Work. Starfire Story Series 04 Part I

Our newest story series will focus on work. What does it look like when people with disabilities are connected to meaningful employment – in the community?

Listen to Christopher Kubik speak on the topic of integrated employment and ways he matches people with disabilities and employers so that they’re both the right fit.



Christopher: For me personally, and I may not have enough experience to see this clearly, but I am very, very drawn to doing things that people thought were impossible. And for many people we work with their families or themselves personally were told at a young age, ‘you’ll never have a job.’ ‘You’ll never…’ A big long list of ‘you’ll never’s.’ That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. 

So this summer was rough for us. A lot of people lost jobs. Because it’s their first job and you blow it on your first job. I remember being fired from the dairy corner down in Newtown.

And a lot of times the people we are working with, they’re adults that have not had a real job out in the community, that has nothing to do with disability, a typical job. Maybe real is a bad name.

Everyone blows their first job. You got to learn. Its okay. What do you do? Do you never work again? No. lets get another job and regroup and like go at it again now that we learned something. Were going to be able to design a better role next time.

Katie: Sometimes when you hear about employment with any marginalized group, it can create this deficit umbrella over them. “Oh, they’re unemployed so that means that they’re needy in some way.” So when you go to an employer, Chris, that narrative that this is a person who has a deficit, and they need you to give them a job to make their life better. How is that a different conversation through your work?

C: That’s a great question. The only reason we job hunt for people is because they have on their own said in some way, “I’m interested in that.” So we don’t prescribe a job as a solution. If you take it slow, and build it with being known first, then it can really be actually the culmination of who you are. But when it’s rushed and forced for an outcome, it can really backfire and have really long-term damage.

So when we come to an employer we say, ‘Hey, were looking in the neighborhood for opportunities for Katie to work, what do you guys do?’ And then I’ll ask, ‘What are some of the things that you guys are struggling with? Or what are parts and times of the week that suck?’ And then just offer solutions. It’s as simple as that. And then you can think about what if one of the people we are job hunting for can be the person that provides that solution. And what would that look like. And then we introduce the person were thinking are maybe a fit there. But its based on, ‘Will this help your business? Are you willing to have a trail period? Or will you hire this person and we will reconvene in 30 days?’

And talk about what’s working what’s not. What can we shift so it will work long-term. And small businesses, if the team is small enough, that is a really easy conversation. And they’re really open to that kind of experimentation. They’re not married to some org chart that they can’t stray from. They are able to look at the things in between and see opportunities. And that’s humbling to see business be like, ‘Okay, yeah lets try it.’

I know personally, a job has changed my life for the better. Of who I am and what I am capable of doing. And I see that with the people we work with. Their personality changes in positive ways. They gain confidence and are more comfortable in their own skin. This is a normal thing and it’s also shockingly happening with people who live with disabilities. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. What is a job besides the money? It’s people coming together around a  common mission and devoting time and energy in order to get that thing done. And so I think people should be included in that kind of thing.

This story is part of our Story Series, “Work.” Subscribe and get a new story from Starfire in your inbox week by week!

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Happy birthday – times three

The first time we sang happy birthday was right before the gifts. Jessica wanted to open them right away, before the food came. She got a butterfly necklace, a restaurant gift certificate, tickets to a play, a winter vest, and a coffee cup that read, “I love you a Latke.”

The second time we sang happy birthday was at the end of the night, when our cheesecakes arrived and a candle was lit. “Happy birthday dear Jessica,” the 8 women sang in chorus around her.

“The Queen!” she interjected. We laughed and nodded our heads in love and agreement.

“Happy birthday to yooou!”

Then for reasons all her own, Sandy reached over and lit a new candle, on another part of her cheesecake, and with all the willingness and joy that only a table of friends could muster for their friend, the queen, on her birthday, we began the third and final rendition of happy birthday to Jessica.

“And many more!” Sandy concluded.

On the way home from dropping her off that night, my 3-year old daughter asked, “Mama, why did we have to drive Jessica home?”

