Building a Community of Belonging

In 2010, the first Building a Community of Belonging: A Forum of The Arcadia Institute and its Community Partners was held. The first Forum partnered The Arcadia Institute, the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo Nature Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo and the Southwest Michigan Council of Boy Scouts. Participants were invited to explore opportunities to deepen awareness about the need for opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in community activities open to everyone and to identify ways to support organizations who are interested in further commitment to including individuals with disabilities. The Forum brought people together to begin to talk about building a community that welcomes individuals with disabilities. The second annual Building a Community of Belonging included guest facilitators John and Connie Lyle O’Brien. You can read their thoughts and suggestions here. The Community Partners shared that including others is a straightforward process of getting to know a person, figuring out the individual accommodation a person may require, and finding the most natural possible way to offer what the person needs to participate. A need for building a network of support for organizations that are interested in making Kalamazoo a place where all belong was identified. After this forum, a network was formed that began meeting monthly to continue the work. The network created a checklist to help organizations identify strengths and areas for improvement in their ability to include everyone. You can view the checklist here. Commitment to Inclusion Checklist 9.15.11

In 2012, the third annual Building a Community of Belonging included a new partner, the Portage District Library, and guest facilitator John McKnight. Partner and supporter organizations shared their experience doing the checklist that the network had created and talked about what they learned and are working on. John McKnight had participants focus on the gifts that all of us as individuals could bring to our communities. He had five questions to help us identify our gifts and figure out ways to use those to build a community:

1. What are your gifts? What were you born doing well? 2. What skills are you good at doing that you have learned? 3. What are you passionate about? 4. What do you know well enough to teach? 5. What would you like to learn?

You can read more about John’s impressions and ideas for Kalamazoo here. The network has used these questions and many of the organizations have as well to find out what gifts individuals have to contribute to making Kalamazoo a place where all belong.

The fourth annual Building a Community of Belonging is coming up on March 21, 2013 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. The Media Arts Academy is a new partner and Beth Mount, founder of Graphic Futures and Capacity Works will be our guest facilitator. Be sure to read our blog next week for more about the plans for this year’s Forum!