Monday, August 30, 2010


If you read my blog at all, you know some of the words I use frequently include “challenges,” “issues,” or “difficulties.” The fact is we work in a tough environment. And once in a while all of us in the field need a little inspiration.

Personally, I find it helpful to keep readily available a list of inspiring quotations. When a day seems especially tough or a problem seems insurmountable, I’ll take a quick look at the quotes to help me re-focus and re-energize. The quotes reflect my own philosophy on how to lead, manage, and how to navigate the landscape during difficult times. I’d like to share some of those quotes with you today.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change."
Charles Darwin

“The looking forward to better and better things is one of the many privileges people of moderate means enjoy over those who can buy whatever they want, whenever they like.”
Marion Harland, 1889

“How do you distinguish the truly great talent from the rest?
The right people don't need to be managed. If you need to tightly mange someone, you have made a hiring mistake.
The right people don't think they have a job: They have responsibilities.
The right people do what they say they will do, which means being really careful about what they say they will do.
People who take credit in good times and blame external forces in bad times do not deserve to lead.”
Jim Collins

"If you are violating your standards faster than you can lower them, it is time to go away."
Robin Williams

"For me, reading widely outside of one's discipline has been probably the biggest source of ideas."
Lawrence Baxter

"Always do a little more work than you're being paid for, and you'll never have to worry about a job."
Earl Proulx, Author of Yankee Magazine’s Plain Talk column, quoting his father

“Having goals for self-improvement is important. Even if you never meet them, the journey along the way yields its own rewards.”
Mr. Data, Star Trek, The Next Generation, describing human beings

This last one I find especially important – it is a reminder why we do what we do everyday. Just as importantly, it serves as a call to action to prevent the feelings expressed by this one parent from becoming widespread among the families we serve.

"Now, for the first time I have little hope. In the not-so-distant future, Andrew's affliction will likely present us with a crisis for which there is no solution other than the destruction of our family."
- from a Dad in Colorado of a boy w/ significant needs.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Good News Friday!

Dawn Marie Candelaria-Bisgard, a talented artist who receives services from Imagine!, is one of 70 artists whose self-portraits will be on display in Washington, D.C. during a special event on September 13 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ANCOR, the American Network of Community Options and Resources. ANCOR was founded in 1970 as an association of organizations that support community integration for people with disabilities. The artworks will be on display during the invitation-only special event, being held at the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.

“This exhibit really brings the voices of the people with disabilities we serve into our celebration,” said ANCOR CEO Renee L. Pietrangelo. “The remarkable energy, diversity and creativity of the pieces underscore the value of supporting community integration and self-expression for everyone, including individuals with disabilities.”

Congratulations, Dawn Marie!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pay Attention!

Sometimes, we all have problems with paying attention. For a great example of what I mean, check out this video. (It is two minutes long and well worth your time).

At Imagine!, we have worked hard to create a culture where our employees do, in fact, pay attention to what is going on around them.


Because if we are always on the lookout for good ideas, or always acting as “trend hunters” searching for trends that may have a significant impact on what we do (even if the connection between the trend and Imagine!’s operational model isn’t immediately clear), opportunities may arise that we otherwise wouldn’t recognize.

Recently, we have had a couple of examples of how this culture of paying attention has proven beneficial. Just last week, we saw an opportunity to promote some of our ideas about new approaches to service funding and delivery through a grant and an online survey. We’d been formulating the ideas and testing them for some time, but by paying attention and being prepared we were able to seize an unexpected opportunity – an opportunity that may result in a dramatic shift in the way services are funded and delivered in the future.

And speaking of service delivery and the future, I couldn’t help but notice that National Public Radio is doing a series of reports this week on what it describes as “the quiet revolution that aims to make it easier for seniors to age at home.” Just two weeks ago I made this blog post about providing personal supports to seniors, and how closely matched those supports are to the supports we provide to the populations we serve at Imagine!. And Imagine! is well positioned, via our SmartHomes project, to be at the epicenter of this new way of caring for vulnerable populations.

My goal here is not to brag (at least too much, anyway). Instead, I just want to emphasize the importance of not getting so wrapped up the day to day challenges that all of us in this field face that we don’t pay attention to what is happening around us. Doing so can lead to missed opportunities, and in this environment, we can’t afford to make those kind of mistakes.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Good News Friday!

