Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Taking Care of Employees (And Business)

I’d like to start this post out by complimenting the employees at Imagine!.

We are so fortunate here to have so many dedicated, talented, and passionate people who are willing not only to take on the difficult job of providing services to some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens, but to excel at it. The pay isn’t great and many of the jobs here are incredibly physically and emotionally demanding, and yet so many of our employees go above and beyond every day.

Because of the great efforts Imagine! employees put into their jobs every day, I feel an obligation to look closely at our organization to see if we are returning the favor. Are we taking care of our employees? I’m afraid the answer to that isn’t always yes.

When I talk about taking care of employees, I don’t just mean, or even principally mean, financially. I mean something deeper than that. I mean that I wonder if we are providing Imagine! employees with a culture that encourages creativity and innovation.

I have said many times in this forum that those of us in the DD world need to be looking for new answers and approaches in our efforts to improve the current system we operate under, and to find better and more efficient ways to serve those we already serve as well as those who need services but don’t currently receive them.

Because of the mistrust that is so prevalent among many of the key stakeholders in our system, our employees constantly feel pressure coming from all directions, and are weighed down by expectations that may not be possible to meet.

So how can we overcome those challenges and create an organization that is a magnet for creativity? Where ideas flow freely and openly and are embraced in the spirit of a constant striving to do better?

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m looking. Once place I have started my explorations is through the Disney Institute. I have attended a couple of sessions, as have other members of Imagine!’s executive and supervisory teams.

By the way, this doesn’t mean we went to Disney World or Epcot Center!

Instead, we attended some local sessions designed, as their literature says, to introduce us to the side of Disney few people ever see – the business side. The sessions are geared toward prompting us to look at our organizational issues in a new light, and identify specific Disney philosophies, strategies, concepts, and tactics that may be able to enhance our success at Imagine!.

I’m not saying these sessions have provided one-size-fits-all solutions to Imagine!’s organizational challenges, rather, I think it provides a framework in which we can explore new ways of addressing the challenges we face.

I think we owe it to Imagine! employees to create a culture where they have the best possible chance to succeed, a culture that is infused with creativity and innovation. Because in the end, it is not really just about the employees. If we don’t take care of our employees, they won’t be in a position to provide the best services to our community. That is not what we want – it goes against our mission and against my whole reason for being at this great organization in the first place. We do good work, but we can, and will, do better.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Good News Friday!

On Friday, July 23rd, during the news hour (between 8AM-9AM, most likely around 8:15AM), students in Imagine!’s C.O.R.E./Labor Source Journalism Class will have a radio piece they created airing on KGNU radio (88.5FM or online at http://www.kgnu.org/).

The students did everything themselves: writing the script, recording the audio, mixing the audio, editing (with some help from staff this first time around), choosing the music, and pretty much everything else.

A few of the members of the class will also be going on the air live to introduce themselves and the piece itself. What will be aired will be an excerpted version of the full piece (for time reasons), but the full piece will be online for anyone to listen to.

Congrats to the students in the class, and please listen if you get a chance!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Matter of Trust

You know those trust exercises where someone falls backwards and they trust their friends to catch them? Well, they don’t always work.

The dark humored video above makes me wonder where we are, trust-wise, here in Colorado in the field of services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities. Is it possible that the level of trust among all interested parties is at an all time low? Does the state trust the community of providers? Do the providers trust the Community Centered Boards? Can the advocacy agencies trust anyone? And families . . . well, can they simply be asked to trust the publicly-funded support system to meet the needs of their loved ones?

I didn’t always ask these questions. During the 1970s and 1980s, when de-institutionalization was taking place at a rapid pace, the level of trust and collaboration was impressively high. Those in charge of the funding streams trusted providers to “get the job done” and gave them a degree of freedom that, in turn, allowed providers to be creative in how services were delivered. This creativity led to many, many success stories. And families suddenly saw incredible opportunities for their loved ones, opportunities that simply didn’t exist in the past.

But somewhere down the line, you have to wonder, has the trust eroded? As funding streams shrunk, the organizations in control of the funding streams, and the organizations that received the funding closed ranks and struggled to protect their rapidly diminishing territories. As a result, far too many times families fell backwards expecting to be caught, only to find themselves flat on their backs on the ground.

Families have realized that the early promises made to them regarding the care of their loved ones won’t be kept. They can see the future, and sadly, all they see is what the future doesn’t hold for them. They are left to wonder how their loved ones will be cared for when they are no longer around to do the job.

About the only thing all the parties involved in this circle of mistrust agree upon is that the prevalence of developmental disabilities in our communities is not going down. The need remains, but there remain many questions surrounding the commitment and collaboration of the community to meeting that need.

