Friday, December 28, 2012

Good News Friday!

The 12th annual Imagine! Celebration on Friday, January 25, 2013 will have a special focus this year, as it launches a year-long salute to Imagine!’s 50th year. In 1963, when Beatlemania was in full swing, popular films were “Lawrence of Arabia” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and the average cost of a gallon of gas was 29 cents, a group of parents came together to design an alternative to the standard practice of sending children with developmental disabilities away to live in institutions. And on August 6, 1963, Imagine! (known by several different names in the interim) became the first organization in the state dedicated to such a purpose.

The Imagine! Celebration has set its goal at $250,000 -- $50,000 for each of Imagine!’s five decades. Participants in Heads and Tails will pay $50 for the opportunity to win a $500 gift certificate from a special local restaurant, and the goal of the Special Appeal will be $50,000.

A great lineup of live auction items will lead the way to achieving the overall goal. New this year is a delicious catered farm table dinner for up to 12 people in September 2013, hosted by Imagine! Foundation president Sandy Bracken and his wife Sally at their lovely home. Guests will enjoy a delectable outdoor dining experience while gazing across open fields to a breathtaking view of the sun setting behind the Continental Divide. This year’s auction will also feature the reappearance of some truly wonderful favorites! Picture a week in a private home in beautiful Ouray, the “Switzerland of America,” compliments of Jay and Kathy Montgomery, or a family reunion at the exquisite Durango mountain home of Don Sullivan and Paige Lawrence. If you wish to travel a bit farther afield, George Karakehian, who will emcee the Celebration, and his wife Kristin will once again donate a week at their lovely Cape Cod home. A highlight of the live auction will again be a week at the gorgeous Greek island villa of the Palmos Family, and we are delighted to be able to include the return of Anahid Katchian’s exotic Mediterranean Feast. Online auction bidding will begin on January 9.

This year’s event will again be held at the Best Western Plus Plaza Conference Center in Longmont. More information about sponsors, auction items, and all of the festivities is available on the Imagine! website.

Purchase tickets and tables online by clicking here.   

Reserve now, and we’ll look forward to seeing you on January 25!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Good News Friday!

Wiffle bats and disco balls.

Those were just a couple of materials that ended up being important aspects of projects created by a group of University of Colorado Engineering students in classes taught by Associate Professor Melinda Piket-May. The projects were designed to create simple adaptive technologies for individuals we serve at Imagine!.

This is the fourth year Professor Piket-May’s students have created such projects. Below are some photos of a few of this semester’s projects.

You may notice a theme in the projects – they each provide opportunities for the recipients to control their own environment in a fun way. That may seem simple, but for an individual who has never had the capability to verbally or physically indicate his or her preferences to others, the basic act of participating in (and directing) an activity without assistance from a care provider is a profound first step toward a more fulfilling life.

This “switch-activated Wiffle bat swinger” is just what it sounds (and looks) like – giving Toby, who lives in Imagine!’s Charles Family SmartHome, the chance to control his very own Wiffle bat. This will come in handy for the softball season. Batter up, Toby!
In this picture, Shelly, who also lives in Imagine!’s Charles Family SmartHome, poses with her very own “Switch Activated Party Ball.” The disco ball is connected to a simple switch that Shelly can control, turning the ball on and off. Disco party at the SmartHome soon, Shelly?
In this picture, Dasha is showing off her new touch pad light controller, which she can use not only to turn the light on and off, but also to change light colors and brightness levels.
Thank you, once again, Professor Piket-May, for your ongoing support of Imagine! and the people we serve.

To learn more, and to see some previous student projects, click here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Driving In Reverse

If you have been paying attention at all to the discussions in our state about the funding of services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities, you have probably heard this refrain: the rates paid to providers of services are simply not keeping up with the cost of doing business.

This isn’t a bunch of greedy providers trying to pocket more money, this is a very dangerous trend which is putting our entire system’s ability to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens in danger.

Check out the graph below, which compares rates paid to providers with the Consumer Price Index in Denver, Boulder, and Greeley from FY 1997-98 through 2011-12. I think you will notice a disturbing trend. (You can click on the graph to get a bigger view).

This graphic is based on a memorandum from staff members of Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC), to the JBC, dated January 24, 2012.

Those aren’t just lines and numbers. That growing separation between what providers are getting paid and what it actually costs to do business shown above is not a secret and has very real consequences for individuals receiving support services in our state.

Let me give you an example from here at Imagine! of how this disparity is impacting our ability to provide opportunities for the people we serve to engage fully in their communities. Boulder and Broomfield counties are enjoying a much lower unemployment rate than most areas of the state and country. What does that mean to us when we are paid 70 cents on the dollar for services rendered? It means we will have a heck of a time recruiting the talent we need to get the job done. It means we will continue to see service ratios drop, similar to growing classroom sizes in education, and a return to more congregate settings. Add to the fact that the system of payments does not incentivize the use of natural supports and personal job placements. The result is a return to what we escaped from 30 years ago. We appear to be driving in reverse.

I believe this represents a move away from a person-centered and personalized approach to services that foster lives of fulfillment. But this isn’t just about philosophies about inclusion and the meaning of being a community member. The fact is there aren’t many more places that providers can cut when it comes to providing services. The low hanging fruit has been picked, as it were. We are on the brink of a situation where the health and safety of the people we serve will be put at great risk, as fewer and fewer providers are able to stay in business while receiving only about 70 cents for every dollar’s worth of service delivered.

The disparity between what it costs to provide services and the rates providers are paid cannot continue to widen.  I encourage decision-makers to look closely at what has transpired over the last decade and begin restoration and investment in what can be a very bright future for all people concerned.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Good News Friday!

Today, I’d like to share a story that originally appeared in the December edition of the Imagine! employee newsletter.

