Friday, April 29, 2011

Good News Friday!

A group of CU Engineering students in a 2011 Spring Semester class taught by Associate Professor Melinda Piket-May are working on projects to design simple adaptive technologies that aid increased independence for some of the individuals Imagine! serves. Below are some videos of the students demonstrating their projects. The videos are short (most are around a minute - except for the first one which is about 3 and a half minutes) and well worth your time – this is some amazing stuff.

Students demonstrating a Wii Fit board adaptation for wheelchairs:

Students demonstrating a wireless infrared mouse:

Students demonstrating an adaptive stroller:

Students demonstrating a laundry cart wheelchair attachment:

Students demonstrating a computer communication wrist band for those with limited mobility in their hands and arms:

Students demonstrating a magnetic tray:

Thanks to all of the students for their hard work and willingness to make a difference in the lives of those with disabilities. Special thanks to Professor Piket-May for inspiring her students!

Read more and see a video about last year’s projects here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wink of an Eye

So many lessons can be learned from Star Trek.

Lately, I have been thinking about information I gleaned from an episode of the original series entitled “Wink of an Eye.”

My always helpful friends at Wikipedia provide this quick overview of “Wink of an Eye”: “Invisible ‘time-accelerated’ aliens take over the Enterprise and attempt to abduct the crew for use as ‘genetic stock’.”

Here’s a little more plot detail. The aliens (called Scalosians) kidnap Captain Kirk. These “time-accelerated” Scalosians move so fast that the crew of the Enterprise can’t see them (or the kidnapped captain, who has been “accelerated” as well). The only clue that the Scalosians are on board is a strange buzzing sound, almost like insects. Eventually Spock discovers that the strange buzzing is the hyperaccelerated conversations of the Scalosians. Spock accelerates himself, saves the Captain, and all is well until the next episode.

So what did I learn from that episode, other than that when you try to write out the plot of a Star Trek episode it sounds kind of silly?

I learned this: the pace at which life goes by and things get done can vary greatly. This lesson is especially applicable to those of us in the field of services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities.

In the past ten years, for example, you may have heard a great deal of buzzing around technology. Amazing advances in technology are changing the way we look at health care. Consider nanotechnology, which is revolutionizing medicine.  Or consider Imagine!’s very own SmartHomes, which incorporate cutting edge residential technologies that enhance the quality of life for clients, augment the effectiveness of staff as caregivers, and provide cost and energy savings for Imagine!. Technology is moving at the hyperaccelerated pace of the Scalosians.

Unfortunately, relative to the advances we’ve had in technology, public policy is moving at the super slow pace of the crew of the Enterprise when compared to the Scalosians. For just one example, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of states in the U.S. that have Medicaid waivers that specifically provide funds for remote monitoring technologies for group homes serving individuals with one or more developmental disabilities. We’re talking here about technologies that have been demonstrated time and again to be effective and efficient ways of monitoring. We’re talking here about technologies that have been shown to provide increased levels of independence and privacy.

And we’re talking here about technologies that provide better services at a lower cost. The same can be said for any number of assistive technologies that those we serve find difficult to obtain because of outdated funding mechanisms, rules, and regulations.

Considering the challenging economic times we are facing, and a political climate that leads one to believe that more funding for individuals with one of more developmental disabilities won’t be coming any time soon, it seems especially important that technology applications should be put at the forefront of all public policy changes moving forward.

It’s time for public policy makers to do their best Spock impersonation and accelerate to catch up with the Scalosians of technology.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good News Friday!

Earlier this week, we received the exciting news that Linda Rogers, an Employment Specialist with Imagine!'s CORE/Labor Source department, was selected as the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) Direct Support Professional of the Year for the state of Colorado.

Linda has been an Employment Specialist with Imagine!’s supported employment program for 11 years. Most of the people Linda has worked with throughout her tenure require 24-hour supervision, have had infrequent opportunities to develop job skills, and have limited communication skills. All of the job sites where Linda supervises consumers are in the community, which adds an element of pressure to constantly meet the quality and time limit standards of our employers who often work right alongside or near the crew.