I’m not trying to be all gloom and doom here. The point of this post is to be unafraid of getting some of these issues out in the open. Too few people are comfortable with addressing the fact that as a system, we aren’t doing a good job of meeting the needs of those we serve. Many, in fact, don’t get any services at all.

We can’t move forward if we don’t acknowledge that a certain level of trust is required. It is time to admit that we are lagging way behind in our efforts to serve some of our most vulnerable citizens and start honest discussions aimed at improving those efforts.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Good News Friday!

The Millennium Harvest House in Boulder is continuing its support of the community by hosting non-profit groups during each of the 2010 FAC Rockin’ The Gardens concerts. The Millennium is located at 1345 28th Street, Boulder, CO 80302 (just south of the intersection at Arapahoe and 28th Streets, behind the Safeway).

Imagine! will be a featured non-profit at the FAC on July 23, from 5:30 – 9:30 PM. The event is free and features a performance by the Steve Thomas Band.

Imagine! artists from C.O.R.E./Labor Source art classes will be on hand, and attendees of the FAC will have opportunities to learn about Imagine!, and are welcome to draw and paint with our consumers.

Last year, many kids who attended the concert sat side by side with Imagine! artists, creating mini masterpieces together. I’m looking forward to seeing the creative artwork I’m sure will emerge from this year’s event.

Please consider joining us to help to raise awareness for Imagine! by attending the event.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Good News Friday!

“Every man, woman, and child with a disability now can pass through the once closed doors into a bright new era of freedom, independence, and equality.”
President George H.W. Bush, July 26, 1990
July 26, 2010, marks the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is the landmark legislation for people with disabilities that has laid a foundation of equality and rights for all people with disabilities. Thanks to the ADA, many people with disabilities have access to businesses of all types, access to public and private transportation, access to education and employment, access to telecommunication and media, and access to basic rights such as voting.

The Center for People With Disabilities, Special Transit, Imagine!, and Employment Link are celebrating the successes and advancements made in the last 20 years while preparing to meet the challenges that remain for ensuring full inclusion for all people with disabilities.

Events on the 26th include:

Rally for Equality
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Boulder Pearl Street Mall, in front of the Courthouse.
Get re-energized and empowered as speakers from the disability community, past and present politicos, and others fire up the crowd with speeches about what the ADA means to all of us, and how we must continue to reaffirm our commitment to the ADA! Make and bring a sign supporting disability rights.

Awards Celebration
4 p.m.

Center for People With Disabilities, 1675 Range St., Boulder.
Enjoy light hors d’oeuvres, music and an awards presentation honoring individuals and businesses that have been instrumental in ensuring equality for people with disabilities in Boulder County. Free and open to the public.

Please join us in this celebration!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Palms, Stars, Cards – Oh My!

Within our world we have recognized a handful of predictors of behavior change. Some of these include group counseling, medication, psycho-surgery, studies of religion, mechanical devices, palms - stars – cards – horoscopes, and principles of behavior analysis. It doesn’t matter to me that users can produce evidence to support the success of any of these predictors. What matters is that public funding streams for systems of support for people with intellectual disabilities typically rely on the last item in that list; principles of behavior analysis.

People that built their careers in this profession learned to concentrate on methods such as building behavior, occasioning behavior, extending behavior, and strengthening behavior. These methods offer opportunities and provide support for success. Sure, the principles of behavior analysis also include methods of decreasing and eliminating behavior. The principles run the full gamut of prediction of behavior. Generally, however, we are more interested in the building of behavior where it does not exist.

Sadly, funding streams in support of people with intellectual disabilities, Medicaid in particular, are more interested in the decreasing and elimination of problem behavior; specifically “remediation” of a behavior.

Here is a test: think up a preferred behavior that does not exist – increased frequency of telling funny jokes (imagine if we all did this). Now write this into a plan of care funded by Medicaid, and insist that you get assessment and intervention designed by a professional of behavior analysis to increase this behavior. You can be guaranteed that payment for this service will not be forthcoming.

On the other hand, if you focus on a “problem behavior”, such as frequent telling of off-color, humorless jokes, you very well might see payment for professional intervention. The funds only support a portion of the principles of behavior analysis.

Those responsible for funding streams assume that the building of new behavior happens naturally, without intervention, every day.

The reality is, for people who find it difficult to learn, building new desired behavior does not happen naturally every day. What happens naturally is just as likely to be not preferred. We need to see financial support for building behavior, occasioning behavior, extending behavior, and strengthening behavior.

You won’t win the World Cup by keeping the ball out of your own net. You must put the ball in the opponent’s net. This is done by recognizing the occasion to shoot, increasing the frequency and quality of shots on goal, and strengthening the support for shots taken.

Then again, what do I know?