“Well, because Jessica can’t drive,” I answered.

“But where is her mommy?”

Jessica’s parents both passed away 7 years ago, months apart from each other. Her mom was old, and she got sick I explained. So… she’s gone but now Jessica has other women in her life who care about her, like our family, and all the women who were around the table tonight, singing her happy birthday – 3 times.


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The life she imagined – Kachelle’s story

Kachelle said at first, she wasn’t sure about partnering with Danyetta – or Starfire.

“In the beginning, I was just a little stiff,” she said about her early days working with Danyetta. “I’m not used to people.”

That was two years ago. Today, Kachelle is an active part of her community in Lower Price Hill. Through Danyetta’s support, week after week, she can now say she is building the life she imagined – filled with connections to the art world and opportunities to create with others. And because of her new friendship with Alicia, Kachelle has a job as an “artist in residence” at the neighborhood non-profit, Community Matters.


“I don’t think Kachelle realizes how much she means to me,” Alicia said, Community Engagement Coordinator from Community Matters. “I think she has a lot of power. I love seeing her every week. She lights up any time she comes and we’re doing art together.”


“I like to help people get together,” said Kachelle. “And I like Starfire and working with Danyetta. I don’t know what I’d do without this.”

Kachelle first connected to Starfire because she expressed wanting to get out of her house more and meet people her age who lived nearby. But her experiences at that time were working in a sheltered workshop, where she said she spent all of her time in the facility.

“I told Danyetta in the beginning that I like to get my hands messy,” said Kachelle. “I didn’t want the paint brush, I like to use my whole hand on the canvas.”

“When Kachelle told me she likes art, I thought about the ‘who’ first, then the ‘what,’” said Danyetta. “I knew Alicia from another neighborhood project I was involved in and reached out. It worked out nicely because Kachelle and Alicia care about the same things, and they’ve formed a friendship.”

Kachelle, Alicia, and Danyetta came up with the idea to create a space for artists in Lower Price Hill to engage, naming it “The Collective” – a weekly artist meet-up in Price Hill.

“We recognize that the word ‘artist’ can be intimidating,” continued Alicia. “So we’ve tried to develop projects everyone can take part in. It’s an opportunity to be creative and be a leader in your community.”

To learn more about why Kachelle’s work connecting in her neighborhood is so important, check out our website.


This story is part of our Story Series, “Time.” Subscribe and get a new story from our series in your inbox every week! 


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Purple Backpack

excerpt from speech given at StoryFest breakfast held Friday, October 12th, 2017

Maggie, started school this year with a bang. With literal kicking and screaming and banging on things. What was designed for modern parental convenience, the drive up, open your door, and a nice friendly teacher would remove child from car seat, became a monumental battle each morning. Mostly, the experience left my daughter feeling like she was being abducted by strangers. Every. Single. Morning.

Being the social innovator that I am, and employing my Starfire design thinking skills, we quickly realized that if we parked the car, and walked her to the door, she no longer caused such a scene. There was still the dread of going to school, but much less abuse of the teachers.

The dread however, came to stop altogether and things started to change for her when she came home excitedly about a month ago.

“mama! Someone at school has my same backpack!”

“That’s wonderful! Who? Did you ask their name?”


I gave a big smile. Maggie, having no idea, that I know who Beatrice is. That she is our neighbor in Madisonville, mere blocks away from our house, and that Beatrice’s dad, Shawn, is one of Starfire’s best connectors, and Beatrice’s mom, Missy, is one of Cincinnati’s best crafting artists with Happy Groundhog Studios.

Maggie and I spent the last few minutes before bedtime looking at pictures of Beatrice on her mom’s Facebook wall. Pictures of Beatrice at an FC Cincinnati event, at the pool with her cousins, at the Dali Museum with her brother… and a picture of her on World Down Syndrome Day. Her mom, Missy, wrote under that picture “I hope in the future that this doesn’t need to be a special day. That all people are included and loved for who they are, and not forgotten or separated because they don’t move as quick, because they look different, or because they don’t have the words to say what they want.”