Linda’s calm, positive attitude makes her fun to work with, but she is not a pushover. Linda has high but reasonably achievable expectations of the people we serve. When Linda is required to express suggestions or constructive criticism to a consumer, she does so with empathy, exercising her position of authority with sincere compassion.

Linda is proactive and prepares consumers for those cold, dark, winter mornings when it’s easy to choose to stay in bed by reminding them about good things they can look forward to at work. She helps consumers learn the value of money, and has coordinated with consumers’ families or residential providers ways for a consumer to understand how long they have to work to purchase an item. She has helped some consumers learn to save money. One consumer saved money for years to afford a trip to Disneyland, his lifelong dream.

Linda truly enjoys teaching. She is always generous in sharing any recognition she receives with her coworkers and the people we serve. Linda is living proof that great things can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit, and she inspires her coworkers and the people we serve to have that same attitude about the value of teamwork.

At the beginning of this month, I made a blog post that featured some kudos from an Imagine! consumer who works with Linda, which you can see here

So today, I’d like to share a couple of quotes from Linda’s co-workers that demonstrate why she was selected for this prestigious award:

"Linda constantly professes her certainty that people with developmental disabilities have gifts and purpose in their lives, and that they are people of worth and stature. The high level of respect that Linda displays for the people we serve helps them to view themselves in a positive light which is reflected in their increased self-esteem. Linda helps the people we serve and her coworkers to understand that they are capable of being successful citizens who are contributing members of our community. We are lucky to have her as a role model."
"Linda is the paragon of an Employment Specialist, always looking for ways to enrich the lives of her coworkers and the people we serve. She is the epitome of a cheerful giver. She will spend time after work communicating and establishing relationships with consumers, their families, and residential providers so she can be more effective at her job."
Congratulations Linda, and thank you for your dedication.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Relationship Between The Color Green And The Number Seven

The relationship between truth and a newspaper is like the relationship between the color green and the number seven. Occasionally you will see the number seven written in green but you learn not to expect this.

Garrison Keillor

I love that quote. It is completely absurd, and yet it makes perfect sense.

I happen to feel that the relationship between Medicaid funding for people with disabilities and the services that people with one or more developmental disabilities truly want is the same as Garrison Keillor’s view of the relationship between the color green and the number seven – occasionally the funding and services line up, but we have learned not to expect that to happen.

Now, the question may arise: “Well, what do people with one or more developmental disabilities truly want?” While acknowledging that every individual is different (like they say – if you’ve met one person with a developmental disability, you’ve met one person with a developmental disability), my personal experience leads me to believe that in general, the answer to that question is two-fold: they want acceptance, and they want to be productive members of their communities.

It seems to me that if we can achieve the latter, the former should follow.

So, how do we get there? Let’s do this exercise: instead of describing this population as “disabled,” what if instead we say they are “people who find it difficult to learn.” That moves those of us described as service providers away from a service role, and re-defines us as teachers as well as supporters in getting this population to the point where they can meet those goals of acceptance and becoming contributing members of their communities.

To get that done, we need to identify elements of learning and elements of community participation, and educate our Direct Support Professionals on those elements. If we don’t do those things, we can’t get the job done.

The current way we fund services is not conducive at all to identifying and educating on those key elements. We don’t fund learning and community contribution. We fund things like IPs and behavior correction. I’m not saying those don’t have a place in what we do, but they tend to be treated as end points instead of tools to reach the bigger goals.

Those of us in the service field need to simplify what we do by asking if what we are doing is meeting end goals of acceptance and community contribution. Once we know where we are going, it will be easier to get there. I’m not pointing fingers here, by the way. This approach hasn’t always been a strength here at Imagine!, and we need to remedy that.

If those of us on the service side of the funding/service equation have a better grip on how our services will meet the goals of acceptance and community contribution, then we can also make a better case for harmonizing funding with services in a way that will truly have a positive impact on individuals with one or more developmental disabilities. Until then, we will always wonder if that number seven will be green the next time we see it.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Good News Friday!