I am pleased to introduce the members of Imagine!’s 2010-2011 Leadership Development Group (LDG).

Kate Veeder, Jeff Portlock, Kristen Fledderjohn, Catherine Cossette, and Stefanie Eldredge will spend a good part of the next year taking part in a program designed to provide a coordinated platform that strategically develops talent within Imagine! to address the company’s leadership needs for the future. The program is also designed to educate the participants about the complexities of our organization and to assist management in learning about people with talent that may be good matches for leadership roles.

Each participant in the Leadership Development Group (LDG) will gain a broad understanding of leadership skills and be provided the opportunity to apply their learning in various settings. Each participant will assess their present strengths and areas for growth and to realize their potential for leadership. Leadership skills and knowledge gained will be applicable in any aspect of the successful participant’s experiences.

The group has already hit the ground running. As you can see in the picture to the right, earlier this week, Kate, Jeff, Stefanie and I met to get to know each other and to talk about the program, Imagine!, and the world of developmental disabilities.

Just last week I made a blog past about Imagine!’s commitment to planning for the future despite the many challenges we currently face. I believe our Leadership Development Group is another example of this commitment.

Congratulations to the newest LDG class! I look forward to working with you.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time For Change - And You Can Help!

Imagine! wants to change the way services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities are funded and delivered. We have an opportunity to do so, and we need your help!

First, a quick refresher. If you have been reading my blog over the past year, you know that Imagine! has been engaging in efforts big and small to explore different approaches and philosophies in terms of how we work. We’ve done so despite operating in a climate that is change resistant, a climate that has experienced large decreases in resources coupled with a circling of the wagons among providers, government entities, advocates, and other concerned parties, leading to little collaboration and a scarcity of new ideas.

We’ve done so because we believe it is the right thing to do, and because we feel we owe it to the individuals and families we serve. We have also done so because we believed that being prepared would put us in a strong position to act if an opportunity to make a significant change arose.

Well, that opportunity has come about.

Imagine! has just submitted an application for a 5-year $1.25 million federal grant that would help fund a whole new system for addressing the needs of all of the unserved individuals with developmental disabilities in Boulder and Broomfield counties. This is a part of a larger Imagine! commitment to create innovative models that will enable us to serve all individuals with developmental disabilities in our area both now and far into the future.

The title of our grant application is A New Vision. Here are some of the key elements of the application:

• Imagine!’s A New Vision maintains a person-centered and family-centered approach will promote self-determination and will facilitate the allocation of resources to ensure that the most important issues of all individuals and families in the grant are addressed.
A New Vision is the key to sustainability, because it offers a natural way to prioritize and address the most pressing issues facing the participating families as a whole.
• In economics, the term for allocating existing resources according to a hierarchy of needs is known as
demand management. A New Vision brings this model – long used in other domains such as public utilities management – to the human services field.
A New Vision uses new and emerging technologies to maximize impact while limiting expenses.
• The current funding landscape is dominated by a deficit-model mindset in which services and supports are based upon what an individual cannot do, creating a cycle of dependency. In contrast, A New Vision service model focuses on the strengths of the individual and what the person can do in order to build capacity throughout the individual’s life.
• Imagine! will partner with a number of public and private entities in the implementation of A New Vision.

You can read more about this ambitious grant application by clicking here.

We will hear whether or not we have been awarded the grant by the end of September.

In the meantime, you can help make this New Vision a reality!

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Developmental Disabilities (ADD) is seeking input on how they can best meet the diverse needs of individuals with developmental disabilities, and their families, across the country via this survey. According to their website:

ADD seeks to utilize our resources to work on the priorities of the developmental disabilities community, and we hope to focus our energy on the most pressing and relevant concerns affecting people with developmental disabilities and their families. As such, we are looking for your thoughts regarding the focus of future Projects of National Significance (PNS). The purpose of PNS is to:

• Create opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to directly and fully contribute to, and participate in, all facets of community life; and
• Support the development of national and state policy development, with the support and assistance of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, to reinforce and promote the self-determination, independence, productivity, inclusion, and integration of these individuals into all facets of community life.

Additionally, the site tells us:

Ideal PNS efforts are sustainable, can be replicated, promote systems change, and encourage collaboration. They may include, but are not limited to, initiatives related to family support, data collection, technical assistance, information and referral, self-advocacy support, educating policymakers, federal interagency initiatives, support for the participation of racial and ethnic minorities, youth transition, quality assurance, aging adults and aging caregivers, access to generic community services, community economic development, increased community living options, positive behavioral supports… or, of course, other emerging needs.

