AACORN

AACORN’s mission is to provide life enrichment opportunities and residential options for adults with developmental disabilities in a supportive, caring community. AACORN believes that every individual has something to offer, that everyone deserves a life of purpose and meaning.

Incorporated in 2011, AACORN provides an option for adults with disabilities who have aged out of school and need a specialized program environment. A rural setting provides low-stress surroundings, and animal care, gardening, and daily living tasks offer purposeful activities.

AACORN’s life enrichment program has been transformative for individuals who experience high anxiety around large numbers of people, have diffculty communicating, and struggle with social interactions. Combining small groups with physical activity has been successful in reducing anxiety for these individuals. Other choices for self-paced meaningful engagement include arts and crafts, cooking, sewing, and making items for retail sale or donation to other nonprofts. Working and engaging in activities alongside other participants promotes strong interpersonal connections, aiding in the development of friendships among adults who have never before had friendships.

AACORN owns 40 acres of land, purchased from Tillers International, near Scotts, MI. Approximately half of necessary funds have been raised for the construction of an activities building which is critical for enabling the program to expand in both scope and participant numbers. Once the building is completed, plans include inviting community members to the site for special events, gardening, and volunteer opportunities. Long-range plans include a residential development focused around shared interests of gardening, small animal care, and rural life.

For more information, visit www.aacornfarm.org

Arc Community Advocates

The Arc Community Advocates has been serving Kalamazoo County for more than 65 years, providing vital free advocacy and training services for individuals with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities and their families. We exist as an advocacy organization to make it possible for each person with a developmental disability to participate fully in all aspects of community and to support the effort of each individual to determine their own future.

Our services empower individuals and families to live as independently in the community as possible. Our focus is educating, advocating, and empowering individuals and families to: navigate special education laws and supports; transition to adulthood; access housing, employment, and other community services; to obtain powers of attorney to reduce guardianships; and pursue long-term planning — all of which address milestone decisions across a lifespan. In addition, we advocate for policies that improve lives and access to the community, including affordable healthcare, because disability rights are human rights.

As an affiliate of Arc US and Arc Michigan, we utilize those relationships and the voices of families and individuals — whose diagnosis could be an intellectual disability, Down syndrome, Autism spectrum disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, and many other diagnoses — to promote and protect their human rights and actively support their full inclusion in the community.

For more information, visit www.communityadvocates.org

ASK Family Services

ASK Family Services provides peer support to families and youth in the Kalamazoo Community. Our mission is to assist families and their children who have developmental, mood, emotional, and behavioral challenges to understand and navigate services, advocate effectively, and achieve their potential.

Our staff members have lived experiences of disability, either as a parent of a child with special needs or as a youth who has experienced mental health challenges. Through the barriers we have faced individually we aim to inspire hope and help families recognize the strengths they have to draw from during diffcult times.

The services ASK provides to families can decrease isolation, empower parents, share knowledge on effective parenting, increase community involvement, provide an opportunity to have a voice, increase resiliency, and ensure that those we serve are not alone during times of need. Our families achieve these outcomes through one-on-one interactions, support-group participation, the location of community resources, trainings focused on challenges they face, social events, and evidenced-based parental learning opportunities.

The youth we serve have many opportunities to gain leadership skills, reduce stigma around mental health challenges, inform the various systems they may be involved with, learn to have an authentic voice in their care, acquire new skills, and develop positive and supportive relationships. These goals are accomplished through our youth advisory group and youth peer support programs in both individual and group formats. At ASK Family Services, we help families and youth recognize their strengths and use them to build a better future for themselves. Because we have all faced similar challenges we are uniquely qualifed to share our experiences, strengths, and hope to empower those we serve to achieve their fullest potential.

For more information, visit www.askforkids.org

Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center

Situated amongst the farmland and forest in Augusta, MI, is one of our area’s best kept secrets: the Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center. Well known on the Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies international scene, this little gem has been quietly making a huge impact right here in our backyard for 50 years.

Monday through Friday year round, clients run, walk, and roll their way through the doors at Cheff, eager to meet up with “their” horse and go for a ride. Clients range in age from two to eighty-six, and all face physical, emotional, or cognitive challenges in their daily lives. In 2018, the program served an average of 125 clients per week (for a grand total of 625 individuals) through their equine-based Therapeutic Riding, Hippotherapy (physical therapy), and unmounted programs.

Week in and week out at this little slice of horse heaven children are slowing the inevitable progression of terminal diseases, senior citizens are strengthening muscles and improving balance, US veterans are smiling again, battles with addiction are being won, first sentences are being spoken, first steps are being taken, and countless other milestones are being achieved. All of these wonderful accomplishments have been made possible by more than 300 annual volunteers and the financial support of our community.

