Atlanta Trip: Jill's Perspective

The blog this week was written by Jill Angell, Program Director of the Lake St. unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo. First, I would like to say, how honored I feel to be given the opportunity go to Atlanta with such a great group of people. Second, I was not sure what to expect from the trip but it turned out to be a great experience with lasting memories.

I don’t see myself as an expert at all on inclusion in afterschool programming; however it was a good learning experience for me to be able share what I have learned over the years, and the steps the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo have taken to make the Clubs more inclusive to all kids in the community. I was able to share the supports we have put in place, such as implementing positive behavior supports, using visual supports, and the universal supports we have put in place to address an individual’s need, but support all of our members.

Collaborating with the Georgia DD Council not only taught me some things, but I also feel like I made some lasting connections with other community developers. Our ideas can grow together regardless where we are in the country, as we continue to forge a path to making our community accessible and inclusive of everyone.

One of the ideas that I took away from the trip was the concept of a “Living Room Conversation”, which is an intimate meeting that community leaders attend to help make changes or develop a concept. The meeting has a laid back atmosphere, such as a person’s house, to make attendees feel comfortable. Usually a meal is served to make the meeting more inviting. The meeting has a purposeful agenda, and a facilitator to keep things on track. This was the first time I heard this concept, and I would like to use it as a way to get parents more involved in the daily operations of the Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as educate our community about what we do.

There was a saying that came up several times during the trip; “seeing is believing.” I wrote it down in all off my notes throughout the trip. It is such a simple saying, but it carried a lot of meaning with me. If community members could get to see and take part in inclusionary activities, people may start to believe in their importance. I kept thinking about how to take this motto and practice home, and use it not only with my staff but within my own community.

From the moment I got off the plane in Atlanta we were welcomed with open arms, and the trip was so uplifting and empowering to me. It was a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by a group of intelligent, open minded, positive community builders that really were advocates for change for all people. I hope that I can carry that positive energy throughout the year here in Kalamazoo. I plan to continue to stay in communication with the friends I made in Atlanta to encourage and learn from each other so we can continue to grow within our communities.