Friday, December 30, 2011

Good News Friday!

Here’s a nice story for the New Year.

A group of University of Colorado College of Engineering students in a 2011 Fall Semester class taught by Associate Professor Melinda Piket-May worked on projects to design simple adaptive technologies that aid increased independence for some of the individuals Imagine! serves.

For example, in one project, students built an adaptive Wii board that allows individuals who use wheelchairs to play Wii games. Below is a video of the students demonstrating their project.

Can’t see the video? Click here

Now, check out this video of Imagine!’s Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome resident Donna using the adaptive Wii board at the home.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Below, please enjoy some short videos of other projects from the students.

An Adjustable Assistive Wall Mounted Arm

Can’t see the video? Click here.

A Wheelchair Laundry Attachment

Can’t see the video? Click here.

A Reprogrammable Remote

Can’t see the video? Click here.

An Adjustable Shelf

Can’t see the video? Click here. 

Another Adjustable Shelf

Can’t see the video? Click here.

An Adaptive Stroller

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Thanks to Professor Piket-May and especially the students for their hard work.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Good News Friday!

Season’s Greetings!

Here’s wishing all of my blog readers the happiest of holidays, and a safe and prosperous New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Five Ways to Navigate the Fiscal Crisis

Every once in awhile, I will come across an article or book that almost feels as if it is speaking directly to those of us in the field of serving individuals with one or more developmental disabilities. Today, I’d like to share such an article.

The article is titled “Five Ways to Navigate the Fiscal Crisis,” witten by Daniel Stid and Willa Seldon, and appeared in the winter edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

As I read the article I kept finding myself nodding in agreement, and a couple of times I might have even said “exactly!” out loud, even though I was by myself.

It hit so close to home, I felt I just had to share. Below are excerpts from the article that I found especially compelling, and which give a sort of “Reader’s Digest” version of the article. If you find the information below relevant and relatable, I encourage you to check out the entire article.
The head of a large nonprofit that has been serving children and families since the 19th century and that gets most of its funding from state and local government recently told us: “We have never had the chance to sit down across the table from government and discuss line-by-line what it takes to do the work. They call the terms, they put the dollars on the table, they give the staffing patterns, and you can take it or leave it."
And increasingly, government agencies not only are outsourcing the financing of these services, they are also reimbursing nonprofits considerably less than what it costs to deliver them. These organizations are left to cobble together their own resources from other funding sources to make up the difference.
The long-term outlook for human services funding is bleak.
This brings us to the questions we take up in this article: How can nonprofits that rely on government funding navigate this increasingly powerful undertow? How can they stay afloat? And can they even hope to make progress? The sobering reality is that nonprofits will have to be even more entrepreneurial in their funding models, efficient in deploying their resources, and vigilant in serving their mission to make headway.
The government agency typically sets the price, and in cashstrapped times like these, may keep it flat or reset it downward as it sees fit. Prices often fail to cover the full cost of those services. In the Urban Institute survey of nonprofit government contractors, 68 percent of respondents identified this failure to cover the full cost of delivery as a problem.
Government also leverages its market power to squeeze nonprofits further by changing the terms and driving the execution of these contracts in its favor. The Urban Institute survey also reported that 57 percent of nonprofits responding see government changes to contracts and grants as a problem.
Faced with deteriorating conditions, why don’t nonprofit service providers simply walk away? The harsh truth is that they can’t. Nonprofits are prepared to accept poor contract prices and endure readjustments in prices and terms and even badly delayed payments—simply to keep their missions afloat.
Approaches to Staying Afloat
In the highly constrained world of public funding, can a nonprofit delivering superior outcomes do anything more than take the price, accept the terms, provide the service, and hope that things don’t get worse? Do nonprofits have any hope of agency—of having influence or exerting power? Though we have found nothing resembling a formula, we have seen some nonprofits rising to the challenge as tough times become the “new normal.” Below are five approaches that seem to be working for the most ambitious human services nonprofits.
1. Get to Strategic Clarity. The first step in getting to strategic clarity is to set priorities for where, how, and with whom you seek to have impact. The second step in getting to strategic clarity is to understand the true cost of each program or set of services the agency provides. By “true” we mean direct costs (frontline staff, rent for service delivery sites) plus indirect costs (that program’s share of management, information technology, and other agency-wide costs). The third and final step in getting to strategic clarity is to make better decisions about whether or how to pursue a particular opportunity for government funding.
2. Diversify Government Funding Streams. For nonprofits that get the majority of their revenue from government sources, diversifying funding across different government agencies, programs, and contracts can help sustain organizations against declining revenues. In fact, this is a common strategy. Most human service nonprofits hold multiple government contracts. But too often this diversification is driven by opportunism that strains organizations, not a strategic design that plays to their strengths and sustains their missions. Supplementing government contract revenue with contributions from other sources may be essential.
3. Improve Productivity. The drive to improve productivity has long lagged in the nonprofit sector, in large part because of the prevalence of input-based funding and the ambiguity about what nonprofits are “producing.” There are signs, however, that leading human services providers are sharpening their focus on productivity.
4. Measure Outcomes. Given the nascent state of performance based government contracting, it may seem odd for this approach to show up on our list. Yet if the goal is to stay focused on mission, then measuring outcomes is essential. All too often, outcomes measurement is something nonprofits feel obliged to do for reporting to external parties. But the real power of measuring outcomes is to drive internal learning about how the work is going and planning how it can be improved. Viewed in this way, rather than being a burdensome quarterly or annual fire drill to comply with funder reporting requirements, outcomes measurement can become a powerful way for leaders and staff to connect with and advance their organization’s mission.
5. Move Beyond Vendorism. Among the nonprofit leaders we have talked to and worked with, we have noted that the organizations most effective in engaging government are distinguished not so much by a particular set of activities as by a certain mindset. They see the decision makers in government agencies as customers. They try to understand their concerns and unmet needs, and they design compelling solutions

