Friday, April 27, 2012

Good News Friday!

This past Wednesday night, I was honored to attend a reception honoring donors to the Imagine! Foundation.

The Imagine! Foundation is a tremendous asset to Imagine!. Since its inception 11 years ago, generous donors have contributed nearly $4,850,000 to the Imagine! Foundation to benefit the individuals we serve!

The evening included a short program that brought donors up to date on the wide-ranging impact their kindness has had on some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens. Imagine!’s Director of Business Development, Greg Wellems, gave an especially touching account of how lives have been changed for the better as a direct result of the Foundation’s support of Imagine!’s SmartHome project. More than a few tears were shed as Greg described the newfound freedom and independence SmartHome residents have achieved through the creative use of technology (technology that would not have been available to individuals served by Imagine! if not for donors to the Imagine! Foundation) in the past few years. And of course, the impact of supporting the SmartHomes doesn’t end with the residents living in the homes. The SmartHomes are now serving as “living laboratories” to test and refine technologies that can be used in individual and family homes to allow people with intellectual disabilities to remain independent, active members of their communities.

On behalf of everyone at Imagine!, let me say “thank you” to all of the generous donors to the Imagine! Foundation. We are so grateful for the overwhelming support from our community!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Don’t Follow The Leader

I have often used this space to grumble about the many rules and regulations those of us in the field of serving individuals with developmental disabilities face. Good intentioned as many the regulations are, too many seem like a solution in search of a problem. The end result is that we spend more time, energy, and resources trying to meet the needs of the regulations than we do trying to meet the needs of the people we serve.

I was thinking about this issue when I came across an article written by Andrea Ovans for the Harvard Business Review entitled “When No One’s In Charge – What Leaderless Movements Mean for Management.” The article discussed several books that had a similar theme – how “allegiances around the world seem to be shifting not to new leaders but to the exact opposite – to leaderless movements like Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and the Tea Party.” These leaderless movements “aim to show that crowds can and should wield as much power and influence as those individuals officially in charge.”

One of the books mentioned in the article, Barbara Kellerman’s The End of Leadership, even goes so far as to describe the history of leadership as a devolution of power from those up top to those below. The logical end result of this devolution is a society in which “the governed are no longer willing to give their consent to any leaders – political or corporate, despotic or democratic.”

It was an interesting article, and certainly gave me pause to think. What would the regulatory environment look like in our field if everyone came together to “discuss problems and forge solutions through civilized debate” rather than a group of people “in charge” handing down regulatory edicts like they were passing out candy on Halloween night. I can’t say for certain, but I have a strong feeling that the services we provided would be guided much more by outcomes that were deemed beneficial to those we serve, and not by outcomes designed to create the least amount of financial and legal risks for the service provider and those funding the services.

Of course, if the system truly became leaderless, I would be out of a job.

As strange as it may sound, I would welcome that result, as it would mean that society will have truly recognized that individuals with intellectual disabilities are integral members of their communities, and therefore should be afforded the same opportunities (and responsibilities) as any other citizen.

I’m not convinced I will see that day come, but this article at least hints at the possibility. I hope I’m around to see it happen.

 Then again, what do I know?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Good News Friday!

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Boulder Magazine’s REAL Awards ceremony. Especially exciting for me was the fact that Imagine! won a REAL Award in the Non-Profit, Community at Large category.

The award is a real honor, especially considering the other finalists in our category. The Colorado Chautauqua Association, Community Cycles, and KGNU Community Radio are all excellent examples of organizations making a difference in our community, and any one of them could have won.

REAL stands for “Recognizing Everything About Local,” and that is a big part of what makes the award so special for us. What we do at Imagine! is essentially a community building endeavor, and we wouldn’t be successful without the support of our community.

That community support of Imagine! was on display last night. Many of the other finalists and winners of the evening were organizations and individuals that have supported Imagine! in many different ways. So I can truly say that although the award plaque says “Imagine!,” everybody in attendance last night had a hand in our success, and the award is as much theirs as it is ours.

Thank you Boulder Magazine, the esteemed panel of REAL Award judges, and everyone who has supported, and continues to support, Imagine! and the people we serve. We are truly grateful.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vote Imagine!

Imagine!’s Community Calendar Activities (CCA) program, run by our Dayspring department, is up for a Community Foundation Serving Boulder County NOVA Award – and you can help by voting for Imagine! (and other great organizations) this week.

Voting is only open until Aprl 21, so vote now!

