Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speak at a Boulder Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. You can watch a video clip of his presentation (it is about a half an hour long) below.

A good portion of his remarks centered on his goal of branding Colorado as a business friendly state, a place, in his words, that “does things differently.” He spoke of attracting young entrepreneurs to the State to encourage business development and mentioned several strategies to entice them, such as providing more access to capital or to mentors. He also discussed his goal of creating a government in Colorado that is efficient, effective, and elegant.

During a short Q & A following his speech, I was able to thank him for his recent efforts to protect services for individuals with developmental disabilities living in Colorado. Read more about those efforts here, you can hear my comment at the 26:30 point in the video below.

After my comment, the Governor expounded on his reasoning behind protecting those services, stating that there is a strong economic development argument for taking care of those he described as the “last and the least.”

I couldn’t agree more. Take, for example, the Governor’s declared goal of attracting creative and ambitious entrepreneurs to the State. Well, if a creative and ambitious entrepreneur-type happens to have a family member with a disability, he or she is not likely to bring those entrepreneurial talents to a State that isn’t willing to, or capable of, supporting that family member’s needs. I happen to believe that having the proper infrastructure that can meet the needs of all citizens in the State is an essential piece of branding Colorado as a business friendly place.

In fact, my only surprise with the Governor’s presentation was that he left out that word “essential” when he listed his other “E” words necessary for creating a successful government (efficient, effective, and elegant). I’ve heard the Governor and other members of his administration include essential in that list in previous presentations, and I’m extremely encouraged (hey – two other “E” words!) that essential is considered to be a crucial aspect of their approach to government.

A recent commenter on one of my earlier blog posts said it best: "Many people in today's society don't like to admit that they benefit from the public good. Flies in the face of our myths of individualism, and raises the notion that we owe something to the efforts of managing the public good. But this point - that we all benefit from good human service - must be championed."

Providing services to some of our most vulnerable citizens isn’t something to be done just because it makes us feel good about ourselves. It should be done because it is essential to the health, well being, and yes, even the economic development of our communities.

Thank you, Governor Hickenlooper, for recognizing and acting on that truism.

Then again, what do I know?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Good News Friday! (Thursday Edition)

I have a busy schedule tomorrow, but this is such a good story I didn’t want to wait, so today I will be treating you all to a special Thursday edition of Good News Friday.

We have a new business partner for the supported employment arm of Imagine!’s CORE/Labor Source department. Twisted Pine Brewing Company, located in Boulder, has recently begun using a Labor Source work crew. The work crew’s tasks are relatively simple. The crew puts four cartons for six packs into larger case boxes and then fills the six pack cartons with a variety of Twisted Pine beers to create variety packs for sale.

The tasks may be relatively simple, but the results are profound. When companies like Twisted Pine hire individuals with developmental disabilities, they are offering them the opportunity to develop vital job skills and become active participants in their communities. The folks they hire take home paychecks, pay taxes, and spend their hard earned dollars in the community. If that isn’t a great definition of community inclusion, then I don’t know what is.

The good folks at Twisted Pine have demonstrated their commitment to providing supported employment to those with significant needs even further by carving out a special position for Gerald. For those of you who don’t know him, Gerald lives in the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome in Boulder. Gerald has significant physical disabilities, including limited mobility and a limited ability to communicate vocally. Over the past few years, however, Gerald has used an assistive communication device called a DynaVox to improve his ability to communicate his needs and desires. He has also used the device to begin to learn how to read and write – at the age of 48!

Twisted Pine is collaborating with Gerald, Labor Source, and the staff members at the SmartHome to create some tasks that Gerald can perform at Twisted Pine using his DynaVox, including assisting with inventory and even making posts on the Twisted Pine Facebook page! Gerald has already shown his willingness to be a dedicated employee – he has studied feverishly to get up to speed on his numbers and counting using the DynaVox.

Thanks to Twisted Pine for demonstrating their commitment to their community and the individuals Imagine! serves. Congratulations to Gerald and the other members of the Twisted Pine work crew for demonstrating their true capabilities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slap Shot

Growing up in the Northeast Kingdom, I naturally gravitated toward playing winter sports, especially
hockey. I have very fond memories of lacing up my skates and sliding across the uneven surfaces of frozen ponds, spending hours with my friends trying to shoot the puck through makeshift goals.

Although we did our best in those games to divide players so that the talent levels were even, it seemed as though every once in a while one team would end up completely dominating the other team. When you were on the team on the wrong side of that equation, often the best strategy was to stay back, focus on defense, and just wait for that right moment when the opportunity arose to suddenly surge forward on offense for a quick breakout play. Ideally, that breakout play would result in a score. The key to a successful breakout play was being prepared, and in the right position, when the opportunity arose.

Now, I know that very few of my blog readers read this blog in order to enjoy my waxing nostalgic about a carefree youth spent on the ice. Fear not. There is a point to my recollections.