I asked Shawn and Missy for permission before sharing Maggie and Beatrice’s story as we think about that budding friendship. Not because it’s extraordinary that two kids can become friends with someone who has the same purple backpack with stars. But because of the opposite side of the coin – what is lost when people with Down Syndrome, or autism, or cerebral palsy, or any disabilities, aren’t given the opportunity to feel that spark of friendship and welcome in our community. When they sharing ordinary places, when they aren’t known and given the opportunity to grow in relationship. What is lost when people with disabilities aren’t included, when separateness and isolation and anonymity are the dominant story arc of someone’s life.

But Starfire tells a different story. Our work is one person at a time by design, honoring everyone’s unique identity, but it has a rich multiplying effect in our community locally and nationally. The work of Starfire is impacting more places and more lives than at any other time in our near 25 year organizational history.

See videos featured at this year’s Storyfest Breakfast event here:

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“Time” – Series 03 Part 1

Our Series 3 theme is: Time. 

How do you want to spend your time? How does the way you spend your time impact others? When is time with others “wasted”?

Listen below or head to Soundcloud to hear Starfire’s Tim Vogt discuss how time spent with people with disabilities should be valued as “sacred.”

“Time matters so much… We have come to understand that the time we have with people with disabilities is sacred. It represents their life.”


Full Transcript:

Katie: So, what does it mean to spend a lifetime with people?

Tim: There’s a great metaphor from C.S. Lewis in his book “The Four Loves,” where he talks about the difference between approach and nearness, and he talks about this in the context of faith and being close to God. But I think it applies, the way he describes it he says,

“I want you to imagine that you’re on a path, and your path ends at a village, and the village has a warm bath and a cup of tea and all your friends are there, and there is a fire and you’re in the mountains and you’re on this path and it’s cold and it’s rainy and your coming to this cliff, and you’re at the top of the cliff, and below you you can see the village where you are going, the baths and the tea and the friends. It’s waiting for you. But there is no way to get to it, you’re near it, you can see it, you can smell the smoke from the fire. But you can’t fly and you can’t climb down the cliff. The only way to get there is a five-mile loop that goes around the whole valley, and actually every step you take for a while is going to get you further from the village, but interestingly enough you’re approaching your goal more than you were when you were near it.”

The question really is about what’s the goal. And what it means to get there. When I think about what does it mean, especially in our work in Starfire, to help people grow towards each other, it means more than just being near. The path is actually the thing we have to keep going along. We have to travel that. And time matters there it might take longer, it will take longer. We can’t actually get closer unless we spend a lot of time together. Isn’t that a great metaphor?

K: It is.

T: Its really helpful to me

K: Yeah. Why do people have a hard time committing to a long-haul?

T: Well I’m really interested these days in what happens if we don’t have to commit to it but we just continue travel together. Because, time is just really interested in that, if we go 30 years in the future, and we say we’ve been best friends, or we’ve been married, or we’ve been great neighbors. We’d look back and say, what kinds of things did we do to keep that alive. It was things like forgive each other, and grow separately but come back together, and bring new people in to introduce and celebrate together. We’d have to do all these things that probably require us to be uncomfortable. But when we are in the future looking back, its easy to say: “Oh yeah that’s how it happened,” but it’s hard for us to see it that way. That’s why time matters so much, is that it’s the passing of time that allows all of that stuff to happen.

K: Sometimes more time does not equal quality time. So with Starfire we have actually started working less with people, we spend less time with people. And we out in more quality during the week more than maybe we did with the day program days.

T: It was just a way we thought about peoples lives and our purpose. Our whole purpose was to almost fill time, and now it is to invest it in that future story, that future goal. We have just come to understand that the time that we have with people with disabilities is sacred. It represents their life. And we spend a few hours a week building that life. A connected, vibrant, life with lots of friends who care about me.

K: So you’re saying that the goal you have in mind can determine the way you spend your time. And the goal that we have is different than keeping people safe and happy now it’s a full rich life.