The story is about a gentleman named Carl, who receives services from Imagine!. Tomorrow, Carl will be travelling to New Orleans by himself, where he will be volunteering as part of the St. Bernard Project to help rebuild homes that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Carl has already traveled to New Orleans several times to help rebuild neighborhoods devastated by Katrina. Alan Johnson, a member of First Congregational Church in Boulder, of which Carl is also a member, told us, “In New Orleans, Carl has helped by laying floors, painting, sanding, drilling in drywall, and cleaning up. On top of that, when we get lost in the French Quarter, or almost anywhere in New Orleans, Carl knows where to go. He has an uncanny sense of location. He also remembers every house he worked on and the names of those who live there.”

While Carl has helped change lives in New Orleans, he has also helped to change minds right here in Boulder. As Alan explained, “Carl has been a blessing in our church of 850 members. He attends the weekly bell choir and the adult choir as well as attending adult education programs, and sometimes both the early and the second service on Sundays. His involvement in our church was instrumental in leading to our congregation’s unanimous vote to become one of the first five churches in the USA to be what is called Accessible to All, or A2A, a national program of our United Church of Christ. Carl’s presence, involvement, and always extending a handshake to everyone has graced us.”

Often, I talk about Imagine! working to provide opportunities for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities to contribute to their communities. Carl’s story shows that that should only be a starting point. Carl isn’t just a contributor in his community, he is a leader in his community, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Way to go, Carl!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Share Your Story!

In 2013, Imagine! will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary. This is a pretty significant milestone, one that speaks to Imagine!’s stability, credibility, in addition to the level of trust that has developed between Imagine!, our community, and the people we serve.

To help celebrate 50 years of building quality lives, I will be starting a new feature on my blog next year called “50 Years, 50 Stories.” Every week I will share a story about Imagine!, our programs, our employees, and the individuals who have received services from us over the past 50 years. I hope the stories will demonstrate just how important of an impact Imagine! has had over this past half century.

But I can’t just make these stories up. I need your help. If you have a story about how Imagine! has impacted your life, I would love to hear it. The stories can be funny, touching, inspirational, an unexpected learning moment, or just something that has stuck with over the years. Photos are strongly encouraged.

Whether you are a client, an employee, a former employee, a parent, or a community member, I’m sure you have a story to tell, and I’d like to share it.

If you are interested in sharing your story, please email Caroline Siegfried at or call her at 303-926-6405. We look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Good News Friday!

Tonight is Imagine!’s annual employee holiday party, and that means that once again I will have the honor of publicly acknowledging Imagine!’s 2012 Employees of Distinction.

I often comment about how fortunate I am to work at Imagine!, because the level of dedication, creativity, and passion among our employees is astounding. But even in that rarefied atmosphere, there are a few employees that still manage to stand out. Employees who make a tremendous difference to our organization and the people we serve. These are our Employees of Distinction.

Below are this year’s honorees, along with just a little information about what makes each employee so deserving of this prestigious award.

Congratulations to our 2012 Employees of Distinction!

Jill Johnson
“Jill goes above and beyond when it comes to customer service, both within her daily interactions with staff members and providers as well as her interactions with the community.”

Anna Knott

“Anna has proven herself to be a valuable asset to Innovations residential programs, and has great relationships with consumers, guardians, and Imagine! staff members.”

Lou Ella Price

“Lou Ella has organized numerous informative and successful events for consumers and the community. She is a prime example of an employee striving to fulfill our mission statement.”
Liz Reed

“Liz really did a great job transitioning from Service Coordination to Early Intervention last year. She learned everything so fast, and she is pretty amazing. Liz’s dedication is inspiring.”

Katherine Smith

“Katherine stands out in her position due to her determination to teach creative expression in her class, which can later translate into other skills such as socialization skills and independence.”
Lucy Williams

“Lucy exemplifies the mission of Imagine! and goes above and beyond in advocating for services that will enable an individual to be more independent and contribute to his/her community.” 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Bucket List

This won’t be the first time you have heard me say this: the system of funding and delivering services to individuals with one or more developmental disabilities in our state, and our nation, is facing a variety of challenges and a changing landscape that will undoubtedly alter the face of service delivery in the future.

What sort of challenges? How about the fact that individuals with developmental disabilities are living longer than ever, and as they age, their needs are becoming increasingly complex? In addition, with the “silver tsunami” of retiring and aging baby boomers approaching, the demand for services for seniors is increasing rapidly. Meanwhile, the workforce available to meet this increased demand continues to shrink.

And how is the landscape changing? Well, there is no doubt that technological advances have opened the door to opportunities for the individuals that we serve that simply didn’t exist a few short years ago. Additionally, the internet and social media have made families and the people we serve savvier and more informed about the choices available to them than ever before. With that increased knowledge comes an increase in expectations about the quality and availability of services.

Now, I don’t claim to be the only one to have recognized these trends, which seem to be creating a perfect storm that will irreversibly change the way services are delivered to some of our most vulnerable citizens. Many government agencies, providers, and advocacy groups are looking into the future and trying to make plans to ensure the individuals we serve don’t get lost in that storm.

I am encouraged by this, but I also want to make sure we all do our due diligence before moving forward too quickly with any one approach. I say that because I wonder if right now we are moving in one direction, and one direction only, without exploring a variety of options.

What direction is that? It is what we might call the “big bucket” direction. Government, both locally and nationally, seems to be pushing to consolidate administration of services for individuals with a wide variety of disabilities along with aging individuals – putting them all in one big administrative bucket. I am unsure of the argument. Maybe this will make it easier to administer, and navigate, programs and services by eliminating red tape. In this direction, the changes in funding and services will mainly come from centralized regulatory and policy-making perspective.

Now perhaps this “big bucket” direction is the best option. But let me at least consider an alternative – a direction we might call “divide and conquer.” In this direction, rather than lumping every disability (and aging) population into a “one size fits all” giant bucket, maybe it might make sense to separate the buckets so we can more precisely meet the incredibly diverse needs of these unique populations. With this direction, change is more likely to be driven by providers, families, and the individuals we serve, resulting in more self-determined outcomes.