Today, I’d like to welcome the newest member of the Imagine! Executive team - Liz Smokowski. Liz will be joining us as our Director of Client Relations starting next Monday, April 18.

Liz will be responsible for the overall direction, support, and financial operation of Client Relations, Family Services, and Care Coordination at Imagine!. In her role, she will manage client relations, experiences, and data resources to ensure efficiency, manage costs, support decisions, maintain corporate agility, and ensure quality of care coordination, regulatory compliance, and operational efficiency.

Liz’s background makes her perfectly suited for the position. Liz has served as the Director of Finance and Development and the Executive Director for Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley as well as Executive Director for Longmont’s Tiny Tim Center. She has also served on the Boards of Directors for several local non-profits, including the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce, the Longmont Humane Society, Boulder County Advocates for Transitional Housing, and Our Center.

So, why did we create this position?

As you may know, I spend a great deal of time forecasting changes that will effect how well Imagine! is able to respond to the growing need for services in our area. In the coming years I expect to see waiver consolidations in both children’s and adult services. I also expect to see a modernization of the community centered board role. Finally, knowing Imagine!’s current leadership team, I also expect to see changes in personnel due to retirement plans (and no, I won’t mention any names, but it isn’t me).

These issues, and some additional factors in Imagine!’s current ability to access the knowledge necessary to make good decisions, have given me reason to reposition us a little bit for the future. Planning for this position has been ongoing for over two years, and has been included in the Imagine! Strategic Plan for over a year. This new position has significant purpose, and was created for the well-being of Imagine!’s future, and more importantly, to keep us on track to meet the needs of those we serve moving forward.

For Imagine! employees reading this post, please drop by and say “hi” to Liz if you get a chance. Her office will be in our Dixon St. building, just west of the mailroom. And expect to see a new face visiting sights and joining in your meetings to learn about our working culture over the next few weeks and months.

For others, I’ll keep you posted as we move forward with this exciting new phase at Imagine!. I am confident that the time is right for this change.

Welcome to the Imagine! team, Liz!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Brief And Glorious Return of Skippy The Duck

Many moons ago, the very first website created for Imagine!’s Labor Source department featured occasional musings on disability services and supported employment written by one Skippy the Duck. Skippy’s strongly held and occasionally controversial opinions were crafted in a prose style strikingly similar to this very blog.

I still find myself thinking every now and then about what that mighty duck had to say, and I recently re-read one of his rants that seemed just as relevant now as it was when it was written almost 15 years ago:

Scott Adams, author of The Dilbert Principle, recently described “good management as knowing what’s fundamental to success, and what’s not.” He went on to say, “Any activity that is ‘one level removed’ from your people or your (service) will ultimately fail or have little benefit.”

I learned a couple of things from reading this. One, you never know where you might turn up a good piece of wisdom, and two, a little reflection of our own activities never does any harm. So, I looked at our practice of supporting people who have a disability. I was disturbed to realize how much time and how many resources are consumed on “one level removed” activities.

Following Scott Adams’ lead:

Testing a better way to conduct job searches is fundamental. Conferencing about philosophies, and how to act like a business, is one level removed.

Talking to community members about interacting with people who have a disability is fundamental. Preaching to ourselves about how the rest of the community needs to better accommodate those who have a disability, is one level removed.

Taking action to improve a person’s life is fundamental. Creating action plans to improve a person’s life is one level removed.

Discussing contemporary events at a coffee shop with people we serve is fundamental. Discussing integration with other staff at a monthly support meeting is one level removed.

Talking with people we serve is fundamental. Talking about them is one level removed.

He did not suggest that we eliminate activities that are one level removed. He did suggest that attention should be focused on the fundamentals. Meetings that require consensus, policy and process improvement, and conferences that focus on sharing philosophies are no longer things I consider fundamental. On the other hand, talking to people who do not share the same knowledge base, or decreasing the period of time a person is unemployed are both fundamental.
The bottom line is spending less time discussing how and more time doing.

Thank you Scott Adams.