Imagine!’s New Vision grant application fits the description above of a Project of National Significance to a “T.” Completed ADD surveys highlighting some of the key points of our New Vision might help influence decision makers as they look to new ways of prioritizing based upon the needs of the community.

Therefore, I strongly encourage you to fill out the ADD survey and let them know what you think!

You don’t have to use our bullets above to let them know what is important to you, of course. Even if you have different ideas, you don’t want to miss this great opportunity to help shape the future direction of the way services for some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens are funded and delivered. The time is now to act on a chance to construct a new paradigm; potentially creating the biggest meaningful change in the lives of those we serve since the early days of de-institutionalization.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Good News Friday!

Today is the final day of Imagine!’s Out & About Summer Camp 2010. The program is designed for school aged kids and has a stated goal of providing a sense of acceptance and self among peers, to enhance participant’s quality of life through the development of socialization skills and coordination skills and to promote community integration.

This year’s program was a great success. Out & About staff members served more than 50 Boulder and Broomfield county families. The kids had a great summer and were able to experience a variety of activities in the community including therapeutic horseback riding, trips to Water World and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, and outdoor activities including fishing and canoeing.

Out & About staff members aren’t resting on their laurels, however. Instead, they are gearing up for the start of their After School Program.

I want to congratulate the entire Out & About staff for their continued dedication to ensuring that school aged children with one or more developmental disabilities have opportunities to fully engage in their communities.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Planning Now For The Future

Earlier this week, members of Imagine!’s leadership team took a day away from our regular routine to spend time focusing on strategic planning. I have always believed that looking ahead and planning for the future is essential to what we do at Imagine!. It is too easy in our field to give in to the many pressures and challenges we all face everyday and to accept the status quo. I am proud to say that has never been the Imagine! way, and our strategic planning sessions provide a great example of our commitment to innovation when it comes to our structure and services.

In my opinion, this commitment has never been more important to our organization than now. Considering the economic downturn and the funding cuts we’ve had to endure in the past few years, coupled with increasing restriction on what kinds of services can be delivered and how, it is absolutely necessary that we do everything we can to find low cost or no cost ways to improve our operational efficiency in order to maintain the level of quality services we provide.

As a result of our strategic planning and the dedication, creativity, and hard work of Imagine! staff members, regardless of position or role, we have come up with a wide variety of ways to lower our operational costs so as to avoid negative impacts on our service delivery.

Here are just a few examples: we made great strides in improving the energy efficiency of our residential homes; we have developed collaborations with other human services organizations in our area; we have increased our recycling efforts as we strive to be a Zero Waste organization; we have embraced Social Media to our improve internal and external communication; and we have increased our use of volunteers. I could list many more, but you get the picture.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention employee layoffs. Our workforce has decreased, mostly through attrition, but we have worked diligently to avoid any large scale reduction. Why? Because if you look at the statistics, that method of cost reduction is not actually effective in the long run. According to “The Impact of Layoffs on Workers and their Companies: Some Observations and Recommendations” by David Sirota, Ph.D., Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Sirota Survey Intelligence:

During the 1980s and 1990s, downsizings (or “restructurings,” “reengineerings,” “rightsizings,” “smartsizings,” “outsourcings, “offshorings,” and “workforce optimizations”) became quite fashionable in this country. But studies of the impact of these actions demonstrated that, at the very least, their projected savings were greatly overestimated. Basically, the studies showed that only about a third of the companies that downsized gained in increased productivity and profits over the subsequent 3-5 year period. Further, these companies underperformed the stock market over that time: research done in the mid-‘90’s found that downsizing companies outperformed the S&P only slightly during the six months following news of a restructuring, then lagged badly, netting a negative 24% by the end of three years. One study found that, on average, a 10% reduction in people resulted in only a 1.5% percent reduction in costs.

(You can read the whole report here)

Furthermore, according to Sirota:

When the company begins to recover, there will be the large costs of recruitment, performance deficits due to inexperience, and training, plus disenchanted employees leaving for employment elsewhere.

So if we want to look at the future of our organization (which really means the futures of the individuals we serve) we need to be thoughtful about the actions we take today. To me, that means making our best efforts to retain the great employees we have now and to look at other ways of cutting our operations budget.