Go Dayspring!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Governor Hickenlooper and TBD Colorado

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a participant in Governor John Hickenlooper’s TBD Colorado initiative. Fittingly, TBD stands for “To Be Determined”. According to their website, “TBD Colorado is a nonpartisan, collaborative effort designed to create informed and constructive conversations among Coloradans about some of the biggest issues facing the state.”

I attended my first regional meeting of TBD Colorado last Monday. I hear they were looking for participants who want to work for the greater good of the state, rather than for only specific special interests, and that they they are holding similar meetings in 40 regions throughout the state.

In addition to hosting community meetings throughout Colorado in April and May, TBD Colorado will host several public summits in June. It is important to note that no state dollars will be spent on TBD Colorado.

TBD Colorado will focus on important issues in the state including Education (both K-12 and higher education), Health, Transportation, the State Budget, and State Workforce/Talent.

Governor Hickenlooper initiated this effort because of his recognition that resolving many of the difficult challenges facing Colorado requires broad civic engagement.

And this is where credit needs to be offered.

Former administrations have had similar information available to them, yet each elected to leave Colorado’s most significant issues for the next administration to tackle. We see similar ambivalence at the Federal level surrounding complex issues such as Social Security and Medicaid.

Governor Hickenlooper could have elected to do the same – and he didn’t. Rather, he decided to take the issues to the public. This effort will hopefully educate the public using a bipartisan approach, and to view the issues of the state using facts rather than sentiment. After attending the first meeting, it is easy to recognize that, given our current path in Colorado, none of the issues have a very bright future. This presents Colorado with a puzzle worthy of our attention.

I applaud the Governor for looking forward, and for his willingness to take on such a challenge. Left unchecked, we will all face the fallout of these issues.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Good News Friday!

Today I’d like to highlight some very ingenious methods that an employee in our CORE/Labor Source department has developed to help individuals receiving supported employment services from Imagine! achieve more success in their jobs.

Supported employment is such a great example of Imagine!’s mission in action. When the people we serve are able to work, they are truly contributing to their communities – paying taxes and spending their hard earned money locally.

But supported employment is not without challenges – physical and cognitive barriers can make it more difficult for the people we serve to succeed at work. Overcoming those obstacles isn’t always insurmountable, however. Sometimes a little creativity is all that is needed.

Here’s an example.

Donna, who receives services from Imagine!, works at Boulder-based InClover, placing bin lot number stickers on the bottom of Grin Treats bags. The bag has a fold at the bottom, which is fairly easy to open if a person has equal use of both hands, which is not the case with Donna. Her right hand works well; the left is not so cooperative! So to make it possible for Donna to do this job independently it was necessary to create a couple of different ways to hold the bag in place so she could apply the sticker. Richard Lowe, a CORE/Labor Source Supported Employment Specialist, had a creative solution to this challenge. Check out the photo captions to see what he did.

The first step was taking two paperclips and bending them slightly at an upward angle, and taping them to the table so that Donna can slide the bag onto them; the paperclips anchoring the bottom fold.

The second step was taking two boxes of gloves and taping them together so that they hinge.  Donna can reach up and flip the top box over onto the Grin Treats bag, which holds it down securely. 

From here she is able to place a sticker on a right hand finger, and with another finger open the fold, then place the sticker. 

She then flips the box back up, and repeats the process.

That’s not Richard’s only clever way of overcoming obstacles to successful employment, however. He’s made quite a few. He even shared an essay he wrote to explain his thought process. Here’s an excerpt (by the way, if you don’t know who MacGyver is, learn who he is here. There couldn’t be a more appropriate symbol for Richard’s simple adaptations.):
One of the many skills needed to thrive in Supported Employment is ingenuity: the ability to look around pretty much anywhere and improvise solutions to consumer obstacles using items at hand or easily obtainable: paper towels, tape, Sharpie Marker, cardboard, magazines, on and on. As patron saint of this ability, MacGyver could cut himself free from ropes with a pine tree scented air freshener, use a dirty sock to zip-line away from imminent death, and repair and hot-wire a 30’s era truck using a paper clip, ballpoint pen, rubber band, and turkey baster.

For us lesser mortals, solutions don’t always reveal themselves so quickly; sometimes it takes months of observation and cogitating before the “simple” solution emerges as if it was obvious all along.
Imagine! consumers have strengths and challenges just like everybody else. One essential quality of the skilled Employment Specialist is to identify consumer strengths and reinforce them; and to identify challenges, then support their navigation however possible. Adaptive solutions are created specifically for each consumer based on range of motion, cognitive abilities, and fine motor skills.

