Aligning the Community

imageIn the last blog, I talked about the Connect Kalamazoo Network as being more than a group of people who meet monthly and conduct an annual forum. On occasion Connect Kalamazoo takes action to promote aligning the community around what full inclusion of people with disabilities really looks like. Here is an example of one of our activities.

A couple of years ago, a hair salon in our community found itself in the middle of a firestorm of social media and national news coverage. Unfortunately, a young boy with autism his mother were abruptly asked to leave the salon because he was being noisy. Another person who was at the salon posted the story on Facebook and it went viral.

The members of Connect Kalamazoo decided to write a View Point article for the Kalamazoo Gazette to make people aware that there is support for organizations to become more welcoming and supportive of people with disabilities. Below is the View Point article:

Recently in the news there have been stories about adults and children with disabilities in our community. Some stories have been positive about people with disabilities being included in very meaningful ways. Yet, other stories have been about people with disabilities being misunderstood and even unwelcomed. The Connect Kalamazoo Network would like to offer support throughout our whole community about how to welcome, support and respect children and adults with disabilities. We are a group of people and organizations committed to aligning the community around full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life – meaningful activities, competitive employment and living arrangements of choice.

Who is the Connect Kalamazoo Network?

Some of the community organizations that are partners and supporters of the Connect Kalamazoo Network are: The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo; The Kalamazoo Nature Center; The YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo; The Media Arts Academy; Portage District Library; Boy Scouts of America, Southern Shores Field Service Council; YMCA Sherman Lake Camp; The Arc Community Advocates; Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run; Advocacy Services for Kids; Prevention Works; Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; Big Brothers, Big Sisters, A Community of Caring; Comstock Community Center; Disability Network Southwest Michigan; Friendship Village and more.

Through the Connect Kalamazoo Network coordinated by The Arcadia Institute organizations are provided training, opportunities to network and share ideas as well as work together on an annual Building a Community of Belonging Forum that is held in March. In addition, these organizations continue to reach out to other community organizations to let them know that full inclusion of people with disabilities is possible. The community just needs to learn how not only to support people, but support each other in this endeavor to create Kalamazoo as a Community Where All People Belong. For example, one camp program director may contact another camp program director for ideas about how to successfully include a camper with autism.

The Connect Kalamazoo Network has been together for three years, and reaches out to all aspects of community in this effort. The network has created a Commitment to Inclusion Checklist this is available for any organization or company to use. For more information you can contact Allison Hammond, Program Director, The Arcadia Institute at 269-254-8224 or Join the Connect Kalamazoo Network to make Kalamazoo a Community Where All People Belong!