Call Me Al Podcast - Season 2, Episode 5 - John Murphy

Al interviews John Murphy. John works at Disability Rights Nebraska, which is the designated Protection and Advocacy organization.  Disability Rights provides consultation, training and technical assistance to the boards and coordinators of the five independent Citizen Advocacy offices in Nebraska.  Citizen Advocacy is a form of advocacy that was created by Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger.  The world’s first Citizen Advocacy program was started in Lincoln in 1970.  Citizen advocacy is a relationship-based form of advocacy and protection that builds long lasting relationships between ordinary citizens, who are unpaid and independent of the human service system, and people with an intellectual or developmental disability.  Citizen advocates are asked to make a commitment to representing their partner's rights and interests as if they were their own.  A citizen advocate may assume one or more advocacy roles, some of which may last for life.  The role of the Citizen Advocacy program is to make the introduction and then support the citizen advocate in the relationship.

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Call Me Al Podcast - Season 2, Episode 4 - David Isitt

Al interviews David Isitt. David Isitt is the Founder of Better Connected in Queensland, Australia.

David has witnessed too many families feeling isolated, tired and often overwhelmed while the complex needs within their family remain unmet. The traditional support system, can at times, lack the understanding and resources to support people with complex needs. This leaves families in dire situations with little control or support, not only from professional support services but often also from family and friends. Being in this disconnected situation damages wellbeing and negatively impacts the ability to move forward in positive steps towards a good life.

Better Connected was established to counteract these situations, to walk beside you, to listen and provide support and guidance.

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Call Me Al Podcast - Season 2, Episode 3 - Dori Ortman

Al sits down with Dori Ortman. Currently, Dori serves as Family Faculty at LEND (Leadership Education in Neuro/Developmental Disabilities) of Pittsburgh, a program affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. She is also LEND’s Family and Self-Advocacy Training Director and Clinic Coordinator. In addition to her roles at LEND, Dori is a Crisis Counselor with Crisis Trends, Inc. and the administrator of Special Needs C.A.R.E., a private online group providing Community, Advocacy, Resources, and Education to its members. Members include parents, caregivers, siblings, and other family members of children, adolescents, and young adults with special needs.

Dori's career in program management began nearly 20 years ago. After encountering a series of personal experiences related to caring for individuals with special health care needs, she began to focus on working and training specifically in the field of developmental disabilities. She has since completed countless hours of continuing education related to disability services, including an intensive, proficiency-based leadership program through the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.  

Throughout the course of her career, Dori has developed a multitude of educational materials on topics such as inclusive recreation and education, increasing interactions between children of varying abilities, and more. These materials have been widely used in trainings and conferences, classroom settings, handbooks, and other venues imparting skills and knowledge necessary to work with and include children with disabilities in a variety of settings. 

She has also authored and received multiple local and national grants focused on her efforts to provide appropriate training and assistance to families, schools, and community organizations to maximize the potential of children with disabilities. 

Additionally, Dori regularly conducts parent workshops and networking events and serves as a consultant to families and school districts. She has been a featured speaker at conferences on the local, statewide, and national level. She provides both a professional and parental perspective on disability. 

Dori's passion is working with children with diverse abilities and their families to empower them to strive for success in all areas of life.

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Call Me Al Podcast - Season 2, Episode 2 - Dr. Keenan Wellar

Al sits down with Keenan Wellar. Keenan Wellar co-founded the LiveWorkPlay organization in 1995, and has served as the Co-Leader and Director of Communications since 1997. LiveWorkPlay helps the community welcome people with intellectual disabilities to live, work, and play as valued citizens. From a startup with just two staff, LiveWorkPlay has grown to a team of 25 with over 150 volunteers and more than 200 community partners. Keenan’s calling to this work started with a happy accident, as he revealed at a 2014 conference panel of the Association for Fundraising Professionals.

Mr. Wellar has undergraduate degrees in history and education from uOttawa, is a certified Ontario teacher, and completed a Masters of Applied Linguistics and Discourse studies at Carleton University. He holds a Professional Certificate in Non-Profit Marketing from the Sprott School of Business and is a BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer. In 2018 he became a Core Gift Master Facilitator.

Keenan has authored articles in numerous journals, mainly on topics related to non-profit governance and in 2018 became a regular contributor to Nonprofit Quarterly.

In his personal life, he is an enthusiastic Ottawa RedBlacks football fan, a passion he shares with his wife Julie Kingstone, along with a love for kayaking and photography.