For the past two and one half years, those of us in the DD field in Colorado have been playing our own form of defense against a seemingly superior opponent. Budget cuts and system changes have pushed us back further and further, and we’ve spent an inordinate amount of our time desperately maneuvering just to protect our services and organizations. We’ve made difficult decisions, like cutting back or eliminating programs, laying off employees, and pinching pennies wherever possible. We’ve been forced into a defensive stance, and have not had the opportunity to give much thought or preparation on how to break out when the opportunity presented itself.

I happen to believe that now is the time for a breakout play. The economic crisis that precipitated some, but by no means all, of our defensive posturing seems to be improving. Colorado’s new Governor Hickenlooper seems to be genuinely interested in creating a government that is essential, more efficient, effective, and elegant – including the way in which services for individuals with developmental disabilities are funded and delivered. The rink has opened up, and the time is now for us to move forward with the puck.

The question is – are we currently prepared and in the right position to make the breakout play? If the answer is no, then we need to reposition ourselves immediately. We can’t be comfortable staying where we are, or patting ourselves on the back just because we survived a few rounds of budget cuts with a few bruises and minimal scarring. As the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, stated, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” We need to be able to anticipate where the opportunities for us will be, and make sure we are there ahead of them.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we fundamentally change who we are and what we do. Our mission and goal of providing opportunities for genuine community integration for those we serve should remain first and foremost. In hockey, the ultimate objective is to put the puck in the opponent’s net. That doesn’t change. What does change, and what makes playing a sport like hockey such a joy, is the path that the puck takes to get into the net. That is where the creativity, skill, and anticipation come in.

Likewise, our stated goals for the individuals we serve won’t change. However, the way we get there can, and must, change if we are to take advantage of this opportunity to breakout. Let’s do it now before we are required to play defense again.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Good News Friday!

If you’d like to learn a little more about the people Imagine! serves and the contributions the are bringing to their communities, here are a couple of good opportunities:

Last week, the Discovery Science Channel featured Alonzo Clemons (who receives support services from Imagine!, that’s him in the picture to the right) on the show "Ingenious Minds." Alonzo is a gifted sculptor, and in the episode he meets with Mayo Clinic neurologists to see how brain damage can improve brain function for one skill. If you weren’t able to catch the show, you can take a look at Alonzo’s segment by clicking here.

And this coming Monday, March 14, from 10-11 AM, participants in Imagine!’s CORE/Labor Source “On The Air” radio class will be appearing live on the “Colorado & Company” TV show (KUSA Channel 9 in Denver). It should be great! If you can’t get to a TV, you can still watch the live stream by clicking here.

The “On The Air” class is a great example of Imagine!’s mission in action. Students produce a wide variety of radio segments with their own unique perspective, providing a great way to demonstrate what people with developmental disabilities can offer to their communities if given a chance. The students create the radio pieces from start to finish – they brainstorm ideas, agree as a group what they’d like to do a story on, go out in the community to do the interviews, write, record, and edit the pieces.

The students give the finished product to KGNU radio in Boulder, which airs them. They have done stories recently about Frozen Dead Guy days in Nederland, touring an ice cream factory in Boulder, a movie about a band made up of people with developmental disabilities, an art show featuring pieces by artists who also receive services from Imagine!, Colorado Pit Bull Rescue, and Imagine!’s SmartHomes.

If you haven’t heard any of the radio pieces, take a listen by clicking on one of the links below. And be sure to catch them on TV on Monday!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kobayashi Maru In Colorado

Are you familiar with the Kobayashi Maru?

According to my good friend, Dr. Wik E. Pedia, the Kobayashi Maru is a test in the fictional universe of Star Trek. It is a Starfleet training exercise designed to test the character of cadets in the command track at Starfleet Academy. The test's name is occasionally used among Star Trek fans or those familiar with the series to describe a no-win scenario.

James T. Kirk took the test three times while at Starfleet Academy. Prior to his third attempt, Kirk surreptitiously reprogrammed the simulator so that it was possible to beat the test. Here’s how that looked in the 2009 movie:

So why I am sharing this with you, other than to expose my inner nerd?

Because I believe that right here in Colorado we are facing a Kobayashi Maru in the way we fund and provide services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities.

Over the past six years, with the transition from a quasi-managed care system to a fee-for-service system, the DD world in Colorado has become mired in an unsustainable mechanism of paying for and delivering services, which has resulted in fewer services being delivered at a lower level of quality.

Service providers now deliver services more to meet the needs of a myriad of rules and regulations rather than to meet the needs of the individuals they serve. Services are now reduced to merely meeting the health and safety needs of those we serve.

Now, I want to make it clear that I of course understand that the health and safety of those we serve is paramount. But I believe that is where services should start, not end.

The end point should be community inclusion – individuals with intellectual disabilities becoming contributing members of their communities. One of the core beliefs we hold at Imagine! is that success that is limited to a classroom or controlled, segregated environment is a very incomplete success. We strive to go beyond those limitations and broaden our horizons, as well as the horizons of the people we serve.

