Arc Kent County: Their First Community Inclusion Forum

The Arc Kent County strives to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are valued in order that they and their families can participate fully in and contribute to their community. We have offered the Community Participation Initiative since January 2010, and have already seen positive results. My name is Jackie Lambrecht, and as the new Community Inclusion Coordinator, I was able to begin my role with a memorable event. In early November, we held our first Community Inclusion Forum, which was a great success. Individuals traveled to Grand Rapids from cities including Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Detroit. We were lucky to have Grand Valley State University students who are studying Special Education join us last minute, as well. Our attendees formed an impressive list including educators, parents, case managers, business members, peer mentors, and advocates, among others.

The morning began with George Martin from The Arcadia Institute speaking about inclusion and the historical context that led to this necessity. Powerful, and to the point, it set the mood for the rest of the day. Guest speakers highlighted Kent County happenings, and their personal interaction with our Participants. At one point, a high school athletic director and basketball team member had most of us in tears with their touching story. Our forum concluded with group discussions facilitated by Allison Hammond, and plenty of brainstorming about ways to be more inclusive. The day provided ample opportunity for networking and learning, and we were more than pleased.

As a follow up to our Community Inclusion Forum, a group of forum participants pledged to meet regularly to continue with this mission, and collaborate where we can. We had our first meeting on January 4 in which seven people were in attendance. It was wonderful to see how the attitude from the forum is having a continued affect in our community. For example, three YMCA locations have recognized various volunteer positions that people with disabilities could partake in to gain valuable job skills. Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has made a commitment to include all community members in assessments of local parks before renovations take place. United Church Outreach Ministries (UCOM) has made a new volunteer application form that is asset based versus needs based and barrier focused. These efforts are simple, and exemplify the commitment to including everyone in community activities that is growing in Kent County.

This group is striving to meet on a regular basis. As we move forward, we anticipate others joining as outreach takes place. We recognize that the momentum obtained at our forum will only promote a more inclusive community as time progresses. Needless to say, excitement is among us.