For more information or to tour the farm, visit www.cheffcenter.org

Disability Network Southwest Michigan

Founded in 1981 by a small group of disability advocates, Disability Network Southwest Michigan educates and connects people with disabilities to the community resources they need to live independently, all while advocating for social change. Much of our advocacy work is focused on creating communities that value disability as human diversity, free of attitudinal barriers, where all people beneft with full access and inclusion.

We are a nationally recognized Center for Independent Living; this distinction makes us unique from other community based nonproft organizations. We believe that people with disabilities know best the disability experience; therefore, more than 51% of our staff and board of directors are people with disabilities. Our services are cross-disability; we serve people across all disabilities and ages. We believe all people with disabilities should be able to thrive and grow at home, in the workplace, and in their community. Our services are customer-driven; customers have the power to set their own goals and staff assist them in reaching those goals.

Our services consist of five main core areas — Information & Referral, Advocacy, Peer Support, Independent Living Services, and Transition — that impact not only people with disabilities but the communities they live and work in. Examples of our services include: assisting a person transitioning from a nursing facility back to community based living, building ramps to improve access to the community, advocating for accessible transportation and housing, and preparing youth for post-secondary experiences such as employment, college or living on their own.

For more information, visit www.dnswm.org

Housing Resources Incorporated

The mission of Housing Resources, Inc. (HRI) is the assurance of housing for the economically and socially vulnerable persons of Kalamazoo County. One way that HRI meets this mission is through Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). PSH is a nationally recognized, cost-effective, proven solution to the needs of vulnerable people with disabilities who are homeless. PSH combines affordable housing assistance with voluntary support services while connecting people with community based resources including physical and mental health care and treatment. In many cases, PSH ends chronic homelessness for individuals and families.

Through our HUD PSH program HRI serves families of individuals with disabilities. Families may receive rental assistance and supportive services until their child(ren) turn 18 or exit the program. Individuals with disabilities may live at HRI’s Rickman House — an historic building with 49 beautifully renovated units — as long as they choose, with a rental subsidy and supportive services.

HRI believes that everyone deserves a home. The PSH program allows individuals and families experiencing homelessness the opportunity for housing stabilization, maximum levels of self-suffciency and an overall better quality of life.

For more information, visit www.housingresourcesinc.org

KRESA WoodsEdge Learning Center

Kalamazoo RESA’s WoodsEdge Learning Center is an innovative school dedicated to developing independence in our students. Our students have varied disabilities (cognitive impairments, severe multiple impairments, autism, blindness, hearing impairments) but also many abilities. We are driven by our vision of a community without barriers, and teach our students in community places outside the school environment.

Music therapy is a part of our program that capitalizes on something nearly all students love. In music therapy, students learn about rhythm, singing, dance, and feelings associated with the music they hear. Students experience visits from performers from our community who share their music, dance, and storytelling. Each year students also attend performances in the community, an activity some may not otherwise experience.

The major focus of music therapy is to give students another way to learn new skills, to teach the joy of music of all genres, and to give them an opportunity to show us their talents. Some students have discovered hidden singing talents and the ability to play the piano by ear, and when they express themselves through music they remind us that life is to be enjoyed. The smiles, dancing during concerts, and exuberant clapping are great lessons for the adults who support our students too.

For more information, visit www.kresa.org/woodsedge

Residential Opportunities Incorporated

In 1978, Residential Opportunities, Inc. (ROI) began operations with specifc goals in mind: to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) come home from state institutions, rejoin our community, and experience fuller and more enriched lives. Forty years ago people lived in institutions or with their families, with limited access to education or employment. Back then, there were very few services available in the community for someone with a signifcant disability.

Today, in partnership with Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and other similar organizations, individuals supported by ROI thrive in our community — with or near family and friends. Today, individuals with an IDD celebrate birthdays and holidays, work and play in the community, take vacations with friends and family and have access to high-quality health care. Today, individuals with an IDD live alongside all of us, in specialized residential licensed group homes, supported living programs, or affordable rental housing apartments in neighborhoods with flexible staffng supports.

ROI’s focus is on helping the individuals we serve pursue their goals, dreams, and desires by providing the necessary tools to help people determine what a meaningful life looks like to them — whether it’s seeing the Detroit Tigers play, shopping in a marketplace, enjoying a play at the Civic Theatre, going to Disney World or on a Caribbean cruise. We have even helped people get married and have a honeymoon. Our Representative Payee Services program has helped people manage their money for nearly 40 years. Additionally, we have created a state-of-the-art intensive autism treatment program and outpatient treatment programs for children with autism. If past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, the next 40 years should generate even more success for hundreds of people with disabilities.

For more information, visit www.residentialopportunities.org

SLD Read

The National Institute of Health reports that an astounding 20% of children entering our schools face signifcant challenges in learning to read. Their research fnds that if these children do not receive appropriate intervention by the age of nine, 74% of them will never close the reading gap.

