If you ever get the opportunity to hear Tom tell the story of Waddie Welcome, jump on it. Bridget and I saw him speak back in November of 09 when Hope brought him into town, and it’s powerful. Tom has this great soulful voice….the cadence and rhythm are the perfect delivery for Mr. Welcome’s story. Part of it is his Georgia drawl, but mostly, it’s just his way. He’s also a maestro in conversation. I heard Tom talk to a few different people the week of the conference and he has a way of talking to people that gets to the heart of them in minutes.
So after reading about my crush on Tom Kohler, you’re probably going to be surprised to hear that I ditched his class for the rest of the week. I guess “ditched” is the wrong word. More like “dropped,” though that doesn’t sound much better. You see, my runner-up choice to Tom’s course was with an organization in Maine called KFI. I checked out their website before the conference and was struck by the milestones on their “About” page:
(KFI 15 years ago)
Preschool Only For Children With Disabilities
Segregated Special Purpose School
Segregated Day Program
Foster Homes or Living With Family
Everyone Transported To One Location
Agency Owned and Operated Vans
Services Provided In KFI Owned Buildings
Groups, GROUPS, GROUPS
Fully Integrated Preschool For Children With and Without Disabilities
Public School Education
Individual Job Placement In Real Jobs
Support Individuals To Use Community Resources
Support Individuals In Their Own Apartments or Homes
Services In The Individual’s Community
Public Transportation Or Staff’s Personal Vehicle
Services In The Community; Nothing Done Within Space Owned by KFI
Individuals, INDIVIDUALS, INDIVIDUALS
It is a simple table, but it impressed me: “Now here are some people who’ve done it,” I thought. Imagine the work they’ve put in transforming KFI from a sheltered workshop to what it is today! Plus, there were about 7 other people from Starfire, including Candice, attending Tom’s course, so I figured we were in good hands there. Gail and Jim from KFI are some pretty cool people. Listening to their stories, you can tell that they’ve got a ton of practical experience doing this work. They’re aware of the pitfalls and the rewards, and they care a lot about what they do. It was wonderful spending time with them and learning about their work over the past 30 years, and it gave me a sense of horizon for my own work. Bonus: I got to spend time with Milton Tyree, who was in the same course. Milt is an expert in helping people find jobs and has written a manual on positive introductions. Just a great guy all around.
So I was happy with my decision to learn from KFI instead of Tom, but angry at science, who have yet to figure out a decent way to clone yourself despite millions of dollars and decades of work. Gail and Jim gave me a ton of concrete ways to keep moving forward.
At the end of the day, Whitney Kays and I offered up something a little different to the marketplace. We told everyone about our friend, SRV, who has a ton of gifts to share with the world. But she is sometimes misunderstood and might seem scary to people. So therefore, she finds herself a little lonely these days. We asked if anyone would like to participate in a PATH for our friend and ended up with about 10 people! It was really fun. We all talked about how we met SRV, the highlight of which was when Tom Kohler said he knew SRV’s mother, Normalization, and Whitney corrected him that she likes to be referred to as “Norma.” We discussed that we’d like for her to have more friends, we talked about her protective father (Wolfensberger) and all her cousins (the theories that contribute to SRV and have spring from it). We discussed her bright future and our highest hopes for her (that she would influence everyone in the community: funders, workers, families, etc.) and we talked about her need to update her wardrobe a little bit for 2010 (some people felt like she was stuck in the 70’s). All in all, it was a fun exercise and really stretched us.
After that, we had a terrific dance. Seriously, I’ve been to a lot of dances and this was one of the best. There’s photographic evidence out there that I think will be used to blackmail me in the future. I think everyone was in the mood to cut loose…and boy, did we ever!
The night ended with a game of Catch Phrase and beers in the hotel lobby. I was struck by how much Catch Phrase is a grown up version of Hot Potato…