Let me give you an analogy. Let’s talk about how our country has evolved in terms of how we dispose of our garbage (and let me be clear – I am not equating the population we serve with trash. Rather, I am looking at a historical example of a “big bucket” versus a “divide and conquer” approach to solving a problem). Back when I was young, nobody ever talked about recycling or composting. You threw all your trash in the trash can, and the garbage men came and picked it up and took it to the landfill. This was a “big bucket” approach.

Eventually, however, our society began to realize that we were running out of space, and there may be value in selected items being tossed. And slowly, a movement began to grow that encouraged people to recycle and compost. Not everything had to be trash. Some items had value and could be reused and repurposed. This movement was driven by the providers, such as Western Disposal. They educated the end-users. Making recycling and composting possible was the fact that some companies began to realize that they could make money in the recycling business. Ultimately, the movement toward a society that is much more focused on recycling was not fueled by government regulations, but rather by companies that could profit from recycling combined with a public that saw benefit in limiting the number (and size) of trash piles in their communities.

It is distinctly possible that our society could also benefit from an approach to services that doesn’t try to make every population in need fit into a single bucket.

So I encourage everyone involved in the decision making process about how we move forward with the design of our system to do their homework and ask the hard questions. Is one bucket really the way to go when it comes to serving the needs of such a diverse population? Will it really be more efficient or cost effective? Better for the end-user? Or perhaps we should consider having more than one big bucket. Maybe we should have several buckets, a bucket list of a different sort, if you will.

The important discussions surrounding the future of services are finally taking place. Let’s make sure the discussions are thorough and that we consider all alternatives before making any final decisions.

There is so much at stake. Then again, what do I know?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today Is Colorado Gives Day!

Today is Colorado Gives Day, and Imagine! is participating.

Donations made online through our website today at any of the “Donate Here” buttons will be eligible for partial matching funds. (The “Donate Here” button takes you directly to the Community First Foundation site and saves all bank fees for credit card donations.) 

If you are thinking about making a gift to Imagine! before the end of the calendar year, please consider doing it online through our website today! You may also designate a particular Imagine! program in the “Any comments or special instructions” box if you would like. The only gifts that are ineligible are donations for which you receive something in return, such as tickets or sponsorships to our Imagine! Celebration.

Give where you live!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Good News Friday!

Dylan with Dayspring therapist Mara Kuczun
Today, I’d like to share a story given to Imagine! by Athena West, whose child Dylan received services from Imagine!’s Dayspring department.  

I am writing this to thank and recognize the Dayspring therapists who provided amazing work with my son Dylan. I am so grateful to Mara Kuczun, Joanne Gesualdi, and Janine Randol for their work with Dylan. What they did for us was more than helpful, it was life saving.

When the Dayspring therapists started working with Dylan, we were in a world of hurt. Dylan couldn’t communicate and it was very frustrating. One day Janine gave me a tip to try to repeat what Dylan was saying even though I didn't understand him. So afterwards in the car, when I repeated what I thought he said, I got what he was trying to say. It was so exciting! I realized that without meaning to, I had been shutting him out because I could not understand him, which was not good for our relationship. Without that tip we’d have been lost.

There were hundreds of these tips that the Dayspring therapists provided us with. I had been having a struggle helping Dylan getting dressed, and Mara gave me a tip to help dress him by having him get between heated blankets, and with the comfort that provided to him, he’d let me dress him. Mara had suspected there might have been some sensory issues that were making Dylan uncomfortable, and the heated blankets helped him to relax and to be more comfortable.

Joanne showed me how to help Dylan settle down when he was getting overstimulated, by tapping him in a cha cha pattern. This was critical in situations like his preschool, restaurants, and stores where there was lots of noise and stimulation.

One thing I appreciate the most is that the therapists never made me feel like a bad mother. When you have a challenging child it can feel like you are not doing things right, but they never made me feel that way. They were always supportive and encouraging.

We miss the Dayspring ladies since Dylan has turned three, but we are so grateful. Dylan is meeting milestones and doing fantastic, and I have Mara, Joanne, Janine, and the Dayspring team to thank for that.

Great work, Mara, Joanne, Janine, and the rest of the Dayspring crew!

Monday, November 26, 2012

What's Up, Doc?

“Some people call me cocky and brash, but actually I am just self-assured. I'm nonchalant, imperturbable, contemplative. I play it cool, but I can get hot under the collar. And above all I'm a very 'aware' character. I'm well aware that I am appearing in an animated cartoon....And sometimes I chomp on my carrot for the same reason that a stand-up comic chomps on his cigar. It saves me from rushing from the last joke to the next one too fast. And I sometimes don't act, I react. And I always treat the contest with my pursuers as 'fun and games.' When momentarily I appear to be cornered or in dire danger and I scream, don't be consoined [sic] – it's actually a big put-on. Let's face it Doc. I've read the script and I already know how it turns out.”

Bob Clampett on Bugs Bunny, written in first person.

Admit it … when you first started reading that quote, you thought this was about me. I have always thought highly of Mr. Bunny.

I often picture Bugs in the animated world of intellectual and developmental disabilities that we occupy every day.

What would that look like? His irreverence would mean questioning Doc (Doc being whichever authority figure or rule maker he is currently interacting with) and asking “why” when decisions are handed down that don’t make sense. Bugs is not irreverent because he doesn’t care; he is irreverent because he cares a lot. He doesn’t question decisions because it is fun, or because he enjoys being a thorn in Doc’s side, he questions decisions because he wants to be sure that they are being made with the best interests of the people we serve in mind. In the mix he would also find an opening for a punch line or two.

Late night television personalities do this every day with respect to our world; questioning with irreverence. They probably learned the benefit of irreverence from Bugs Bunny. Throw in a couple of punch lines and people tune in.

And to be clear, I encourage a “What’s Up, Doc?” attitude from all Imagine! employees, even when said Doc is me. Imagine! hasn’t been a leader in the field for almost 50 years by quietly accepting the status quo and never questioning authority. On the contrary, we have succeeded because we refuse to remain quiet and we don’t just accept decisions at face value.