SLD Read’s vision is a community working together for literacy that empowers all individuals to achieve their full potential. To reach this vision, we: help individuals with dyslexia, learning differences, and other reading challenges to develop lifelong language skills through our multisensory program; assist educators to identify learning challenges and provide training and techniques to enhance their reading curriculum; and increase community awareness and understanding of literacy issues.

We make reading possible through the following programs:

• Testing and evaluation services that assess reading skills and focus areas to determine an individualized plan of action for each student we serve.

• Highly-trained tutors that provide one-to-one tutoring using an explicit, sequential and cumulative, multisensory approach to address key literacy elements. These services are available to parents who come directly to SLD Read. Fees are on a sliding scale based on family size and income. Tutoring is also available through school-based programs that happen during the school day with no charge to the parents or students.

• Professional development courses that help educators to understand reading challenges and incorporate strategies to help all learners succeed in the classroom. Individual educators can attend these courses, and school-building and district-wide trainings are available.

• Community workshops for community organizations, parents, educators, tutors, and students that promote literacy and increase the understanding around struggling readers.

For more information, visit www.sldread.org

Kalamazoo Youth Development Network

Kalamazoo County is home to over 40,000 school-age youth, approximately 5,500 of whom participate in quality out-of-school time (OST) programming. Research demonstrates that when OST participation is high, there is no gap between the math achievement of low- and higher-income children at grade five. We also know that when OST participation is high, youth are more likely to attend and engage in school and to graduate on time.

The Kalamazoo Youth Development Network (KYD Network), formed in 2000 with the support of the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation (Foundation) and others, serves as the OST intermediary for Kalamazoo County. Our vision is that all youth are college-ready, career-ready, and community-ready by 21. We achieve this vision by ensuring that all Kalamazoo County youth, ages 5 to 21, have access to high-quality, youth-driven OST experiences that are inclusive, culturally relevant, well coordinated and that use resources efficiently to reduce disparities among youth. We work directly with more than 40 youth-serving organizations, many of which are funded by the Foundation.

Over the past four years, through the support of the Foundation, KYD Network has undergone a transformation. Our reach has increased from having seven youth-serving organizations in our “cohort” to more than 40. The tie that binds the cohort is a common focus on quality, because research shows that the higher the quality of the learning environment in OST, the better the outcomes for youth.

In order to better understand how to improve quality of OST programming, KYD Network partners with the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality to implement the Youth Program Quality Intervention (YPQI) with our 40 cohort members. The YPQI is an evidence-based continuous quality improvement process that requires organizations to use a tool called the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA). This tool has been researched and proven to be a reliable and valid measure of program quality for youth-development organizations. YPQA data are collected three times a year so that organizations can make improvements in their programming. Data from internal and external assessments are compared and each organization has access to a national database so that it can gauge its performance to similar organizations across the country.

Data from the YPQA have shown steady improvements in the quality of learning environments in our cohort (visit our website at www.kydnet.org for details). This is important because, again, we know that the higher the quality of the learning environment, the better the outcomes for youth. KYD Network also focuses on social-emotional learning (SEL) and uses the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) to track improvements in youth who participate in OST programming. Research demonstrates that as youth gain SEL skills — self-management, goal directed behavior, decision making — they do better in school and have more prosocial behavior. We have documented that the longer youth attend our cohort member’s programs, the more they gain these important skills.

A critical element to creating high-quality OST programming is youth voice, providing intentional and authentic opportunities for youth to design, implement, and evaluate OST programming and shape their community. KYD Network facilitates the Kalamazoo County Youth Cabinet (KCYC), a youth council made up of 10 youth from the county who work on issues they have identified as important to them and their community. KCYC is currently partnering with Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes on a photo-voice project to identify food insecurity in their lives and communities. Through workshop creation and facilitation, they are also helping to create learning opportunities for youth and adults to become allies in reducing stigma around mental health, creating a cadre of trained adults who can better support youth. The Foundation supported KYD Network’s partnership with The Neutral Zone, a youth-driven organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to provide training and coaching to KCYC during its first year of operation. KCYC has utilized and shared the skills learned from The Neutral Zone with both new members and other Youth Advisory Councils.

Through the support of the Foundation, KYD Network offered two workshops in collaboration with Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein, a MacArthur Fellow, eminent research physiologist, leading authority on the connection between art and science, and co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, Sparks of Genius. These workshops addressed the integration of the arts into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, thereby converting “STEM” to “STEAM.” Dr. Root-Bernstein further guided participants through his 13 thinking tools for creative problem-solving and provided hands-on strategies for helping youth gain the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.

Over the last four years, KYD Network has been able to create a well-functioning OST system guided by quality standards, common outcomes for youth, core competencies for Youth Development Professionals, a community-wide approach to summer learning, and collaboration among our cohort members. The Foundation continues to play an instrumental role in supporting KYD Network’s growth and impact, helping to ensure that all youth are college-ready, career-ready, and community-ready by 21.

For more information, visit www.kydnet.org.