Remembering and Reflecting

The blog this week was written by George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute. Since March 31st will be my last official day as the head of The Arcadia Institute, this seems like a good time to share some information and thoughts about the organization’s history. In the next two blogs I will focus more directly on the two most recent programs we have developed. This blog will lay the groundwork for understanding those two initiatives.

The organization was incorporated in 1994 and received its authorization as a tax exempt nonprofit under Section 501©3 of the Internal Revenue Code. The background work and the task of incorporating was part of the work of the Finance Committee of what was then known as Community Advocates for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, where I served as Executive Director. The Institute was envisioned as a source of creative ideas and new directions in the disability field.

Over the course of our history, I believe that the Institute fulfilled that vision. We have tried out a number of ideas that did not result in any concrete and lasting achievements. We have brought some new ideas and ways of thinking to people in our community and around the state. For Instance, one program idea developed here in Kalamazoo provided leaders in other counties to develop a variety of ways to provide an answer to parents to the question: what happens when I am no longer around to care for and advocate for my son or daughter?

Some of our publications have informed the development of public policy and provided new ideas for other leaders. At one point we served as the fiscal agent for Parent to Parent, which became a significant nonprofit corporation serving parents who need to be united with other parents to receive a unique kind of advice and support. We organized a workshop on Dialogue at the Fetzer Institute which attracted people from around the state and some from other states. These are but a few concrete examples of our legacy thus far.

More than any other contribution, however, the Institute has been a source of new ways of thinking strategically about issues and coming forth with different approaches to problems. During my tenure as President, I have been fortunate to serve under a Board of Directors that has allowed me a great deal of latitude to try out new ventures, even though the number of them that led to few concrete results. However, I think I can support the contention that taken together all of our ideas and trial projects have fed into what we are currently doing and provide us with a framework for reflection as we move into the future and face new challenges.

I think that the disability field has often been too attached to current ways of doing things and thinking to learn from the broader currents of social change within our country. We need an organization that is raising the questions: Why not?, What would happen if?, What would we need to…?, What parties do we need to call together to…? These are the kinds of questions that give rise to new ways of doing things. They are the kinds of questions I have been able to raise and try to mobilize others to answer in my time with the Institute. I have been fortunate, also, in my search for talented people to work with me.

I hope that as our current Program Director, Allison Hammond, assumes leadership for the organization she will draw on the richness of our history in designing new ways assist people with disabilities, their families and professionals to do their very best realize their full potential. Doing so, I am sure, challenge her and those working with her to explore new trails, follow new leads, envision things that do not immediately make sense.

In the next two blogs I will talk about the development of the Community Participation Initiative and our current Community Brokering program.