SE staff are able to study immediate real world situations, incubate ideas, explore logical possibilities, and then to conceive, design, and execute solutions taking as many specific consumer variables into consideration as possible. Doing it requires basic tools, imagination, know how, and will.
Thanks Richard, for leading the way and demonstrating how sometimes the best solution to a challenge is the simplest one. Thanks also for inspiring your fellow employees and the people you serve.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Celebrate National Siblings Day

Today is National Siblings Day, so I'd like to take this opportunity to give a great big shout out to all the siblings of the individuals served by Imagine!. Siblings play a vital role in the lives of their brothers and sisters with disabilities, and many of the folks we serve are blessed with incredibly supportive siblings. In fact, several members of both the Imagine! Board of Directors and the Imagine! Foundation Board of Directors serve on the boards because of their experiences growing up with a sibling with an intellectual disability.

If you are interested in learning more, check out The Sibling Leadership Network (SLN), a national nonprofit dedicated to providing siblings of individuals with disabilities the information, support and tools to advocate with their brothers and sisters and to promote issues important to them and their entire families.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good News Friday!

For three months, Out & About Centre Stage class participants had the opportunity to learn the basics of theater. Each activity focused on integral aspects of theater production, including acting, singing, dancing, choreography, set and costume design, and lighting. Throughout this class, participants worked together to create a stage production.

The class culminated in late February with a live performance of “"CJ's Karaoke Café," where
“co-owners of the café, Charlie and Jamie, await the arrival of a Denver Post food critic when they uncover a threat left by a local gang, The Wild Scorpions. Karaoke regulars perform their audition pieces with the help of a voice-activated computerized jukebox named "Lindsay" before the food critic takes her turn. The hip-hop playing Wild Scorpions upset the peaceful scene until they are challenged by the Ghostriders, a rock 'n' roll motorcycle gang. It appears that the café will erupt in violence when Jamie intervenes and convinces the gangs that it's better to sing than fight and, with Lindsay's help, she teaches them that 'all you need is love' by performing the Beatles classic.”

The program and performance were facilitated by Oliver Gerland, Associate Professor/Director of Graduate Studies Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Colorado. Oliver teaches theatre classes including Drama and Disability.

By all accounts, the performance was a huge hit!

In fact, the class and the performance were highlighted in articles on the University of Colorado Outreach and Engagement website (the quote above is from that article), and on the University of Colorado College of Arts and Sciences website.

Both articles were great, but I want to mention one quote that I think sums up the whole experience: “We accomplished all that in 20 hours! It's crazy and completely wonderful! And impossible without the awesome support of Imagine!'s Out & About staff,” Gerland said.

Congratulations to Out & About staff members and participants for demonstrating in a very public way the skills, talents, and strengths that the individuals we serve at Imagine! are bringing to their communities every day!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lessons From Steve Jobs

I find the method of innovation of state-related functions very interesting. This is not restricted to Colorado, by the way, but recent experience allows me to refer to Colorado. For example, there are leaders who believe that innovation requires stakeholder participation, customer participation, and end-user participation throughout the innovative process. I am familiar with statements such as, "Nothing about us, without us." This is particularly relevant to the disability community. Professional advocate organizations are available and often desire to participate throughout an innovative process.

While thinking about this, I came across an article in "The Harvard Business Review," The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. One of the highlighted lessons in this article is is Don't Become a Slave to Focus Groups. In explaining this lesson, Issacson notes that Jobs often invoked a quote from Henry Ford, "If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse!'" Isaacson went on the explain, "Caring deeply about what customers want is much different from continually asking them what they want; it requires intuition and instinct about desires that have not yet formed. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page, Jobs explained. Instead of relying on market research, he honed his version of empathy - an intimate intuition about the desires of his customers. "

Coincidently, I have recently questioned people with whom I work, "Have we learned nothing from Steve Jobs?" I wonder if there are not some lessons for us in our field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. I wonder if we really expect innovative practices to emerge from full stakeholder groups. Do we really expect solutions for new systems design, wait list issues, financial shortfalls, and a whole host of service and support shortcomings to be resolved in stakeholder groups? Stakeholder groups, advisory committees, and commissions that study often grow to unmanageable size, and often include subordinate groups and task forces. By the time groups of this size can even assemble, opportunities for innovation may have passed. One has to wonder if groups’ attention spans are inversely proportioned to the number of members.

That being said, is it more likely that true innovation is found elsewhere? Is it possible that new and different life improvements for people with disabilities will more likely emerge from the periphery? Jobs suggested that systems change is most effective with focused, responsible, A-Players leading the way. Those that know both The Big Picture and The Details. It’s a great article.

Then again, what do I know?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Light It Up Blue!

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, and I encourage you all to “Light It Up Blue” to help shine a light on autism.

Learn more here.