T: Yeah, its some what of an understanding, and it’s something to own up to. We didn’t actually imagine the same kind of lives for people with disabilities than that we imagined for ourselves. And somehow we imagined that their purpose was a very finite, you know, existence. That was very much in the present of managing them or just keeping them safe and happy. When we started to say “oh we’ve been thinking about this all wrong. Each of these people have a unique purpose.” Then we had to, one come to terms how we assumed very little was possible for them. And once when we did that, we had to commit ourselves to what was possible. Then we had to understand that’s generally looks like a connected, included, participatory future. But, again its unique and wild for each person. So we had to design our services in a way that use time to get there. When we started to think about what that looks like, it takes a lifetime to build a life so we had to figure out how to invest our time and partnership with people in a sacred way that lead to that future. And allow the space for surprise and new relationships and affection to percolate.

K: So that’s that three hours that we spend a week instead of the four days.

T: Yup. So instead of four days its three hours of invested time, and the week in between actually really matters, because we become new over that week and the story becomes a little deeper. Week by week it gets deeper and deeper. Its approaches that vision of the future. It approaches that forty to fifty-year story. You can only chip away at that a step at a time, or a day at a time week at a time, you can’t knock it all out in a week or a month. It just doesn’t work like that.


…Also, please save the date for our Giving Tuesday at the end of this month! 


Giving Tuesday


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Inclusive Culture ²

When you work at Starfire, everyday is another opportunity to build connections. And the more passionate people we know, the stronger our efforts to build the culture of inclusion across Cincinnati.(Inclusion…squared!)

Desirae Hosley, from the amazing non-profit WordPlay connected with us recently. We chatted about how important it is that everyone’s voice is heard.


“A lot of times teens’ voices get over-shadowed, or they get told not to say too much, but they have stories inside of them. They just want someone to hear them out. I try to help them find a way to let their story be known, while still being creative.

WordPlay is partnering with Starfire this October at our big event *StoryFest* along with the other local non-profits: Cincy StoriesBespoken LiveCreative Mornings/Cincinnati.

StoryFest is a show of community building. It’s about giving these teens the chance to pull their story out of themselves – alongside other courageous storytellers from all over the city. The teens will be at the event holding a word they will have written on a poster board. The audience will have the chance to engage with them by asking them a question, so it will be like a “story exchange” that happens right before your eyes. These kids are freestylers, so they like to come up with thoughts on the spot, and I’m excited to see what they do.  This is the first time they will be sharing their stories in this way, I think it will be captivating, they will add a “spark” to the show.”
Learn more info using the hashtag #storyfestcincy2017 and RSVP for the free event here:

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More than just donuts…

What happens when the best donut shop in the city contacts you to offer a spot at one of their stores??



Holtman’s Donut Shop


Want more? Watch the “MadTree video” Katie references! 


This story is part of our Story Series, “The Spark.” Subscribe and get this series in your inbox every week! 

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A Family Story

We don’t say it enough, but without families, our work at Starfire would not be possible. Every connection made in the community, every new relationship formed, or job attained, families are the ones behind-the-scenes keeping those threads of connection together. In many ways, Starfire’s story is the story of every family we support.



Families like Joy and Rosie Lawrence-Slater, who believe that every person has an important role in the community. The mother and daughter duo recently shared their hopes and dreams for Rosie’s life when NPR’s StoryCorps came to Cincinnati.

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We understand families are stretched thin. So when 81% of families support our mission by… providing transportation to community events, or following up with new friends to keep the relationship going, or coming to us with ideas for a person’s future…we are in awe. That type of support isn’t what’s typically asked of families from support agencies like Starfire, and we know it’s not the easy way. Because of this, it’s the support we receive from families, more than almost everything else, that tells us our work is worth working for. 


This story is part of our Story Series, “The Spark.” Subscribe and get this series in your inbox every week! 

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“A Plan that Came True”

A few weeks back, Starfire received an email that reminded us of the importance of making room for “the spark” to happen. It was written by a mother, whose son Kyle used to attend our day program before it closed. Kyle would be receiving his Black Belt in Gumdo (sword fighting) that Saturday, and they wanted to share the news.

