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?