Keenan and Julie are also co-owners of Wellstone Leadership Services Incorporated, providing coaching and consulting services to the non-profit community.

Call Me Al Podcast - Season 2, Episode 1 - Dr. Janet Williams

Al sits down with Dr. Janet Williams. Dr. Janet Williams is the founder of Minds Matter LLC and has dedicated her life to working with individuals with brain injury since 1982. She is dedicated to finding ways for people with brain injuries to become as independent as possible. She is co-editor of Head Injury: A Family Matter (1991) and Children with Acquired Brain Injury: Educating and Supporting Families (1996). Dr. Williams has also published many journal articles and presents nationally and internationally on a variety of topics related to disability. In addition to academic work, she has traveled to 48 states in the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and India on study visits researching rehabilitation systems for people with brain injuries. The services of Minds Matter LLC are designed from the best of what Dr. Williams has researched and witnessed. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Providence College, her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Boston College and her PhD from the University of Kansas in Family Studies and Disability.

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Call Me Al Podcast - Episode 6 - Loneliness

Al sits down with Jamie Curran, Community Living Mississauga and Jeff Fromknecht, Side Project Inc. to discuss the impact that loneliness and social isolation has on their own lives and the lives of those we serve. Al also discusses the findings from a recent survey looking at the social connections of families of children with disabilities. Jamie discusses CLM’s efforts at helping parents connect.

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Call Me Al Podcast - Episode 5 - Joyce Steel

Al sits down with Joyce Steel Director of Family Advocacy at Starbridge Inc. supporting families in Rochester, New York. Joyce talks about her development as an advocate for inclusion that started with the birth of her son Adam. Al and Joyce talk about her work as an advocate and mother, what kinds of things are working, where are the challenges, and what new things lay ahead.

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Call Me Al Podcast - Episode 4 - Betty Batt, Sylvia Doane, Jane Huff, and Aga Karst

In this episode, Al Condeluci sits down Betty Batt, Sylvia Doane, Jane Huff, and Aga Karst the authors of "I'm the Bob & Cathy's Kid: Emotions, Love, and Fury ( This book tells the story of Suzanne Bailey and how her community, family and support staff rallied around her to help her to stay in her community. The authors worked directly with Suzy and her family and share their struggles and success in helping her to gain interdependence in the community. 

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Neighbors - A Measure of Engagement

The holidays are now behind us and if you are like me you probably had opportunity to visit with neighbors and friends in either your or their homes.  These patterns, certainly accelerated during the holidays, got me to thinking about the notion of neighbors and community engagement.

Sociologists, most notably Harvard's Robert Putnam, have examined neighbor relations to ascertain how engaged people might be, and in the extensive Saguaro Seminar reported their findings.  The Harvard team interviewed over 30,000 Americans and asked a number of questions including ones like: "How many neighbors names do you know," or "Have you ever been in a neighbors home," or "Have you ever had a neighbor in your home."  They discovered that the more engaged people had stronger relationships with neighbors.

To this end, I wonder how your neighbor relations are?  Do you know your neighbor's names - or more, have you ever been in a neighbor's home, or had them in your home?  These simple notions are important in understanding social capital and community engagement. More, maybe you can make more effort to get to know your neighbors.  These efforts, according to Robert Putnam and other sociologists, enhance our culture and help build a better community.

What Type of Community is Your Organization Creating?

Organizations that are the most successful in supporting individuals in the community have the organization community connections, systems, resources, and organizational knowledge in place. Staff at theses organizations understand the core values, and know that all of there activities are focused on the overall goal of providing people with the opportunities to get connected to his or her community. 

In our work, we have identified 6 key domains for change that organizations should consider when examining their organizations commitment to building an inclusive community.  These domains include:

  1. Values
  2. Leadership 
  3. Organizational Social Capital
  4. Monitoring & Evaluation
  5. Advocacy
  6. Programs

Check out this organizational self-assessment to learn what type of community your organization is creating.


October 9, 2015 South Florida Symposium!

On October 9, 2015 in Boca Raton, FL the Interdependence Network and the Unicorn Children's Foundation is conducting a symposium to look closely at the power and potency of social capital and community engagement for people with disabilities.

The Symposium is being held at Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center (201 Plaza Real Boca Raton, FL 33432). It will start at 9:00, with a continental breakfast being served at 8:30am. Lunch is included. 

This symposium will be unlike the usual conferences you attend.  We will be debating, discussing and creating interactive strategies and actions.  You will leave this symposium with a personal blueprint for action in your community.  