Now the primary funder of services for those with cognitive disabilities might respond to those lofty goals by saying, “That’s not what we are paying you for.” To which I would respond, a) “Considering that service providers in Colorado are paid an average of 80 cents for every dollar’s worth of service delivered, and providers accept this as payment in full, the intent of the service cannot be achieved,” and b) “That is exactly the problem – we have created a Kobayashi Maru where nobody wins – not the taxpayer, not the service provider, and certainly not the individual receiving services.”

Now, I don’t want to compare myself to Captain Kirk. I’ve never battled a Gorn, had troubles with tribbles, or bedded a green skinned alien.

However, I do have a solution to beating the Kobayashi Maru we face in the DD system in Colorado. I’ve even seen it work.

You may know that I spent a good deal of my career working in Imagine!’s Labor Source department during a time when rules were more flexible. Those years were some of the most important in my life in terms of cementing my belief that providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities is a community responsibility. A former colleague of mine said it best when he described Labor Source’s responsibility back then as facilitating the meeting of mutual obligation between consumers and community.

Our job wasn’t to “do” the work of providing community opportunities and interaction, our job was to make sure it got done. A subtle distinction, perhaps, but a profoundly vital one. Under that philosophy, providers, consumers, and community members were all equal partners in a mutually beneficial system.

And guess what? It worked. And it was cost effective. And it was sustainable. It is still the intent to this day, despite the many constraints that Labor Source must endure because of the way they currently receive their funding.

When we first developed that philosophy back then, we didn’t accept that our job was simply to protect the health and safety of those we served. We knew that if we just used that as our measure of success, the result would be poor services delivered in a segregated setting. Instead, we had a vision of something much bigger and made it happen. We beat the Kobayashi Maru by reprogramming the intent of our services.

There is no reason the Kobayashi Maru can’t be beat across the state of Colorado, for all that need services. We just need to reprogram our thinking, and our funding system.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Good News Friday!

We have some really good Knights in Boulder County.

Last week, Dick Bryant, with the Knights of Columbus Boulder Council 1183, presented a check for $1158.78 (from funds raised by the Knights' Tootsie Roll Drive) to Jane Sprague with Imagine!’s Dayspring department.  That's Dick and Jane in the picture below.

The donation will help support Dayspring’s Community Calendar activities, which offer services to children and families at places in our community that provide great activities and opportunities for children to meet their goals through fun and play. All activities encourage motor, sensory, social-emotional, cognitive, and speech-language development.

The Boulder Knights have supported Imagine! for years and have donated a total of $11,534 to us.

Thanks, Knights of Columbus, for being so generous in your support of your community!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

For Those About To Die, We Salute You

There was a movie that came out in 2009 called “The Box.”

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), here’s the movie’s storyline:

Norma and Arthur Lewis, a suburban couple with a young child, receive a simple wooden box as a gift, which bears fatal and irrevocable consequences. A mysterious stranger delivers the message that the box promises to bestow upon its owner $1 million with the press of a button. However, pressing this button will simultaneously cause the death of another human being somewhere in the world, someone they don't know.
It wasn’t a great movie, but the premise was interesting and raised some profound questions about one person benefitting from the death of another.

As shocking as it may sound, the Colorado system of funding and services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities has its own version of “The Box.” If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you may be aware that there is a substantial waiting list for adults in our State who qualify for funding for services, but who aren’t receiving any funding.

What you may not know is that the only way for an adult to move off of that waiting list is through attrition. In other words, in order to receive funding through the State for services, someone else who currently has a funding resource must either move out of the State, or die.

You read that right. Currently, the State has no appropriations or way of funding to get anyone off the waitlist. Or, for that matter, for any emergency situation (such as an adult with a developmental disability living with parents who find they are no longer able to care for their child), or even for situations that we know are going to occur (such as a child transitioning from foster care services to adult services).

Does it really make sense to have a public policy that essentially says one person must die before another can receive a benefit? I can’t think of any other publicly funded institutions that have similar draconian requirements. Prisons don’t accept new prisoners only when another is released or dies. Utility companies don’t require one house to stop receiving electricity before a new house can start. Schools don’t try to ensure that every kindergarten class has the same number of students starting each September as graduated the previous May. Those systems would be practically impossible to work around.

And yet, that is exactly the system those of us in the developmental disabilities field face.

Those of us in the developmental disabilities field operate because there is a public consensus policy that the services we provide benefit communities. None of our services are an entitlement. Everything we do is optional – if public consensus policy changed then we would no longer be in business. But as long as that consensus policy exists, can we really say that it is a reasonable policy to require those waiting for services to wait until someone else dies before they can benefit as well? Is this really a path we want to stay on?

The number of people waiting for services is growing by leaps and bounds. There is no way for us to catch up to their needs using attrition as the way to manage the demand. The time to change is now.

Then again, what do I know?