Take It or Leave It?
"It is dangerous to be right,” observed Voltaire, “when the government is wrong.” We have heard a great deal of anxiety that, in an era of shrinking budgets, the current situation only will get worse, resulting in less funding at all levels of government and more limits on the already limited autonomy of nonprofits seeking to provide high-quality services.
But within this $100 billion sector—one upon which so many vulnerable people depend—we believe there remains some room to maneuver. The five approaches we have sketched out hardly guarantee success. Within the system’s numerous constraints, nonprofits have been employing these approaches to get beyond a take it or leave it relationship with their government funders—keeping their eyes on their mission and doing the best they know how for the people and communities they serve.
Thank you, Stanford Social Innovation Review, for hitting the nail right on the head.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Good News Friday

I mentioned last week that I would be attending the Imagine! Holiday Party and honoring Imagine!’s Employees of Distinction.

Another person was honored that evening – Imagine!’s 2011 Consumer of the Year, Lindsey Newell. The video below demonstrates why Lindsey was selected. She has made great strides in the past year, and while her entire support team deserves credit for helping her achieve, in the end, it was Lindsey’s hard work and dedication that made her so deserving of this award.

Congratulations, Lindsey!

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Good News Friday!

Tonight I will have the great pleasure of attending Imagine!’s Annual Holiday Party. A highlight of this festive evening will be the honoring of Imagine!’s 2011 Employees of Distinction. These six employees, selected from a large number of deserving nominees, exemplify the best of Imagine! and inspire me everyday.

So today I’d like to be the first to introduce these phenomenal employees, along with a brief quote from their nominations demonstrating what makes their work so impressive.

Congratulations to all of Imagine!’s 2011 Employees of Distinction!

Anna Barton

“Anna has the ability to be solution-focused while always having the best interest of the consumer in mind. Her advocacy for children at the local, county, and state levels is amazing.”

Jason Gillespie

“Consumers seem to build an immediate relationship with Jason due to his warm nature and also his ability to encourage the consumers to grow and become more independent.”

Eva Klemens

“Eva is well known throughout Imagine! for her compassion and energy. She is highly respected by her peers and appreciated by her patients because of the way she treats others.”

Cynthia Kruez-Uhr

“Imagine!'s Mission and Values include improving the quality of life of consumers, and Cynthia definitely achieves that for the young women at Tenino House.”

Caitlin Looney

“Caitlin consistently stays focused on people as human beings. She puts a premium on human regard--whether it is toward Out & About participants, family members, or other staff members.”

Tom Riley

“Tom places a great emphasis on continual growth for all consumers in services so they can apply their skills to their jobs and when interacting with friends, family, and the community.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Today Is Colorado Gives Day

Today is Colorado Gives Day, and Imagine! is again participating. Donations made online Imagine!'s website (using any of the “Donate Here” buttons) today will also be eligible for partial matching funds.