A limited number of scholarships for parents and self advocates are available. Please email us at to see if you qualify. 


Building Skills in Self Direction with David Isitt

A resource to support service providers in building skills and knowledge in the area of self direction. In this video, we see service providers working on the ground with people and management staff giving their reflections on a self directed model of service. More formal concepts and philosophies are provided to assist in understanding how services can move to a model of self direction.


Defining Culture

Culture is the learned and shared way that communities do particular things.

Often when you think about community, the notion of culture is introduced. The term “culture” is dependent on community, as culture relates more to the behaviours manifested by the community. People bound together around a common cause create a community, and the minute they begin to establish behaviours around their common cause, they develop a culture. Culture is the learned and shared way that communities do particular things.

This basic approach to community and culture blends three features. One is the fact that community is a network of people and, often, these people may have great differences or even distances (diversity) between them. They can be different in age, background, ethnicity, religion, or many other ways, but in spite of their differences, their commonality or common cause pulls them together. The similarity of the common cause or celebration (commonality) is the second key feature of community and the glue that creates the network. Regardless of who the members of the network are as people, their common cause overrides whatever differences they may have and creates a powerful connection.

Finally, as the collection of people continues to meet and celebrate on a regular basis (regularly) they begin to frame behaviors and patterns and become a culture, the third key ingredient. These regular meetings bond the community members as they discover other ways that they are similar.

Defining Community

Community is defined as a network of people who regularly come together for some common cause or celebration

Community is defined as “a network of people who regularly come together for some common cause or celebration (Condeluci, 2002).” A community is not necessarily geographic, although geography can define certain communities. To come to an understanding of community is to appreciate that community is based on the relationships that form, not on the space utilized. In fact, space can be an abstract notion when it comes to understanding community. Think about the global community created by the Internet. These communities are not bound by geography, but rather are relationships formed in cyberspace.

The term “community” is the blending of the prefix “com,” which means “with,” and the root word “unity,” which means togetherness and connectedness. The notion of being ‘with unity” is a good way to think about the concept of community. When people come together for the sake of a unified position of theme, you have community.

Think now about communities in your life. All of us have a number of groups that meet the definition of community. Our families, for example, are a good framework for understanding community. These are people with whom we spend a great deal of time on common themes.

To help us just a bit more in understanding community, consider another definition of community from Robert Bellah (1985): “A community is a group of people who are socially interdependent, who participate together in discussion and production, and who share certain practices that both define the community and are nurtured by it.” Both of these definitions give us a solid start in thinking about communities in our lives.

Using the definitions of community, spend some time now identifying these groups in your life. 

Newsletter Winter 2014

The Interdependence Network (IN) is a collaborative, membership based advocacy group created by disability-based human service organizations from around the United States, Canada and Australia. Our purpose is to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the community.  We do this by:

  1. Fostering the development of new approaches to human-service programs that focus on facilitating community engagement and the building of social capital for people with disabilities as a primary outcome.
  2. Providing professional development opportunities to human service agencies focused on helping them implement an organizational culture that values and supports meaningful community inclusion.
  3. Developing a program evaluation protocol to track social capital related outcomes.
  4. Disseminating information, research findings, and resources to the greater rehabilitation community, including people with disabilities and their families.
  5. Educating the business and nonhuman-service related community on how to be welcoming of people with disabilities. 

The Interdependence Network’s founding organizations include:

  1. Community Living and Support Services, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  2. Community Living Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
  3. communityworks, inc, Overland Park, Kansas
  4. Connect Communities, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  5. Hope Services, San Jose, California
  6. John F. Murphy Homes, Auburn, Maine
  7. Mamre Association, Brisbane, Australia

Our tips and strategies have been developed for those adults and children with disabilities who want to be more engaged in the community. A number of our tools are available for free download on the website ( Including:
1. Community Engagement Planning Tool
This tool is designed for parents, self-advocates and direct support staff. It is used to create a community engagement plan for a person with disabilities.
2. Tips on Getting Involved in the Community 
This fact sheet provides an overview of the important steps involved in helping a person or child get involved in community-based activities. It reviews the 4-step process of community engagement.
3. Evaluating Community Venues
Supporting people to connect with others in the community begins with finding the right venue. This tip sheet offers suggestions on how to find places in the community that offer the best opportunities to build social capital.
4. Community Membership Scale
This tool helps staff and families evaluate current community engagement and offers steps toward increasing inclusivity. 
These tools have been developed and used at our member agencies. All of the strategies promote our commonality, not our differences. They are grounded in the values of person centered planning and individual choice in decision making.  Our approach does not concentrate on trying to fix or change the person with the disability. Instead, the focus is on helping individuals gain independence by developing and maintaining meaningful social relationships and social capital, based on the person’s interests and passions. Indeed, relationship-building is a central tenant of this approach and is just as important for well-being as traditional rehabilitation. Do you still have questions about why social capital is so important? Click here to read more about social capital and why it is a key ingredient in meaningful community inclusion:
In addition to the above, our website also has a variety of additional free resources to help you and your organization, including:

