Building a Community of Belonging: Could you hear the construction?

On Thursday, March 20, 2014, over 60 people gathered at the Ladies' Library Association in Kalamazoo MI. These people represented many facets of our community that are committed to creating a community where everyone belongs - especially people with disabilities. In the morning, seven stories about employing people with disabilities were shared by the people and their employers. The Stories were:

Taking a Chance A young man with Down Syndrome had asked Rykse's restaurant manager if he could apply for a job. He took a chance. The restaurant manager gave him an application and eventually hired him. The restaurant staff learned to support the young man - they took a chance.

From Camper to Counselor: YMCA Sherman Lake Camp related the story of how a camper who was challenged at camp because of disabilities as a child eventually became a counselor. The story revealed innovative ways that the camp staff had included the camper as a child. Now, as a counselor he is wonderful as he interacts with all campers. The counselor was unable to be at the Forum because he is now in college.

From Intern to Employee: Project Search at Bronson Hospital is a collaboration among Kalamazoo Regional Education Agency, Bronson Hospital and Kalamazoo Community Health and Substance Abuse Services. The eight interns rotate through various work experiences at the hospital and are held to high standards as interns. The goal of the project is for students to gain the skills, confidence and responsibilities of being good employees. All eight interns from the 2012-2013 year are now employed throughout the Kalamazoo community.

High Expectations: Humphrey Products had a job that needed to be filled by someone who would be responsible, competent and reliable in the factory. The Arcadia Institute was working with a young man who fit that description. Now a year later, the young man continues to do such a good job that he has been recognized for keeping his equipment exceptionally clean based on the high standards of the equipment inspector.

From Apprentice to Employee: One young man is very interested in media such as video and photography. He is currently learning how to handle high quality video equipment and operate a camera through the Media Arts Academy. On occasion he gets paid opportunities to practice what he has learned and to be part of a production team. His goal is to work in the video business.

Returning to Employment: A young woman who works at the People's Food Co-Op survived a stroke just over a year ago. Her co-workers at the Co-Op have supported her to come back to work. She is a valuable part of the team and they treat her as such. Coworkers have designed ways for her to navigate the various jobs she does at the Co-Op very creatively. Constant communication among her coworkers has been an integral part of supporting her successful return to work.

Volunteering to Employment: Another young man has volunteered regularly at the Boys and Girls Club for nearly four years. Some health problems have been kept him from employment. Recently, he has been invited to start attending staff meetings. They are on a path to creating a job for this young man that is based on tasks they need done and his gifts.

Stayed tuned for the next few blogs where we take a deeper look at what we learned that day and the connections that were discovered!