If irreverence is an effective way to create change that is impactful and sustainable for those we serve, then who am I to say no? So, if in my blog, or in person, I ever come across as irreverent, picture Bugs Bunny.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Please understand that my irreverence comes from a place of great caring … honestly.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Good News Friday!

Colorado Gives Day is Tuesday, December 4, and Imagine! will again be participating. Donations made online through our website on December 4 at any of the “Donate Here” buttons will be eligible for partial matching funds. (The “Donate Here” button takes you directly to the Community First Foundation site and saves all bank fees for credit card donations.) Imagine!’s total donations for the 2011 Colorado Gives Day were $12,407, from a total of 56 individuals making gifts, including Imagine! staff members and board members. This was a big step up from the previous year’s $4,675.

If you are thinking about making a gift to Imagine! before the end of the calendar year, please consider doing it online through our website on December 4. You may even schedule your gift now to have it recorded on December 4. So far, we already have $6,750 in pre-scheduled donations! You may also designate a particular Imagine! program in the “Any comments or special instructions” box if you would like. The only gifts that are ineligible are donations for which you receive something in return, such as tickets or sponsorships to our Imagine! Celebration.

Mark your calendar for December 4, or schedule your donation now!

P.S. – Imagine! has joined with many great local organizations in our area to help promote giving on Colorado Gives Day. Even if you don’t give to Imagine!, please consider supporting any one of the great organizations shown below on December 4  – each one is dedicated to making our community a healthier and more inclusive place for all of our citizens.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Good News Friday!

Today I am excited to announce that the Colorado State Housing Board has voted to provide $150,000 toward the development of a new home Imagine! is planning to build in Broomfield.

The new home will provide safe and affordable housing for six people who have developmental disabilities as well as the multifaceted issues that come with aging. Individuals with developmental disabilities are living longer than ever, and as they age, their needs may become increasingly complex. In addition, with the “sliver tsunami” of retiring and aging baby boomers approaching, the demand for services for seniors is increasing rapidly. Imagine! is poised to be a leader in services for both the population of elders with developmental disabilities and the larger elder population. This home represents another step forward for Imagine! in developing the skills and tools needed to serve these populations.

The home will incorporate green building standards and will be designed with universal design standards to better meet the physical and programmatic needs of its residents. The home will also be constructed to accommodate state-of-the-art technologies to improve the service and support of its residents.

The funding from the Colorado Housing Board is in addition to the $633,700 already pledged by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for construction costs. HUD has also agreed to provide Imagine! $68,100 to pay for maintenance and upkeep of the home for three years.

I want to thank several people who have been instrumental in helping Imagine! move forward with the creation of this home, including Mary Anderies of Anderies Consulting; Denise Selders, Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), Division of Housing, Housing Development Specialist; Jodi Walters, Imagine!’s Innovations Director; and Sterling Wind, Imagine!’s SmartHomes Project Manager.

And a special “thank you” to the Colorado State Housing Board for recognizing the need for this housing and for providing such generous support.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Do You Measure Up?

Sudden star Nate Silver 'made statistics sexy again' after successful election forecasts.

But Nate isn’t the only current pop cultural phenomenon in which statistics and numbers play a key role. How about the TV series "Numb3rs" or the biographic sports drama "Moneyball"?

Or how about how those of us who are sports junkies willingly endure, and even seek out, endless numbers and statistics about every play in Major League Baseball or the National Football League.

We even relish the unending numbers that describe our very being; height, weight, inseam, sleeve, waist, chest, glove size, shoe size, hat size, vision, hearing, blood pressure, blood sugar, body mass index, or heart rate. I could go on and on.

When it comes to performance, however, our love affair with all things numbers starts to cool down. People are OK with verbal or written feedback on work performance, but not so much when it is in a numeric form.

There are a variety of assessments that attempt to quantify cognitive performance. We have the Intelligence Quotient, the Supports Intensity Scale, to name a couple. I get the sense many in our field are pretty uncomfortable with this.

Why is this the case? I already mentioned the movie “Moneyball.” For those of you who are unaware, the movie is the true story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Numbers in "Moneyball" trumped gut feelings regarding the performance of Major League Baseball players, and the results and benefits were shared by the entire baseball team, and eventually the league.

Now, I am not making a case for IQ scores or the SIS as the metrics measurements we should be using, however, I am making a case that we need to translate our performance into numbers. Our future will require us to quantify performance in a way that we are able to support people in the most effective way possible – not by gut feeling. We have yet to develop the tools necessary, but it is inevitable that we need to develop, and will develop the tools, to take us where we need to go.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Good News Friday!

If it is getting close to Thanksgiving, it must mean that I once again have the honor and pleasure of offering a heartfelt “thank you” to Dave Query and the staff at Zolo Grill, who will be treating individuals served by Imagine!, and their families, to a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day.

Query is donating the makings for a delicious Zolo-style repast with all the trimmings, and the wait staff at Zolo is volunteering its time. There is no charge for the meal, and no tips are necessary.

This year, 360 people (three seatings of 120 each) will get to enjoy this meal. We used an online sign-up this year for the first time, making it easier on Imagine! staff and saving time for everyone. The event filled up in four days!

Dave Query is the owner of Big Red F Restaurant Group, including Boulder restaurants Centro Latin Kitchen, the Bitter Bar, Jax Fish House, West End Tavern, and Zolo Grill, and Denver restaurants Jax Fish House and LoLa Coastal Mexican, and the newest Jax Fish House in Fort Collins. Dave has also served on the Imagine! Foundation Board of Directors

This is the ninth year that Dave Query and Zolo employees have made Thanksgiving extra special for individuals served by Imagine!. We cannot thank them enough.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Next Generation of Service and Support Organizations

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable discussion at the Twelfth Annual Coleman Institute National Conference, The State of the States in Cognitive Disability and Technology: 2012.

