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Toronto Summer Institute: Report from the LiveWorkPlay Staff Team

The Community Connector team of Grace Hudson, Caitlin Fortier, and George Kranitis were joined by the Employment Supports team at the Toronto Summer Institute. Hosted by Inclusion Press the Pan Am games in Toronto necessitated a change of venue, and a great time was had by all at the campus of the University of California at San Diego.

Meeting new people!

With names like McKnight, O’Brien, Mount, Kohler, Snow, Pearpoint and more, this is the type of leading-edge training and learning that keeps LiveWorkPlay moving forward. It was also an opportunity to showcase our own work, with many opportunities made available for the team to share their own best practices with a receptive audience of peers. The following account from Caitlin, augmented with quotes from Grace, George, and Paul, is our effort to “pay it forward” and share our positive experience with others.

The conference was different from any that I have attended before. The delegates at TSI 2015 were on the same page as LiveWorkPlay in terms of progressive thinking about community-based supports. I found this refreshing and encouraging. There were several organizations there that were in the process of transitioning to person-centered community based supports, similar to what LiveWorkPlay did 4-5 years ago when the day program was phased out.

In the morning there were movement leaders who would host small group modules and you could attend the same one all week, or search out variety. In the afternoon, people who were attending the conference hosted their own talks with subjects of their own design, and other conference attendees could pick and choose what they wanted to attend. There was a giant calendar of the week on the wall and on the afternoon of the first day, everyone was invited to fill in their time slots with topics and discussions they wanted to host. The topics ranged from sexuality and relationships, to talking about the human spirit and mortality. For the most part they all related to disability, but they didn’t have to.

No small discussions, just big ideas shared in different formats!

The format of the conference was open and jam-packed with opportunities, but also very relaxed. Each morning there was a meditation or yoga available. The evenings included gatherings at the beach or other locations. Everyone was very welcoming. It was the first time I had been to a conference where the majority of the people had been before and “come every year.” That is a good sign, I think. The openness of the conference made for good, honest, and conversations where people felt they could open up and be vulnerable.

A favorite presenter was De’Amon Harges from Indianapolis. He started his module talking about people’s gifts, and really “seeing people.” He has spent a lot of time in community just observing those around him, and values the idea of enhancing community in places where it already exists, instead of trying to create it out of thin air. This is something we believe in at LiveWorkPlay and I try to live it every day in my role as a Community Connector – instead of creating or trying to find “special needs soccer” or “special needs art” I investigate the existing soccer and art communities and see how they might be a fit with the individual who has tasked me with helping them find the right place to share their gifts.

Harges used an example of a neighborhood of people who all kept gardens in their back yards, and there was a community garden in the same area too that was in need of more support. Those who already had their own gardens came together to help revamp community garden which eventually produced enough local food to feed the neighborhood. He noted that these were people who were already interested and successful with gardening and so the community garden was an extension of their existing passion.

A multi-sensory experience!

De’Amon was very patient and although my colleagues and I at LiveWorkPlay have already embraced these principles, I can see myself using his ideas to an even greater degree in my work. Observing people’s gifts can mean meeting people in their homes/own environments more often, or going to see what they are good at and what they like. It can also mean just being intentional about getting to know someone better than I already do. It’s about observing people’s gifts and passion and helping them use them. The traditional Developmental Services approach involves day programs and sheltered workshops where people are segregated and congregated, where staff often teach people about subjects or involve them in activities that don’t even like. That’s why the person-centred thinking and processes have been embraced by everyone at TSI. It’s better for everyone!

This “gifts” concept was really brought home at the end of the conference when the entire conference delegation gathered in a circle. A woman named Shelly shared with the crowd that although everyone thought she was so great because she could sing, she values people with “quiet gifts” that are not her strongest quality, such as empathy, listening, and sharing abilities. To me these exemplified the spirit of TSI to hear someone heralded for their abilities show leadership by taken that spotlight and refocusing it on others in a genuine and meaningful way.

Inclusion is a state of mind!

I joined Caitlin for the Harges session on Finding the Joy in our Communities. He helped confirm the importance of viewing our communities as vital places where support for LiveWorkPlay members is really about harnessing what is already available, knowing that sometimes there will be a need for adaptations that I can help facilitate. From this perspective my role is really not “building community” it’s about recognizing and realizing potential as a contributor who is building alongside others.  De’Amon was truly inspirational to me. ~ Grace Hudson, Community Connector

I was grateful for the opportunity to immerse and surround myself with so many brilliant and like-minded individuals, and to have the chance to not only contribute to a discussion relevant to inclusion, but facilitate a discussion on the topic as well. Like Paul, I found the ideology of the SRV workshop was a great fit with LiveWorkPlay values and our approach to supporting individuals and the community. ~ George Kranitis, Community  Connector