DSP Recognition Week, I’d like to use this space to acknowledge all of the DSPs that work here at Imagine! or at one of the many provider organizations we partner with.

To all of our local DSPs: Thank you for your commitment to some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens. I am humbled by your work ethic, compassion, and creativity. You inspire me every day.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Good News Friday!

I enjoy and take great pride in recognizing the successes of Imagine!’s departments. I also think it is necessary to acknowledge the successes of other organizations that provide services to people with one or more developmental disabilities. When that organization also happens to support individuals who receive services from Imagine!, it is icing on the cake.

Please join me in congratulating Employment Link and its Executive Director Bob Lawhead as they celebrate 50 years of service to the Boulder and Denver community. Employment Link was begun in 1960 by Boulder County families with children and young adults with disabilities who desired a better life for their sons and daughters. The focus of Employment Link over the past fifty years has been assisting Boulder County employers in locating qualified employees with disabilities, along with employee screening, workforce training, and ongoing employee support.

I recall in the early years of Imagine!’s vocational program Labor Source how Employment Link and Labor Source pooled resources and shared quite a few endeavors that resulted in a variety of employment opportunities for the individuals we served. Although in some regards it could be interpreted that Employment Link and Labor Source were competitors, it was a far cry from “Coke versus Pepsi.” We recognized that we were on the same team, and I have no doubt that the individuals we served, the employees in both organizations, and our business community all benefited from our collaborative efforts.

Employment Link will be celebrating their 50th anniversary on September 15, from 4:30 to 7:30 PM, at CU's Koenig Alumni Center, 1202 University Avenue (on the Southeast corner of Broadway and University in Boulder). In conjunction with the open house event will be the formal announcement of a corporate name change to Community Link.

To attend Employment Link’s free open house celebration, please RSVP at (303) 527-0627 or

Monday, August 30, 2010


If you read my blog at all, you know some of the words I use frequently include “challenges,” “issues,” or “difficulties.” The fact is we work in a tough environment. And once in a while all of us in the field need a little inspiration.

Personally, I find it helpful to keep readily available a list of inspiring quotations. When a day seems especially tough or a problem seems insurmountable, I’ll take a quick look at the quotes to help me re-focus and re-energize. The quotes reflect my own philosophy on how to lead, manage, and how to navigate the landscape during difficult times. I’d like to share some of those quotes with you today.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change."
Charles Darwin

“The looking forward to better and better things is one of the many privileges people of moderate means enjoy over those who can buy whatever they want, whenever they like.”
Marion Harland, 1889

“How do you distinguish the truly great talent from the rest?
The right people don't need to be managed. If you need to tightly mange someone, you have made a hiring mistake.
The right people don't think they have a job: They have responsibilities.
The right people do what they say they will do, which means being really careful about what they say they will do.
People who take credit in good times and blame external forces in bad times do not deserve to lead.”
Jim Collins

"If you are violating your standards faster than you can lower them, it is time to go away."
Robin Williams

"For me, reading widely outside of one's discipline has been probably the biggest source of ideas."
Lawrence Baxter

"Always do a little more work than you're being paid for, and you'll never have to worry about a job."
Earl Proulx, Author of Yankee Magazine’s Plain Talk column, quoting his father

“Having goals for self-improvement is important. Even if you never meet them, the journey along the way yields its own rewards.”
Mr. Data, Star Trek, The Next Generation, describing human beings

This last one I find especially important – it is a reminder why we do what we do everyday. Just as importantly, it serves as a call to action to prevent the feelings expressed by this one parent from becoming widespread among the families we serve.

"Now, for the first time I have little hope. In the not-so-distant future, Andrew's affliction will likely present us with a crisis for which there is no solution other than the destruction of our family."
- from a Dad in Colorado of a boy w/ significant needs.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Good News Friday!

Dawn Marie Candelaria-Bisgard, a talented artist who receives services from Imagine!, is one of 70 artists whose self-portraits will be on display in Washington, D.C. during a special event on September 13 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ANCOR, the American Network of Community Options and Resources. ANCOR was founded in 1970 as an association of organizations that support community integration for people with disabilities. The artworks will be on display during the invitation-only special event, being held at the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.

“This exhibit really brings the voices of the people with disabilities we serve into our celebration,” said ANCOR CEO Renee L. Pietrangelo. “The remarkable energy, diversity and creativity of the pieces underscore the value of supporting community integration and self-expression for everyone, including individuals with disabilities.”

Congratulations, Dawn Marie!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pay Attention!

Sometimes, we all have problems with paying attention. For a great example of what I mean, check out this video. (It is two minutes long and well worth your time).

At Imagine!, we have worked hard to create a culture where our employees do, in fact, pay attention to what is going on around them.


Because if we are always on the lookout for good ideas, or always acting as “trend hunters” searching for trends that may have a significant impact on what we do (even if the connection between the trend and Imagine!’s operational model isn’t immediately clear), opportunities may arise that we otherwise wouldn’t recognize.

