Wednesday, May 5, 2010

All About Community

Spring is in full bloom here in the Rockies, and it seems like everyone is coming out of hibernation. Neighbors are reconnecting as they venture outside again to do yard work or to take a walk to the ice cream shop. The talk turns to the weather or marveling about how the neighborhood kids grew over the winter, and smiles and laughs abound.

It is a perfect example of how a community comes together, and to me, it serves as evidence of the power of community. We all need those connections.

Colorado’s relatively unique system of services for individuals with developmental disabilities also builds vital connections because it is community-based, and I believe that structure has brought many advantages to the State and to the populations we serve.

This is the case because when the system was built many years ago, it was done so with significant input from the end users, the families and individuals who benefit from the variety of programs and services available to them.

Let me list just a few of the many ways this community-based system brings value to the State and to consumers and their families:

• The system allows for advocacy, including the advocacy role of community centered boards, to take place at the local level, resulting in users having significant influence on services.

• The community-based system is in a better position to track key data and project future needs, such as the number of children eligible for Early Intervention services in an area, or how many children in the foster care system are diagnosed with a developmental disability.

• Community-based third party organizations help keep watch on State expenses, policies, and regulation which increases the likelihood of cost effective programs and services.

• Communities know best what their needs are, and a community-based system provides more motivation to keep up with best practices to meet those needs.

• A community-based system creates incentives for seeking new resource possibilities.

Even more important, a community based system of services means that the services provided reflect the interests and values of the community. Let me give you a simple example.

Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for one-to-one friendships and organizing group activities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Two years ago, through its University of Colorado Boulder Chapter, Best Buddies partnered with Imagine!, and 28 Imagine! consumers and 27 CU students participated in a variety of events. The collaboration continues today with even more consumers and students taking part.

One of the most well received Best Buddies events was a recent opportunity for some of our consumers to meet University of Colorado football coach Dan Hawkins. For some of our consumers who grew up in Boulder, and bleed gold and black with their friends and families every Saturday during the fall, this was an extremely exciting moment.

But what if the consumers participating weren’t from Boulder? What if they were from Ft. Collins, and had grown up supporting the Colorado State University football team? Would they be excited about meeting Coach Hawkins? Probably not. They might even be angry about it.

Now this example may be simple, but it does illustrate why community matters. Unfortunately, there has been a trend in the way services are delivered in this State that has moved us further and further away from the services being community-based. Funding mechanisms now in place are set up to deliver a “generic” service to individuals with “generic” needs.

But no individual’s need is generic, nor is any community generic. Across this great State of ours, community values vary widely, and of course, every individual served in the State has different needs, goals and desires.

The shift from community-based services to a more uniform approach has resulted in generic quality services with no corresponding cost savings. Nobody – not the taxpayer, not the community, not the families, and certainly not the consumer – has been better served by this shift.

So let’s make sure we are doing this right. It is too important to mess up. Let’s not take the community out of the equation.

Then again, what do I know?

No comments:

Post a Comment