Remember, you can't learn to play second base by sitting on the bench!

Even today, I find myself taking to Skippy’s views like a duck takes to water. Thanks Skippy, for returning from the past and sharing your still pertinent ideas!

Then again, what do I know about learning to play second base?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Good News Friday!

A couple of weeks ago, participants in Imagine!’s CORE/Labor Source “On the Air” radio class appeared live on the television show “Colorado & Company" (KUSA Channel 9 in Denver). If you missed the show, here’s your chance to see the segment.

Just click on the “play” arrow below to see it.

Great job Jessica, George, and Michael!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I’d Call That A Bargain

Last week, I wrote about the essential nature of the work done by Imagine!, other Community Centered Boards, and service providers across Colorado and the nation – essential not only because of the needs of those we serve, but essential to the economic development of our communities.

A reader of my blog, Robin Bolduc, made a comment about that essential nature of what we do which clarified my point far better than I was able to:

My husband's disability-related needs provide employment for 6 people directly as personal attendants - total support for a family of 3 and a single mother; allows a father to go to college so he can support his family; supplements the income of a young man who works in human services; supplements the income of a senior citizen; gives job experience for a displaced construction worker; and supports a college student.
Well said, Robin.

Let me take that a step further and demonstrate Imagine!’s impact on our community. Imagine!’s operating budget is $32.2 million. The large majority of that funding comes from government sources – Federal, state, and local. That money is then put back into the community in the form of jobs (last month Imagine! had 642 employees, included in that number are close to 100 people with one or more developmental disabilities) and small business development (Imagine! contracts with more than 180 providers in Boulder and Broomfield counties). Furthermore, the people we employ and the people we contract with are paying taxes and spending their hard earned money every day at local grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping centers. So not only is the money that Imagine! receives spent on behalf of our community, it is also spent in our community.

Spending the funds we receive in the community is a key distinction between not-for-profit organizations and for-profit organizations, and illustrates how not-for-profits are key drivers of any community’s economic engine, even if that fact is not always recognized by those in the for-profit world, or even the government sector.

About five years ago, I read an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that really impacted my thinking on this subject. The title of the article was “What Business Execs Don’t Know – But Should – About Nonprofits,” and it was written by Les Silverman and Lynn Taliento. One quote from the article, from Judy Vredenburgh, former CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters and former Senior Vice President of March of Dimes, really struck me:

Every time we in non-profits satisfy customers, we drain resources, and every time for-profits satisfy a customer, they get resources back. That sounds very simple, but it has huge implications.
Although I wish she has used a different word than “drain” for resources, because I think it has some unintended negative connotations, I think her overall point is very powerful. Success in the not-for-profit world is measured by how well we spend our dollars to meet our mission, not by how much money we take in. If not-for-profits are successful at meeting their mission, then the community benefits economically in addition to benefitting from improvements to the community’s health and well being. In other words, if not-for-profits are successful, they play a vital role in the economic structure of their communities.

Statistics confirm this. Look at some of the data from a report prepared for Congress in 2009 by the Congressional Research Service demonstrating the not-for-profit sector’s magnitude and impact. (I got this information from this blog post written by Todd Cohen on the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s website).

• In 2005, the nonprofit sector overall employed 12.9 million people, or 10 percent of the workforce
• From 1998 to 2005, nonprofit employment overall grew 16.4 percent, compared to 6.2 percent for overall employment in the U.S.
• In 2004, the charitable sector alone employed an estimated 9.4 million people, or over 7 percent of the U.S. workforce, plus the equivalent of 4.7 million full-time volunteer workers
• Based on employment, the charitable sector is larger than the construction sector and larger than the finance, insurance and real-estate sectors combined, and it has nearly half as many employees as federal, state and local government combined
• In 2008, a broad category of nonprofits known as “nonprofit institutions serving households,” a subset of the overall nonprofit sector, generated 5.2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, representing $751.2 billion worth of output
• Nonprofits’ share of GDP grew 0.4 percentage points from 1998 to 2008, consisting of wages paid to nonprofit employees, the rental value of assets owned and used by nonprofits while providing services, and rental income from tenant-occupied housing nonprofits own
Historically, not-for-profits have taken on societal issues that the government or for-profit sectors have either been unable or unwilling to tackle. We’ve figured out ways to address community needs efficiently and effectively, all the while under a big microscope (what the article mentioned above describes as “the public and press’s unblinking scrutiny of nonprofits”) that has made us transparent and extremely responsive to our local region’s wishes.