Recently, we have had a couple of examples of how this culture of paying attention has proven beneficial. Just last week, we saw an opportunity to promote some of our ideas about new approaches to service funding and delivery through a grant and an online survey. We’d been formulating the ideas and testing them for some time, but by paying attention and being prepared we were able to seize an unexpected opportunity – an opportunity that may result in a dramatic shift in the way services are funded and delivered in the future.

And speaking of service delivery and the future, I couldn’t help but notice that National Public Radio is doing a series of reports this week on what it describes as “the quiet revolution that aims to make it easier for seniors to age at home.” Just two weeks ago I made this blog post about providing personal supports to seniors, and how closely matched those supports are to the supports we provide to the populations we serve at Imagine!. And Imagine! is well positioned, via our SmartHomes project, to be at the epicenter of this new way of caring for vulnerable populations.

My goal here is not to brag (at least too much, anyway). Instead, I just want to emphasize the importance of not getting so wrapped up the day to day challenges that all of us in this field face that we don’t pay attention to what is happening around us. Doing so can lead to missed opportunities, and in this environment, we can’t afford to make those kind of mistakes.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Good News Friday!

I am pleased to introduce the members of Imagine!’s 2010-2011 Leadership Development Group (LDG).

Kate Veeder, Jeff Portlock, Kristen Fledderjohn, Catherine Cossette, and Stefanie Eldredge will spend a good part of the next year taking part in a program designed to provide a coordinated platform that strategically develops talent within Imagine! to address the company’s leadership needs for the future. The program is also designed to educate the participants about the complexities of our organization and to assist management in learning about people with talent that may be good matches for leadership roles.

Each participant in the Leadership Development Group (LDG) will gain a broad understanding of leadership skills and be provided the opportunity to apply their learning in various settings. Each participant will assess their present strengths and areas for growth and to realize their potential for leadership. Leadership skills and knowledge gained will be applicable in any aspect of the successful participant’s experiences.

The group has already hit the ground running. As you can see in the picture to the right, earlier this week, Kate, Jeff, Stefanie and I met to get to know each other and to talk about the program, Imagine!, and the world of developmental disabilities.

Just last week I made a blog past about Imagine!’s commitment to planning for the future despite the many challenges we currently face. I believe our Leadership Development Group is another example of this commitment.

Congratulations to the newest LDG class! I look forward to working with you.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time For Change - And You Can Help!

Imagine! wants to change the way services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities are funded and delivered. We have an opportunity to do so, and we need your help!

First, a quick refresher. If you have been reading my blog over the past year, you know that Imagine! has been engaging in efforts big and small to explore different approaches and philosophies in terms of how we work. We’ve done so despite operating in a climate that is change resistant, a climate that has experienced large decreases in resources coupled with a circling of the wagons among providers, government entities, advocates, and other concerned parties, leading to little collaboration and a scarcity of new ideas.

We’ve done so because we believe it is the right thing to do, and because we feel we owe it to the individuals and families we serve. We have also done so because we believed that being prepared would put us in a strong position to act if an opportunity to make a significant change arose.

Well, that opportunity has come about.

Imagine! has just submitted an application for a 5-year $1.25 million federal grant that would help fund a whole new system for addressing the needs of all of the unserved individuals with developmental disabilities in Boulder and Broomfield counties. This is a part of a larger Imagine! commitment to create innovative models that will enable us to serve all individuals with developmental disabilities in our area both now and far into the future.

The title of our grant application is A New Vision. Here are some of the key elements of the application:

• Imagine!’s A New Vision maintains a person-centered and family-centered approach will promote self-determination and will facilitate the allocation of resources to ensure that the most important issues of all individuals and families in the grant are addressed.
A New Vision is the key to sustainability, because it offers a natural way to prioritize and address the most pressing issues facing the participating families as a whole.
• In economics, the term for allocating existing resources according to a hierarchy of needs is known as
demand management. A New Vision brings this model – long used in other domains such as public utilities management – to the human services field.
A New Vision uses new and emerging technologies to maximize impact while limiting expenses.
• The current funding landscape is dominated by a deficit-model mindset in which services and supports are based upon what an individual cannot do, creating a cycle of dependency. In contrast, A New Vision service model focuses on the strengths of the individual and what the person can do in order to build capacity throughout the individual’s life.
• Imagine! will partner with a number of public and private entities in the implementation of A New Vision.

You can read more about this ambitious grant application by clicking here.

We will hear whether or not we have been awarded the grant by the end of September.

In the meantime, you can help make this New Vision a reality!

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Developmental Disabilities (ADD) is seeking input on how they can best meet the diverse needs of individuals with developmental disabilities, and their families, across the country via this survey. According to their website:

ADD seeks to utilize our resources to work on the priorities of the developmental disabilities community, and we hope to focus our energy on the most pressing and relevant concerns affecting people with developmental disabilities and their families. As such, we are looking for your thoughts regarding the focus of future Projects of National Significance (PNS). The purpose of PNS is to:

• Create opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to directly and fully contribute to, and participate in, all facets of community life; and
• Support the development of national and state policy development, with the support and assistance of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, to reinforce and promote the self-determination, independence, productivity, inclusion, and integration of these individuals into all facets of community life.