My topic for the roundtable was “The Next Generation of Service and Support Organizations.”

The discussion at the table was lively as we looked into the near future and the needed changes to services and supports in the field of serving individuals with one or more developmental disabilities. Below are some ideas, in no particular order, which came from the discussion.

The next generation of providers will adopt the use of emerging technology through organizational cultural shifts. Technical skills will override care giving in the description of the new support staff. A generation ago, we spent hours training caregivers how to manipulate a wheelchair and an accessible vehicle. Moving forward, navigating the variety of devices that are specific to the client of services support will take precedence. Providers and Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) will be team oriented and geographically dispersed. They will be connected with other team members and those they serve in real time via social and enterprise network tools. Future DSPs must be able to find a story in the data set and provide a coherent narrative about key data insight. DSPs must also be able to communicate with numbers, visually and verbally.

The next generation of providers will not strive for personal independence among the population it serves; rather, it will create an environment within which people will thrive. Providers will continue to undergo cultural shifts. We have moved from institutional settings to smaller institutional settings, to group homes, to host homes, to maintenance and support in the parents’ home. What happens next? I’m not entirely sure, but I know this – organizations need to be preparing now. For example, at Imagine!, we already have a Tech Architect and an Assistive Tech Specialist. Right now, those titles may sound exotic, but they will be standard positions for service organizations in the future.

Provider companies will be using cloud-based data, and lots of it, to inform company decisions. Company decision-makers will all be data savvy and include a person responsible for managing big data. This will further find its way to direct service and supports. We will collect and have access to huge amounts of real time mobile information that will inform very specific details about support touch points.

End-users of services and supports are no longer isolated. They are far savvier than their predecessors. They have a presence in the social media world. They are exercising their rights to an extent that was unthinkable only a few short years ago. Providers are no longer the decision-makers. Control has shifted, and rightly so. The idea that our goal is for people to be independent is old and ridiculous. Sure, people need touch points of support and service. The goal now is to thrive. The hermit life of independence, lonely self-sufficiency is not it. So let's stop pretending.

The discussion lasted an hour, which was unfortunate, because I felt we could have gone on much longer. I was really impressed by the deep thought and creative ideas that came from the roundtable participants.

I’d love to hear what my blog readers think, as well. Please leave a comment below.

Then again, what do I know?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thank You, Governor Hickenlooper!

Today, I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and his staff for their FY 2013-14 proposed budget, which makes targeted increases and restores funding in many critical areas, including services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities living in our state.

The proposed budget includes:

• $13.1 million Total Fund (TF) dollars -- $6.5 million from the General Fund (GF) -- to provide services to 809 additional people with developmental disabilities. This amount includes an increase of 576 funded waiver slots to eliminate the Children’s Extensive Services Waiver Program waiting list.

• $1.8 million TF ($1 million net GF) for early intervention services for children from birth to 2 years of age.

• A 1.5 percent provider rate increase for community providers including Colorado’s county departments of human services. This equates to $56.5 million total funds, $25.8 million GF.

This budget news is incredible and reflects the Governor’s commitment to community services for vulnerable people.

Thank you, Governor Hickenlooper!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Good News Friday!

This year marks the 15th Anniversary of Imagine!’s Out & About department making a positive difference in the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families by providing positive instruction and community-based services within a therapeutic framework.

Out & About was created in 1997 in response to the requests of community members with disabilities and family members who care for those with disabilities. Since that time, Out & About has continued to grow and develop into a dynamic, exciting, and flexible organization thanks to the ideas, requests and suggestions of staff members, the community, and the people they serve.

The impact Out & About has had on families is Boulder County during these past 15 years has been nothing short of astounding. But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what some of the families themselves have had to say:

"Our son loves, loves, LOVES the activities offered at Out & About! Sending him to camp provides much needed respite for our family. All the while, we know he’s having fun in a supportive and friendly environment. We know he’s well cared for and having a great time! This allows us to relax and have some 'normal' family time. I don’t know what we’d do without Out & About!"

"The Out & About after school program and School Closure Days provide a fun, safe and structured time for our son. He is always happy to be there. The consistent staff and variety of activities help it to be successful. The availability of this program is essential to our family being able to raise a child with our son’s level of disability. It is an integral part of our life and our son’s life."

“Out & About is a great program! I would definitely recommend it to other families. Top notch staff!”

“The recreation instructors did a great job connecting with my son, easing his anxiety and treating him with respect and compassion. They seemed to have good boundaries-setting reasonable expectations without ‘babying’ him.”

“Our son had a great year at summer camp. The staff was so friendly and encouraged his emerging reading/writing skills and seemed genuinely invested in his progress and happiness at camp. We are all, in our family, very grateful for this program and its excellent staff.”

To honor its 15th anniversary, Out & About will be hosting a celebration event tonight, Friday, November 2, in conjunction with its usual Friday Night Out event. The celebration is free and open to the public, and will take place from 6:30 – 9:30 in the John Taylor Conference Center’s Pounds Conference Room, located in Imagine!’s office at 1665 Coal Creek Drive in Lafayette.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Haley Jones Short, Out & About, Therapeutic Specialist/Evenings and Weekend Coordinator, at

Congratulations, Out & About!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

In The Middle Of It All

We are fortunate this week to be living in the corridor where interested parties from around the United States and Canada will be learning about what will happen next in the field of cognitive disabilities, cloud computing and the use of emerging technologies.

Today’s events include the Annual Six Sate Summit hosted by Alliance, and The Coleman Institute’s Pre-Conference Planning discussions. Tomorrow is the Twelfth Annual Coleman Institute National Conference, The State of the States in Cognitive Disability and Technology: 2012, and then Saturday’s event is the ANCOR Technology Summit.

We are privileged here at Imagine! to not only have access to the latest incredible body of information, but to also actively participate in each event. I encourage stakeholders and other interested parties to join in and find out just what the future holds for the people we serve.


One of the most challenging issues in my line of work, and therefore one of my favorite aspects of my line of work, is the fact that every day we face difficult questions that most people don’t usually have to consider.

