The blog this week was written by Jill Angell, Executive Director of Parent to Parent of SW MI. From the moment I stepped foot into the Boys & Girls Clubs, I knew what my goals were going to be for the Club. My goal was simple; make sure every kid that walked through the doors felt included, special, and left with a positive childhood memory. It probably helped that I already had built a relationship with George Martin, and some idea what inclusion was all about.
My journey at the Club began in trying to change each activity and program to fit the needs for each child, and I soon realized that it was overwhelming and very difficult. I felt like I was failing more than I was succeeding at making the Club an inclusive environment. After several conversations with Allison Hammond, and talking honestly with other directors, we decided to take a different approach, change the whole environment. Provide universal supports for the kids at each unit. We started with the program board; it was a big white board that had pictures and words, to list the day’s activities. We use pictures to accommodate kids’ reading skills, hearing abilities, and give them an idea of what the schedule was. We put up red and green lights to display when activity area was open and closed. We gave each age group two to three activities to choose from each hour. We provide timers for pool tables, and some pool tables were reserved to serious players. We developed behavior expectations we wanted to see in each program area. This began our philosophy, if there was an issue with a child, we would brainstorm, how to incorporate that into a universal support in the Club’s daily routine.
I had to broaden my perspective when I became the Executive Director of Parent to Parent of SW MI. I learned from the parents we serve that there is a bigger picture, and belonging is about the whole family and being part of the community. I’ve noticed that when the community is not inclusive, and understanding of all of its members’ needs, it results in families being isolated. I had to learn that our parents are the experts in their child’s life, and that I have to work with our parent support partners to help parents find their voice to educate the community about their family’s needs. My view is wider now; it is about being part of a community. I no longer live in my little bubble at the Club; I have to think bigger, so my question now is how do we draw awareness to everyone in our community’s needs and help them to belong?