A Community of Belonging

The blog this week was written by Kathy Jennings, Managing Editor of Second Wave Media. After months of planning it was just hours before people were to begin to arrive for the 2015 Community of Belonging Forum, the sixth annual get-together of people who are working to make Kalamazoo a place where all are included.

Vacuums were whirring. Chairs were being arranged. It was all coming together.

Then people were coming in the doors, then dividing up into our groups named for famous artists, in keeping with the theme for the day that would culminate in a community art project.

We learned about the successes of groups like the Boys and Girls Club, which learned that activities that helped those with disabilities often helped the rest of those in the club.

A Commitment to Inclusion for organizations and businesses who are interested in determining just how inclusive they are aimed at helping them determine what steps they should take to become more inclusive was introduced.

In our small groups we talked about the work being done across the community. In my group, a Sherman Lake Camp representative talked about their inclusion staff, how they encourage counselors to embrace inclusive activities, and when it appears someone needs assistance of an inclusion staff member that staffer might respond by taking aside the other children while the counselor works directly with the child who needs a some extra attention. Building relationships in this way, rather than relying upon inclusion staff, helps in the long run they have found.

Another member of the group suggested that it is easier for organizations that promote leisure pursuits, like camps, to be inclusive. The real work that needs to be done is for organizations that are trying to find jobs for those with disabilities, she emphasized.

Soon it was time to start creating our art project. Simon Borst gave a quick explanation of the portrait and guided us as we turned small faces into larger faces, pieces of faces into a whole.

As groups finished their piece of the artwork they helped others groups with the pieces of the puzzle they needed. “I need a nine, I need a three,” could be heard. “I have a three,” someone would offer, handing over the right side of the head from a portrait.

Collaborations took place until the letters were all in finished. In the end, they spelled

B E L O N G.

And everyone in the room knew that they had a part in creating what we were all there to build: A community of belonging.