Let me give you an example. Recently, the parents of somebody we serve at Imagine! contacted me voicing a concern that one of our providers had helped their daughter vote. They felt as if their daughter might not be capable of voting on her own and that perhaps she was manipulated into voting for a candidate she might not know anything about or an issue she didn’t understand. Just as often, parents will let us know that they want us to make sure that we do afford their son or daughter the opportunity to vote.

This opens up a whole host of questions. The woman was an adult and it was absolutely within her legal rights to vote. But is there a line that separates her voting for herself and somebody assisting her to vote? If so, where is that line? And who is to say if her vote is “legitimate” or not? There are an infinite number of reasons a person may vote one way or another, many of which aren’t exactly logical or well-informed. So is her vote any less “appropriate” because she happens to have a cognitive deficit? And who is responsible for making those kinds of determinations, anyway? This issue, as you can imagine, has plenty of legal opinion and history.

It may seem to some readers that the answers to the questions above are clear. But I promise that matter what response you give, I could present you with a scenario indicating that the opposite response would be just as viable a response.

Obviously, the questions above are pertinent for the election season. But we face similar questions at Imagine! all the time regarding where to draw the line on tricky life questions. Questions about faith, questions about sexuality, tattoos, ear piercings, or questions about alcohol or drug use, for example (all of which would be challenging questions in any situation), take on an extra level of complexity when an individual with developmental disabilities is involved. Some questions just aren’t that easy to answer.

Can't see the video? Click here.

OK – sorry – but sometimes we have to step aside from the tougher questions for contemplation.

Imagine!’s mission does not go beyond our efforts to provide access to services for the individuals we serve. But those efforts are designed to facilitate community engagement, and community engagement cannot occur without the occasional complex moral and ethical decision making process. Solutions aren’t necessary cut and dried or black or white. But the process of coming up with solutions is the process that makes life so interesting. I’d love to hear thoughts from others on this.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Good News Friday!

At times in this job, I have been guilty of becoming so wrapped up in my day-to-day work that I fail to pause and reflect on Imagine!’s accomplishments.

So today, I just want to share some facts and figures that demonstrate the remarkable achievements that occur every day at Imagine!. I’m not tooting my own horn here, the accomplishments listed below only happened because of the marvelous staff we have. Next time you see an Imagine! employee, be sure to say “thank you,” because due to their hard work, during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, Imagine!:

• helped 901 babies and toddlers with developmental disabilities or delays progress toward their individual developmental goals (e.g., improved communication skills, improved fine or gross motor skills, and/or improved social skills) through occupational, speech, and physical therapies;

• supervised foster placements for 43 children whose special needs could not be met by their birth parents;

• helped 65 school-aged children with developmental disabilities to learn vital socialization skills to help them to participate more fully in society, while affording their parents the peace of mind that comes with safe and appropriate childcare during work hours, through after school, summer camp, and school closure day programs;

• helped parents of 60 children with autism spectrum disorders to select and pay for services such as psychological counseling, social skills coaching, and behavioral therapy;

• provided financial support to the families of 49 children with extraordinary needs who were waitlisted for services;

   • provided information and referrals to services to more than 1,300 families providing at-home care of a person with a developmental disability;

• helped caregivers of 211 individuals with developmental disabilities living at home to pay for the services and supports that were most important to their families, such as respite care, medical or dental care, therapies, or devices to help the individual with special needs function better at school or work;

• oversaw host home placements for 90 adults with developmental disabilities;

• promoted the growth, development, and safety of 376 local adults with developmental disabilities by enabling them to participate in enriching and therapeutic activities in the community, through day programs, classes, and special outings;

• provided job training, placement, coaching, and supervision for 104 adults with developmental disabilities;

• provided comprehensive mental health services to 236 individuals with dual (mental illness/developmental disability) diagnoses;

• provided a broad range of behavioral health services to 105 individuals, and educated their parents and caregivers about ways to build cooperative behavior; and

• provided comprehensive residential services to a total of 168 adults with developmental disabilities – from supervising 10 individuals living in apartments to providing 24-hour intensive support for 22 individuals with more complex needs due to age or severe disability.

I am humbled to be part of this team. Congratulations to everyone at Imagine!.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prep Time

Last week I had an amazing experience - I took part in a single day rim to rim hike in the Grand Canyon.

Of course, this wasn’t just a spur of the moment kind of hike. It took a lot of time and effort to prepare. I spent several months seeking advice from a variety of people on how best to tackle this challenge, I researched the best equipment to bring (and not bring) and wear (and not wear), I trained to ensure I was ready physically and mentally, and I made sure to set aside enough time before and after the hike so I didn’t feel rushed.

The result of this preparation was that I was able to fully enjoy and appreciate the hike. I wasn’t stressed out or exhausted, or too hungry or thirsty. I wasn’t in pain or wishing I had done something different. By planning ahead, I feel as if I was really able to embrace the experience completely, without distractions.

Now, I don’t think I’m saying anything profound or original when I point out that by being prepared for this task made it much easier to complete. That is simply stating the obvious.

And yet, I find all too frequently that this seemingly obvious lesson isn’t heeded in our line of work. Preparation matters in what we do here at Imagine!, and in the field of serving individuals with one or more developmental disabilities, and a lack of preparation shouldn’t be tolerated. We’re not just talking about a hike in the Grand Canyon here, we’re talking about people’s lives.

Let me give you an example. Too frequently in the course of my duties, I have attended meetings where it was clear the meeting organizer hadn’t prepared. There was no agenda, there was no clear goal or outcome for the meeting, and sometimes the meeting organizer didn’t even know where to start. Sadly, those meetings often turn into some of the longest meetings I have to attend.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-meeting. But I do believe that if a meeting is being planned, it is incumbent on all participants to come prepared. To do their homework ahead of time, and to be prepared with questions to ask or solutions to offer. When everyone is prepared, the likelihood is that the results of the meeting will be better.