His mother went on to write that without the initial connection that Starfire made seven years ago – between Kyle and Paul Korchak (Founder of the Cincinnati Taekwondo Center) – his dream of attaining a Black Belt might never have been realized.

“I like my martial arts training and I look forward to going to class each week. Each skill is hard at first, but it gets easier the more I practice. My classmates have helped me learn so many moves and they have been great teachers. Ms. Knarr is nice and encourages me to do more. I enjoy most of the things that I have learned. I like to be a fighter with good moves and kicks. I really like to combine my fighting skills to make special powerful moves which include; a power attack, flashing punch, and double kick. I don’t like sparring as much because I am afraid someone will get hurt, but I like to work with my swords, because it makes me strong and builds muscles.”



As part of Starfire’s shift in those days toward more person-centered, community-based work – we saw that Kyle’s love of martial arts might be a natural and meaningful entryway into community life, and spring him out of our day program. So, our staff invited Master Korchak to attend a PATH (planning session) that would focus on Kyle’s hopes and dreams around the martial arts. Asks to the community in those days were something new, and often felt awkward. Will he come? Will he understand how important this could be to Kyle’s life? Will he be confused and ask questions I’m not sure how to answer? Going about the ask itself was a practice in faith. But to our delight, Master Korchak accepted.

And then it happened. At the PATH, Master Korchak extended the invitation for Kyle to come check out his class, and Kyle was obviously excited. This was the best outcome anyone could have hoped for. Without anyway of knowing in advance that it would happen, there at the PATH we saw a “spark.”

“During Kyle’s childhood he participated in a number of different sports: Swimming, soccer, and baseball, but all of them were segregated team sports and none of them has provided Kyle with the sense of joy and accomplishment that he feels with his Gumdo training. The bar is always being raised, there is variety, plenty to learn, and he can learn at his own pace.”

-Jenny, Kyle’s mother

Here’s Kyle during his Black Belt ceremony.


It did not take long before it was clear Kyle’s interest in Taekwondo was becoming a passion.  Kyle was hooked, and it was exciting to see the joy his classes gave him! Kyle’s love for Gumdo and the martial arts has been transformational! Kyle has developed a passion for the martial arts, which has improved his self-confidence, given him purpose, to be the best warrior he can be, and has allowed him to grow in a community that accepts his differences. We thank everyone who has help make his PATH, a plan that came true.

– Jenny

Receiving an email like this one is a part of our story we don’t always get to tell. We often make room for “sparks” to happen, and they don’t always ignite. And even sometimes when the do ignite, we don’t see the whole story unfold because people like Kyle, his family, and Master Korchak have figured out a way to carry on that spark for years on their own- outside of Starfire’s or some other service’s support.

Stories like these take a measure of serendipity and courage to shift course and try something different. At first the different path feels riskier – and less sure-footed than the typical “disability story” would offer. It takes guts to shift perspectives from believing who someone is based on their label of disability, and instead build a new story of who they might become: a Black Belt, a classmate, a community member, a friend.

Kyle Vorhees.jpg

“I am very happy to receive my Black Belt and I will continue to practice what I have learned so that I can continue to learn more forms and skills.


And like martial arts, inclusion takes practice. It starts by making that first invite to the community, building a plan, then sticking with it year after year. Then, even when we’ve reached some ultimate goal – we continue going back to the fundamentals, inviting and building, knowing that with discipline and heart the rewards will pay out over a lifetime.


This story is part of our Story Series, “The Spark.” Subscribe and get this series in your inbox every week! 

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“The Spark” – Series 02

This Series’ theme is: The Spark. 

Close your eyes and think of a time you felt a “spark” with someone or something. Was it the first time you held a microphone? The time you met your best friend? Why is this idea of a “spark” important to our work in the community around people with disabilities?

Listen below to hear Tim Vogt’s 3-question interview on this series’ theme with our Researcher Storyteller, Katie Bachmeyer.