Additionally, the site tells us:

Ideal PNS efforts are sustainable, can be replicated, promote systems change, and encourage collaboration. They may include, but are not limited to, initiatives related to family support, data collection, technical assistance, information and referral, self-advocacy support, educating policymakers, federal interagency initiatives, support for the participation of racial and ethnic minorities, youth transition, quality assurance, aging adults and aging caregivers, access to generic community services, community economic development, increased community living options, positive behavioral supports… or, of course, other emerging needs.

Imagine!’s New Vision grant application fits the description above of a Project of National Significance to a “T.” Completed ADD surveys highlighting some of the key points of our New Vision might help influence decision makers as they look to new ways of prioritizing based upon the needs of the community.

Therefore, I strongly encourage you to fill out the ADD survey and let them know what you think!

You don’t have to use our bullets above to let them know what is important to you, of course. Even if you have different ideas, you don’t want to miss this great opportunity to help shape the future direction of the way services for some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens are funded and delivered. The time is now to act on a chance to construct a new paradigm; potentially creating the biggest meaningful change in the lives of those we serve since the early days of de-institutionalization.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Good News Friday!

Today is the final day of Imagine!’s Out & About Summer Camp 2010. The program is designed for school aged kids and has a stated goal of providing a sense of acceptance and self among peers, to enhance participant’s quality of life through the development of socialization skills and coordination skills and to promote community integration.

This year’s program was a great success. Out & About staff members served more than 50 Boulder and Broomfield county families. The kids had a great summer and were able to experience a variety of activities in the community including therapeutic horseback riding, trips to Water World and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, and outdoor activities including fishing and canoeing.

Out & About staff members aren’t resting on their laurels, however. Instead, they are gearing up for the start of their After School Program.

I want to congratulate the entire Out & About staff for their continued dedication to ensuring that school aged children with one or more developmental disabilities have opportunities to fully engage in their communities.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Planning Now For The Future

Earlier this week, members of Imagine!’s leadership team took a day away from our regular routine to spend time focusing on strategic planning. I have always believed that looking ahead and planning for the future is essential to what we do at Imagine!. It is too easy in our field to give in to the many pressures and challenges we all face everyday and to accept the status quo. I am proud to say that has never been the Imagine! way, and our strategic planning sessions provide a great example of our commitment to innovation when it comes to our structure and services.

In my opinion, this commitment has never been more important to our organization than now. Considering the economic downturn and the funding cuts we’ve had to endure in the past few years, coupled with increasing restriction on what kinds of services can be delivered and how, it is absolutely necessary that we do everything we can to find low cost or no cost ways to improve our operational efficiency in order to maintain the level of quality services we provide.

As a result of our strategic planning and the dedication, creativity, and hard work of Imagine! staff members, regardless of position or role, we have come up with a wide variety of ways to lower our operational costs so as to avoid negative impacts on our service delivery.

Here are just a few examples: we made great strides in improving the energy efficiency of our residential homes; we have developed collaborations with other human services organizations in our area; we have increased our recycling efforts as we strive to be a Zero Waste organization; we have embraced Social Media to our improve internal and external communication; and we have increased our use of volunteers. I could list many more, but you get the picture.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention employee layoffs. Our workforce has decreased, mostly through attrition, but we have worked diligently to avoid any large scale reduction. Why? Because if you look at the statistics, that method of cost reduction is not actually effective in the long run. According to “The Impact of Layoffs on Workers and their Companies: Some Observations and Recommendations” by David Sirota, Ph.D., Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Sirota Survey Intelligence:

During the 1980s and 1990s, downsizings (or “restructurings,” “reengineerings,” “rightsizings,” “smartsizings,” “outsourcings, “offshorings,” and “workforce optimizations”) became quite fashionable in this country. But studies of the impact of these actions demonstrated that, at the very least, their projected savings were greatly overestimated. Basically, the studies showed that only about a third of the companies that downsized gained in increased productivity and profits over the subsequent 3-5 year period. Further, these companies underperformed the stock market over that time: research done in the mid-‘90’s found that downsizing companies outperformed the S&P only slightly during the six months following news of a restructuring, then lagged badly, netting a negative 24% by the end of three years. One study found that, on average, a 10% reduction in people resulted in only a 1.5% percent reduction in costs.

(You can read the whole report here)

Furthermore, according to Sirota:

When the company begins to recover, there will be the large costs of recruitment, performance deficits due to inexperience, and training, plus disenchanted employees leaving for employment elsewhere.

So if we want to look at the future of our organization (which really means the futures of the individuals we serve) we need to be thoughtful about the actions we take today. To me, that means making our best efforts to retain the great employees we have now and to look at other ways of cutting our operations budget.

I don’t mean to say here that Imagine! has identified every way possible to improve our operational efficiency. Not even close. We still have inefficiencies and we still need to explore what we can do on our side to ensure individuals with one or more developmental disabilities in our community have access to high quality services that enable them to fully engage in their communities. But we are dedicated to that goal, and I believe our strategic planning efforts will allow us to keep sight of that goal despite all the distractions and challenges we face.

Then again, what do I know?