And it is not just meetings. Those of us in this field should be prepared no matter what effort we are undertaking and no matter who we are interacting with. Now, I know we can’t plan for absolutely everything. Sometimes things sneak up on us that we haven’t been able to plan for and that require immediate action. But I also believe that we will have far fewer of those sorts of incidences, and we will be in a better position to react appropriately when they do arise, if we keep ourselves as prepared and knowledgeable as possible at all times. The work we do is far too important for it to be otherwise.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Good News Friday!

Today, I’d like to introduce you to a new blog we have created at Imagine!: the Imagine! Voices blog.

I have frequently said that social media is creating new opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities to engage in their communities. Social media is all about community. There are groups out there using social media for every interest, hobby, or pastime you can think of, and a lot more you probably never thought of. And technology has made accessing those communities relatively easy, even for those with significant disabilities. Since Imagine! has a stated mission of providing community access and opportunities for people with disabilities, it seems natural that we would want to use these tools to benefit those we serve.

This is where Imagine! Voices comes in. Imagine! Voices is a blog that provides a forum for people with developmental disabilities served by Imagine! to share what is going on in their lives, to sharpen their writing skills, and to increase their interactions with other people throughout our local community and beyond.

So, what kind of posts have been made on the Imagine! Voices blog so far? Well, how about the one from Bob, where he shows off his brand new Tim Tebow jersey? Or the one where Chris talks about how much he has learned about technology since he moved in to Imagine!’s Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome?  Or David talking about his bowling leagues?  Or Jessica sharing information about her trip to New York?

There are many more posts like the ones I just mentioned. This blog is proving to be a fantastic opportunity for people served by Imagine! to share their own stories using their own words. I also think it is a great example of how technology can be harnessed to provide opportunities to educate the public about the many contributions people with developmental disabilities are bringing to their communities every day.

Would you like to follow the blog? You can sign up to get new posts delivered to your email inbox – just look in the top right hand corner. You may be surprised at how much you learn about what people served by Imagine! are achieving every day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Good News Friday!

The latest edition of ANCOR LINKS, the newsletter for the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) is dedicated to National Disability Employment Awareness month, and there’s a great story about a young lady served by Imagine! who is using technology to develop lasting job skills.

 Today, I thought I’d share the story on my blog as well. Enjoy:

When people ask Tom Riley about his job, his response often surprises people. "My job is to work myself out of a job,” Tom says. Tom is director of Colorado-based Imagine!’s CORE/Labor Source department, which has been providing innovative supported employment solutions for people with disabilities and the businesses that employ them since 1984. Tom’s comment reflects a passion for the importance of work, and the belief that a diverse workforce strengthens society.

Tom sees his role as more than someone who assists individuals with disabilities in finding meaningful employment. He also sees himself as a sort of facilitator, helping members of the community at large in understanding what kind of supports they can provide to help individuals with disabilities become more independent and successful. If Tom can be successful in educating the community, his job of having to teach people employment skills will eventually disappear.

Technology is taking Tom’s dream of working himself out of a job one step closer to reality, and Kendra’s story shows why.

As part of her services through CORE/Labor Source, Kendra is participating in a Project SEARCH program in Boulder, Colorado. Project SEARCH is a national program that provides real-life work experience to help youth with significant disabilities make successful transitions from school to adult life. The focus of the program is on helping participants gain work experiences which will prepare them for lifelong employment and independence.

Kendra’s task on the day we visited her was to assemble marketing packets for Boulder Community Hospital. A task prompter on her smart phone offered simple, step-by-step guidance through the job activity

Even with the support and resources of the Project SEARCH team, Kendra still faces challenges in maintaining successful employment. She is currently serving an internship at Boulder Community Hospital, but like many of us, Kendra sometimes struggles to stay focused on her responsibilities.

This is where technology comes in. Kendra has been equipped with a smart phone (which she has named “Lucky”) containing software that provides task prompting for her job duties. When Kendra loses focus or is unsure of her next steps, the task prompter is right there to offer simple, step-by-step guidance through complex job activities.

Kendra shows the screen of her smart phone, which prompts her on her next job tasks

Using the task prompting system has opened a new world of possibilities for Kendra. In years past, she would have required the constant attention of a job coach or a Direct Support Professional in order to maintain any kind of employment. The time and resources needed to support individuals with needs similar to Kendra’s would have likely been a barrier to her ever getting and keeping a job. Now, as she becomes more skilled at using her task prompter, she is becoming more independent and more capable of fulfilling her job responsibilities with a decreasing amount of supervision.

Kendra uses her hand held task prompter, which she has nicknamed “Lucky,” to guide her through her work

The task prompting software is enabling Kendra to become a contributing member of her community, paying taxes and spending her hard earned money at local shops and restaurants. But the benefits of this technology don’t end with individuals like Kendra. It also makes it much easier for businesses to hire, and retain, individuals with disabilities. Something as simple as a hand held task prompter eliminates many of the barriers that have prevented businesses from using this extensive labor pool in the past, and other technologies that address other barriers that have historically limited employment opportunities for people with disabilities seem to be cropping up almost every day. The possibilities seem almost limitless.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Good News Friday!

Benjamin Tarasewicz
Today, I’d like to share some good news about a young man who has received services through Imagine!’s Autism Spectrum Disorder Program who is making a positive impact on our community by educating his peers and teachers, as well as the general public, on the challenges of living with autism.

Benjamin Tarasewicz is a precocious speaker who is currently a student at Fairview High School. Benjamin himself has had years of intensive autism therapy, with therapeutic interventions continuing on through the years and to the present day. The daily hours of intensive therapy that he received as a toddler allowed him to begin learning how to speak around age three. By the end of elementary school and in middle school, he was very active in drama performances, sometimes garnering the lead role.

Now, he’s taking on a new role of public speaker and advocate, and has created an hour long multi-media presentation entitled Living With Autism: Breaking Through Barriers.