Not-for-profits do all that, and bring economic value to communities?

I’d call that a bargain.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Good News Friday!

At every level of Imagine!, the work we do can be difficult and, at times, thankless. So today I’d like to share a few kind words and thanks we have received from some of those we’ve served, just to remind everyone at Imagine! what a powerful impact their work has on so many lives.

I’ll start with a couple of “thank yous” sent our way from some families who have received grants from our Family Support team. Families may request these grants to help pay for the extraordinary costs of caring for a family member who has a developmental disability. The funds may be used to help pay for respite care, professional services, medical and dental expenses, transportation, assistive technology, home modifications, and parent and sibling support. So far, in the first two grant runs of our fiscal year, we have funded 247 grants for a total of $478,154.07. We have heard from so many families this year who have expressed extreme gratitude for this assistance, especially in light of the troubled economy:

“I have no words to thank you. You have helped us in the past and now again. Beyond the financial relief, the feeling that we are not alone and that we have partners in this journey we were forced to take is priceless. Thank you again for everything!”

“Our dear friends at Imagine: Thank you for providing us with this year‘s grant funding. We very much appreciate your generosity and support. This year’s grant will pay a few older medical bills and start a cushion for summer care. We hope you know and understand the huge relief your support provides. Thank you for all you do for us!”

I’ve spoken before about Imagine!’s Dayspring department’s Community Calendar activities. These activities introduce families to places in our community that offer great activities and opportunities for children to meet their goals through fun and play. All activities encourage motor, sensory, social-emotional, cognitive and speech-language development. Dayspring recently mailed out surveys to all 110 families that attended Community Activities in 2010.

A couple of quotes I’d like to share with you from those survey responses:

“This is a great program that helps children grow and meet their goals. It also provides families with experiences they may not otherwise have had. It opened our eyes to near adventures. My son has been attending Sprout House at Sunflower Farm ever since we visited there with CCA. Thank you for all you do to better the lives of children.”

“I so appreciate all of the activities. It helps us feel normal in a world where that doesn’t always happen. And connects us to other special needs families, which is awesome! Keep up the great work and invaluable to helping my child feel like he fits in too.”

Finally, I’d like to share a letter of support written by an individual who receives services from Imagine! for the nomination of one of our employees, Linda Rogers, for the ANCOR 2011 Direct Support Professional Recognition Contest. Linda has been an Employment Specialist with CORE/Labor Source, Imagine!’s supported employment program, for 11 years. Linda truly enjoys teaching. She is always generous in sharing any recognition she receives with her coworkers and the people we serve. Linda is living proof that great things can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit, and she inspires her coworkers and the people we serve to have that same attitude about the value of teamwork. I don’t know if Linda will win an award from ANCOR, but I think you can tell by the letter below she has already won the hearts of those she works so hard to serve.

"My name is Jessica and I am a consumer with Imagine!. Linda Rogers is one of the Employment Specialists who supervise me at my jobs, and she has worked with me for more than 10 years. Linda and I hit it off right away. We got our work done and she told me she was proud of me. We’re good friends. She always comes to my birthday parties and when she goes out of town she picks me up a key chain or a post card for my collection.

We have worked many jobs together, mostly at restaurants like the Hungry Toad, Oskar Blues, and Conor O’Neill’s. Linda treats everyone well, she is kind, patient, and friendly.

She helps me by taking me to stores so I can spend some of my money on paper, envelopes, stamps, and drawing utensils so I can make cards for my family and friends. We also go to ice cream stores sometimes.

What I like best about work is that I get paid while working and spending time with my friends."