The “Donate Here” button takes you directly to the Community First Foundation site and saves the 5.5% bank fee for credit card donations.

Last year individuals donated $4,675 to Imagine! on Colorado Gives Day, and we received $177.68 in matching funds from the Circle of Giving Incentive Fund. But $8.4 million was donated across Colorado last year, and $320,000 in incentive funds were given out, so we have room to grow!

If you are thinking about making a gift to Imagine! before the end of the calendar year, please consider doing it online today (you can also designate donated funds to be directed toward specific Imagine! programs in the “Any comments or special instructions” box if you would like).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Help To Focus On The Future

I have written many times about how the current Colorado system of delivering and funding services to individuals with one or more developmental disabilities is in a state of crisis and unsustainable.

I’m not alone in that view, and it is clear now that changes to the system are coming. Alliance, a state-wide organization dedicated to enhancing and strengthening community supports for people with developmental disabilities in Colorado, recently completed a report entitled “Focus on the Future.” The report was created to identify what is working and what is not working in the system, in the hope that the decisions made about changing the system moving forward will be made with knowledge of what is best for the end users in the system (the people we serve). The report was made after several months of gathering opinions and ideas from a wide ranging group of stakeholders from across the state.

Even though the report is complete, Alliance is still seeking feedback. You can still have a role in influencing the future of services to some of our most vulnerable citizens by taking a short (no more than five minutes) survey about the recommendations found in the report.

You can find a copy of the report here. Pages 12 to 17 of the report contain the recommendations.

You can take the survey by clicking here. The survey lists all of the recommendations.

Here’s a little more about the Focus on the Future project:

The project consisted of two key phases. In Phase One, five regional Focus Groups met to gather input to identify what’s working/not working and aspects of the service delivery system that must stay the same or must change. People receiving services and families were the starting point of the project and composed 68% of the focus group participants. Phase Two was the Workgroup Phase where system stakeholders were invited to join the Alliance Project Steering Committee to formulate recommendations for change. Workgroup participants included people with varied backgrounds and experiences.

The Workgroup analyzed five problems they identified as the root cause of the issues expressed by focus group participants:

1. The System is too complex;
2. Resources are not allocated in a way that meets people’s needs;
3. System focus is not first and foremost the person;
4. We don’t have formal systematic mechanisms to self direct I/DD services; and
5. We don’t have the data infrastructure to assess our system.

The workgroup developed recommendations to address these five problems, which can be found in the report linked above.

As Alliance notes, this is a time of unprecedented change for services and supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is my hope that the people in charge of making those changes will use this report as a guide when implementing those changes.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Good News Friday!

Last month, Imagine! was notified that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced $2.54 million to fund housing for very low-income persons with disabilities here in Colorado.

Even more exciting, Imagine! will receive $633,700 of those funds to build a home in east Broomfield for six people who have developmental disabilities as well as the more complex issues that come with aging. This is a need that will continue to grow as the “Silver Tsunami” gets bigger and more and more individuals with developmental disabilities will find themselves facing elder care concerns as well. HUD will also provide Imagine! $68,100 to pay for maintenance and upkeep of the home for three years.

The home will incorporate green building standards and will be designed with universal design standards to better meet the physical and programmatic needs of its residents. The home will also be constructed to accommodate state-of-the-art technologies to improve the service and support of its residents.

You can read an article about the grant from a recent edition of the “Broomfield Enterprise” by clicking here.

We are so grateful for HUD’s support in helping Imagine! meet a need that is becoming more urgent by the day. I also want to personally thank the many local and national community leaders who wrote letters of support for us during the application process, including:

Suzanne Bazinet, Broomfield Senior Services 
Michael Bennet, United States Senator
Reggie Bicha, Colorado Department of Human Services
Sue Birch, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing
Debra Oldenettel, Broomfield Health and Human Services 
Roxanne Pinneo, North Metro Community Services 
Jared Polis, United States Congressman 
Jayla Sanchez-Warren, Denver Regional Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging
Karen Smith, Broomfield Community Foundation
Betsy Tarpley, Broomfield Chamber of Commerce “Leadership Broomfield” Program
Sam Taylor, Broomfield City Council
Two Imagine! consumers, Tavio and Barbara
Mark Udall, United States Senator