This past spring, Benjamin gave the debut performance of his informative and inspiring presentation to a full house at Fairview, and received a standing ovation from the audience of over 100 students, teachers, and other guests. He has since delivered his presentation to the Colorado Department of Education and the Special Education Advisory Council, and is currently scheduled to present at various local high schools and other educational institutions. Benjamin’s public efforts to educate the community about living with autism are already being recognized – on October 24 he will be honored by the Autism Society of Colorado with their “Compassionate Youth of the Year” award.

This coming Tuesday, you have an opportunity to see first-hand one of Benjamin’s rousing presentations. The University of Colorado Psi Chi Honors Psychology Club will be hosting Benjamin on October 9 at 5:30 pm in Hellems Room 252 on the CU Boulder campus. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Congratulations on your success, Benjamin, and keep up the good work!

PS – I’d like to thank Benjamin’s mother, Malva Tarasewicz, for sharing the information above (and Benjamin’s photo). She also asked if I would share the information below:

“Like” us on Facebook at Benjamin Breaking Barriers; the page will be up by 3:00 this afternoon. Our website: will be up after this weekend; please check out our blog!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Declaration of (Non) Independence

Longtime readers of my blog know that I have spent much of this year informally interviewing Imagine! employees at all levels of the organization to get their sense of why we are here and what is important about what we do. It is my hope that with enough input we can create a new mission and set of values for Imagine! that truly reflect who we are and how we serve our community.

One word that has come up frequently in these conversations is the word “independence.” I hear that word a lot when people talk about the skills and tools we provide to the people we serve, and how they are designed to move individuals toward independence in their lives.

I am wondering if “independence” should be the goal of our services.

“But Mark,” you may be thinking. “We always talk about independence! It is written right into Imagine!’s current mission statement! It must be important!”

For me, the problem is what the word “independence” implies. I am uncomfortable with some of the implications of independent images: social isolation, loneliness, and no sense of belonging.

You may be aware of my pride in my upbringing in the Northeast Kingdom. Well, like many rural areas, there are people who are “independent” living up there. By independent, I mean loners who keep to themselves, who are self-reliant and rarely want anything to do with anybody else, and who may prefer their own company to the company of others.

Now, I don’t say that in any kind of derogatory way. On the contrary, I have always had a healthy respect and admiration for those who seem to be willing to go it alone. But the truth is most humans are social creatures. Most of us don’t want to be alone all the time.

I’d bet that when you reflect on the favorite memories of your life, you find that they always involve others – such as loved ones, friends, and family.

For most of us, the most important and interesting things that happen in life are those things we do with others.

Don’t believe me? Just ask the most interesting man in the world.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Yes, I know I just used my blog to show a seven minute commercial for Dos Equis, but I hope you get my point – the most interesting man in the world is clearly a social being. He doesn’t want to be independent. There’s not much fun or interesting about that.

So, back to our services at Imagine!. I don’t mind having one of our goals at Imagine! to be that we teach skills and provide tools that allow the individuals we serve to perform certain tasks for themselves. But the end goal of developing those new skills to do things independently should be to open new doors for more opportunities to engage in all that life has to offer. To experience new things. To meet new people and to make new friends. To spend time with the people that matter the most in as fully an inclusionary way as possible. To embrace the natural and organic inter-personal relations that come with being a citizen of this planet.

To me, that is a mission well worth striving to meet.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Good News Friday!

Last week, I shared some good news about Imagine!, our programs, and our employees.

So this week, I thought I’d share a couple of nice stories about the people we serve – stories told by Imagine! employees themselves.

The first story was shared by LeAnne Woodward, Imagine! Case Manager.

I have a great success story. I work with a consumer, Jessie, who has been an Imagine! consumer for years.

She is in her twenties and was born with a physical disability in her legs. Jessie has no femurs and uses a wheelchair to get around. Recently, she started going to physical therapy for pain in her back. While at physical therapy it was determined that part of her pain was due to lack of movement. She worked with her therapist and practiced walking. Jessie had not walked in over six years!!!

She was so excited and proud of herself that she stopped by Imagine! just to show me. Jessie took four steps on her own! She reported to me that she had taken 40 steps while at physical therapy, which is a huge success for her. Jessie has set a new goal for herself to walk at least five hundred steps so that she can finally start roller blading again. I am so very happy for Jessie and can’t wait for her continued progress.


Update – I just heard that Jessie took 125 steps yesterday! Way to go!

The second story was shared by Gary Stebick, Imagine!’s Communications Coordinator, about Robert, a resident of Imagine!’s Foothills Group Home in Boulder.

Recently, Robert expressed an interest in being in Imagine!’s newsletter, but he wasn’t sure what he had to do to be featured in the newsletter. He mentioned that he liked art, and said he had a picture that he drew in high school that might be of interest to people who read the newsletter. Robert proceeded to discuss the process of how he decided what to draw in his art piece.

Robert‘s art teacher in high school suggested that Robert find some pictures that he liked in magazines and use them for models for different parts of his art piece. Robert started by choosing to draw the picture with charcoal and pencil. He saw a picture of mountains that he liked, so mountains were the first thing he drew. Then he drew the large ship, fashioned after a large ship he saw in a photo. Then he found a photo of a man in a rowboat which he liked so he drew a man in a rowboat next. As he continued looking through magazines, he saw a picture of a helicopter and decided to put a helicopter into his drawing. Finally, since there were two ships in the picture, he added the ocean, and that’s how he came to draw this piece of art.

Robert’s interest in art began when he was a child drawing in coloring books. Navy blue is his favorite color, and he enjoys drawing animals. When asked what he likes to do, Robert replied, “I like to help people.”

The piece of art shown below has great sentimental value to Robert. He wrapped the picture and gave it to his grandfather as a present, but his grandfather died unexpectedly soon afterwards. Robert’s grandmother knew the artwork was special to Robert and she returned it to him to serve as a reminder of his grandfather, a former Marine whose picture hangs on Robert’s wall near his artwork.

Robert's art