Last week, 4 women from Georgia and 1 woman from Colorado joined The Arcadia Institute and Connect Kalamazoo for a Learning Journey. The purpose of the Learning Journey was for these visitors to meet, see and hear from organizations in Kalamazoo that have embraced including people with disabilities in their programs and activities. The guests arrived on Sunday, June 22 and were taken to settle in at Transformations Spiritual Center located at Nazareth, MI. Transformations is a conference center operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph. After dinner, the guests received a brief orientation about the schedule for the next two days and got to know one another.
Monday, June 23, 2014
First stop was the YMCA Sherman Lake Camp where Lorrie Syverson, Camp Director, led us on a tour of the Lodge. She spent time talking about how several years ago they began being more intentional about outreach to campers with disabilities. She spoke of their evolution of learning to support any camper through training, finding solutions and building relationships with parents.
Next, we went to the Kalamazoo Nature Center. There, Jenny Brennaman, Experiential Education Director, talked about how diversity is part of nature. It is in the very fabric of the mission of the Nature Center that children with disabilities be included at camp. We also learned about some adults with disabilities who are now regular volunteers there.
The People’s Food Co-Op was the next stop on the journey. We learned from Liz Hinz and Simon Borst about their commitment to bringing employees who become disabled through injury or health crises back into employment. They feel responsible for employees who have been part of their organization and are willing to work through learning how to support a person. Team work, creativity and commitment are what makes it possible.
The last stop on Monday was Camp Rota Kiwan that is the Boy Scout and Cub Scout camp in Southwest Michigan. Kat the Cub Scout Camp director gave us a tour of the facilities. She talked about the importance of a scout experience being available for boys with disabilities. Several Eagle Scouts over the past years have been young men with disabilities – from cerebral palsy, to autism to serious medical conditions.
That evening we talked about the themes that the guests noticed.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
The day started with our guests attending the Connect Kalamazoo monthly meeting. The guests learned that our typical agenda is Networking around community resources and events. Connect Kalamazoo also works to Align our community around what inclusion really is as well as conducts the Annual Building a Community of Belonging Forum – and The Learning Journey.
We then traveled to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo site at Edison Elementary School. Jessica, Program Director, shared the accommodations that they have incorporated into the Club that help all of the youth. For example, there is a large white board with a schedule of the activities the youth can choose. On the schedule there are pictures of the activities along with a picture of the staff person leading the activity. This is helpful for the younger club members who are just learning to read as well as club members who may related better to pictures of what the activities are.
Last stop of the journey was the Portage District Library. The highlight of that stop was the beautiful artwork in the Preschool area created by local artist Conrad; however, another highlight was the Ready Reads collection in the Adult area. Ready Reads are books that are for people to have access to material like science, fiction, history, biographies, etc.; however, they are not able to read at an advanced grade level.
The Learning Journey was a success. Not only did the guest say that they would recommend the trip to Kalamazoo to people in the future, but relationships were built among the guests and the Arcadia staff that will last for a long time!