Katie: So, tell me about a time you saw a spark at Starfire.

Tim: There was a young man that was coming here, Kyle, and he would walk around our day program, and he would walk in a very different way. He would turn his toes inward and make these sideways steps, and he would kind of walk around corners very intentionally. And, I remember, at the time we had a few staff who thought this was a really big problem – that he was acting strangely or it wasn’t appropriate. One staff, a guy named Jon, had noticed that this young man had kind of an interest in martial arts, in ninja-kind of stories. And Jon actually noticed that what Kyle was doing was not strange or weird, it was actually a form of martial arts.

So, the first spark was the noticing of that staff, saying, “Huh? I wonder if this isn’t just weird or this isn’t just strange or this isn’t just a behavior problem. What if this is an intentional clue into who this person really is? Maybe this is one form of communication of who they think they are and who they were born to be.” As a result, another staff started to invite in a local martial arts master to teach for the reason of cultivating this interest that was noticed with this young man. So, Kyle gets an opportunity now, because of these two staff, to be in the presence of somebody who could be a mentor, or a sensei if you will, to his unfolding or emerging identity around the martial arts.

A few months later, Kyle is having a planning session.  His family is coming and our staff are gonna be there. We’re thinking about who is Kyle. And, Bridget says, “We should be inviting Master Korchak, the martial artist that had been teaching the class. He should come and help us think about Kyle’s future.” So again, here’s the next spark, the idea that Master Korchak is not only here to teach about martial arts but he might come to a meeting to help us all imagine what Kyle’s future could look like. And he carries a really interesting part of it, which is this interest, a passion that Kyle has for martial arts. And he knows a lot about that, he’s dedicated his whole life and career to this. So, he’d be a logical person to invite in.

So, in the planning session, they started talking about martial arts and when it came up that Kyle was interested. And the whole circle, everybody in the room – the family and our staff kind of came up with the idea that there’s some Special Olympics classes they could explore around the martial arts and that’s a legitimate thing for people to think of. However, Master Korchak said, “I think he could do my class. I do it every Monday and I think he could come. He’s already good enough to be a part of that. It’s a self-directed journey for everyone that’s in the class, and Kyle’s got enough of an interest and enough of capabilities to participate.”

So, right there you see another spark: validation of Kyle’s passion by an expert in his field, and an invitation out of the disability world, or the special world, and into the regular world, the regular martial arts class. And that really helped that family, I imagine, that everything they believed and knew about him, which is that he deserved a full life and a community was actually true. That there was somebody out there who believed what they believed. So again, you see this fanning of the flames.

So this was 2012, when all this happens, and Kyle starts taking these classes, and we just received an email about a month ago that Kyle has his black belt in gumdo. And that’s actually a story that we’re gonna share next on this series. It took a lot of people to hold the flame of his passion. Kyle, himself, of course, insisting on a life that relates to martial arts. It was our staff, the paid people in Kyle’s life, people in the martial arts community, as well as it was his family. So, it was everybody kind of acting with intention and helping this thing to move forward.

That’s one path, is what happens when a bunch of people keep contributing in little ways over time. Also important to notice, is how very fragile each point along that journey is. Is that it could have been smothered by the doubt of a staff, the certainty of a staff, the doubt of the family, the fear of a community member, lack of ambiguity from Kyle about where does this even go, why invest in this. So, there’s so many places along the story where it could’ve all fallen apart. To us at Starfire, the biggest tragedy would be that a story like this would be lost. And, we actually think that this happen an awful lot. People’s stories get lost because we’re not fanning the flames, and we accidentally smother the points at which these kinds of stories and lives could emerge. So, we really believe that when you notice a spark, the key is to notice it and then to notice your own doubts or worries or concerns, and then to tamper those a little bit, and provide room for that spark to turn into a flame, to catch fire, to spread wildly in a way that would really ignite someone’s whole community, their whole family, their whole selves, their whole future.


This is part of our Story Series, “The Spark.” Subscribe and get this series in your inbox every week! 

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