Community Participation: A Destination and a Pathway

This week, George Martin shares his thoughts on how the Community Participation Initiative came about.________________________________________

Several years ago when I conceived of our Community Participation Initiative, I was searching for a way to move beyond the traditional ways to support people with disabilities in our schools and mental health systems.

It occurred to me that the key was the broader community that supports all of us. We work to prepare people to take part in community as equals with other people, and the community is the best support network we can find, not a segregated program that further sets people apart and limits their options in life.

Community participation is the pathway along which people gain skills, self respect, knowledge of new ventures, increased options and a wider variety of relationships. All these gains add value to the lives of people with disabilities and everyone else in the community.

For me, this idea of the Initiative goes back to the ‘80’s when Tip Ray came to Kalamazoo to share his experiences in Minnesota. I have also gleaned much from John and Connie O’Brien, Responsive Systems Associates, Robert Perske, Beth Mount, and John McKnight, all of who have come to Kalamazoo on more than one occasion.

The person from whom I borrowed most directly was Tip Ray, who did some pioneering work in recreation in Minnesota. As far as I know Tip had the original idea of working directly with community agencies that serve everyone to encourage and assist them to include people with disabilities in the programs available to the rest of the community.

We are learning as we go. Community agencies are joining with us as partners. We are generating a true movement, rather than merely creating a program, both in Kalamazoo and around Michigan. Our goals include continuing the movement beyond Michigan as well.

Join us.

- George Martin

To read more about the resources mentioned visit the following Web sites: John and Connie O’Brien Beth Mount Robert Perske Tip Ray