I don’t mean to say here that Imagine! has identified every way possible to improve our operational efficiency. Not even close. We still have inefficiencies and we still need to explore what we can do on our side to ensure individuals with one or more developmental disabilities in our community have access to high quality services that enable them to fully engage in their communities. But we are dedicated to that goal, and I believe our strategic planning efforts will allow us to keep sight of that goal despite all the distractions and challenges we face.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Good News Friday!

You probably already know that many of the individuals we serve are talented artists. If you haven’t had a chance to see some of the fantastic art created by Imagine! artists, there are several upcoming opportunities to do so.

Teresa Christoff, a local Boulder artist (seen in the photo to the right) who receives services from Imagine!, has an art display at the Java Stop Coffee House in Longmont, which will run until August 29. And tomorrow, August 7, from noon until 2 PM, Teresa will be on hand at a reception marking her art show. If you have a chance, be sure to drop by and say “hi” and congratulate her! You can learn a little more about Teresa and her art by clicking here.

Starting Friday, September 10, Java Stop Coffee House will be displaying works of art created by students in Imagine!’s C.O.R.E./Labor Source. There will be an opening reception from 4 to 6 PM. The event is free.

Students in the C.O.R.E./Labor Source art classes will stay in the spotlight by taking part in the Open Arts Fall Artist Tour. They will have a piece (a 40"x40" re-creation of Imagine!’s Dream Rocket Quilt) on display at the tour’s opening reception, October 1, at the Boulder Public Library Main Branch from 6 to 8 PM. After this opening, during the first two Saturdays in October (Oct. 2 and 9) the Open Studios Tour will include the Boulder C.O.R.E./Labor Source headquarters (5412 Western Avenue), where Imagine! artists will be doing live art demos for the public.

Last, but certainly not least, on Friday, November 5, participants in C.O.R.E./Labor Source programs will be displaying their many talents at a gallery show and performance. The gallery reception will begin at 5 PM, with the performance starting at 7 pm. The event will take place at The Dairy Center for the Arts.

Please take advantage of the opportunity to attend one or more of these events. I think you’ll find it well worth your time to see what kind of artistic creations the folks we serve can produce if given the opportunity.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Crisis On The DSP Front

The month of September features a day to celebrate the achievements of American workers, so it seems only appropriate that the week beginning September 12 has been designated as “National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week” by the U.S. Senate. The designation recognizes the invaluable supports Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide and the difference this workforce makes in the lives of Americans with disabilities.

We are so fortunate here in Colorado to have so many dedicated, talented, and passionate people who are willing not only to take on this difficult job, but to excel at it. Many of you readers no doubt see first hand every day the impact a Direct Support Professional can have on an individual with a cognitive or developmental disability.

I am glad this group of often underappreciated employees is being honored in this way, but it also brings to my mind a big challenge we will soon be facing (if we are not already there): there won’t be enough DSPs to meet the need for services.

Here’s a couple of charts that may help explain this:


Both in terms of overall numbers and as a percentage of the total population, the elderly population in the U.S. is growing at a rapid rate – and with the aging of the baby boomer generation, those numbers will continue to rise.

What does this have to do with a shortage of DSPs in the DD field? Well, we already know that many in the elderly population desire personal supports that are quite similar to the personal supports for those with developmental disabilities. Therefore, there will be increased competition for the services coupled with a smaller percentage of the overall population available to provide those serves.

In short, in less than a generation, we won’t have the workforce to provide all the services demanded, even if there was enough funding available for those services (an unlikely prospect).

We have a short timeline in which to create a system of supports and services that matches the reality we are soon to face. An obvious way to go would be to use technology to fill the gap of services. I can easily envision a supports system that seamlessly shifts from assistive technology to live services depending on the needs of an individual. A cost effective model that uses Demand Management principles to get the best rate of return on the limited amount of resources we have.

The technologies to make that vision possible are already emerging.

The problem is we have not seen a parallel emergence of ideas on how to shift our funding mechanisms or policies, or a shift in policies at any level of government: local, State, or Federal.

I find this surprising, because I think we are looking at a great opportunity. Those of us in the DD field have a chance to use our passion, smarts, and creativity to create a new paradigm on how services are funded and delivered; potentially creating the biggest meaningful change in the lives of those we serve since the early days of de-institutionalization.

Then again, what do I know?