  1. Videos featuring, IN founder and lead organizer Al Condeluci discussing the importance of social capital.
  2. White Papers on community inclusion and civic engagement from leaders in the rehabilitation community.
  3. The View from the Field Blog, a forum for discussion and dialogue on strategies to help people with disabilities get more engaged in the community and to begin building more social capital.  
  4. Speaker’s Bureau with information on speakers who can provide professional development training for your organization’s staff, management, and Board of Directors.

The IN has been hosting a series of regional symposiums on social capital and civic engagement. Following Ancient Greek tradition, the IN symposiums are unlike other conferences. They gather like-minded people who come to debate, plot, boast, and discuss the actions and directions we can take to help people with disabilities enhance their engagement in the community and to build social capital. Participants walk away from the symposium with a personal blueprint for action in their community. In 2014 we held symposiums in:

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Kansas City, Kansas
  • San Jose, California
  • Brisbane, Australia 

In 2015 and 2016, symposiums are being planned for:

  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Portland, Maine
  • Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Shippensburg, Pennsylvania

Please check our website for upcoming dates and locations in your area (
Are you interested in community inclusion and want to get involved in our effort? We are building a catalogue of tools and resources developed by and for human service agencies that support a person-centered, function-based approach to community engagement.  Please contact us today, at if you are interested in sharing your community inclusion strategies and success stories with us. 


“People who live in isolation are more likely to die than someone who was well connected to lots of people and smoked heavily.” Darcy Elks, Melbourne 2010.

Isolation is one of the most profound problems of our lives and more often than not it falls beneath general society’s radar. We meet roughly 200 people before we click with 1, so as person who is socially disadvantaged that number of people you may need to meet could double. Makes you think how hard we all must try to help people in our lives to have proper relationships that then could lead to friendship.

We probably take making friends for granted and forget why they are so important, think about how many great relationships you have and then imagine life without ever meeting that person! Pretty tough i imagine, it certainly was for me.

Having a variety of good relationships is all part of “living a good life” and opens up all sorts of opportunities. Getting a job, for instance is a lot easier, as the old adage goes, ITS NOT WHAT YOU KNOW BUT WHO YOU KNOW.

Relationships can help people with emotional and physical safety and nurture self esteem, and as we know “people keep people safe”.

We all understand that relationships and friendships are very important to us all regardless of our abilities but what help could we be to someone who finds making new friends more difficult.

We have to understand that some approaches don’t always work, if a person has an intellectual disability does that mean that they will be friends with everyone in the day facility they find themselves in, of course not. I’m a Pom and i don’t like all Poms.

We need to bring people together naturally, find people with the same interests, beliefs and concerns. All people have gifts to offer and if you can meet people in a typical way, if then a relationship forms then it is better for all involved.

Recruitment of volunteers to be friends is not a positive approach to long term friendship or offering reward for being a “friend”. We need to identify a natural pathway and assist people to walk along it, taking the ups and downs as they come. Protecting someone who is vulnerable all the time won’t help in the long term, as we know life is sometimes hard and not ever seeing that wouldn’t make the good times seem so much better. All relationships are risky as many people know, the divorce rate speaks for itself but if you have lots of them then the ones that fall by the way side are replaced by stronger ones, we hope.

In identifying natural pathways, i feel that “One person-One place has the most promise. Being in a group as an individual may be a better avenue for nurturing natural and meaningful relationships. It will give the person more ability to shine and show off their strengths and talents. It is also an opportunity to meet others with similar interests and contribute within a valued social role.

A valued role creates a positive image and conveys to all that you have a place in society and others will see you in a positive way which can only be a good thing when trying to engage in new friendships. Having a negative role or perception only furthers other people’s beliefs, rightly or wrongly that a person who needs a little more effort to start a relationship might just fall into the too hard basket.

Encouraging people to seek out like minded others is a great way to start on building a natural relationship, but remember we are not there to invent new passions, just help the person build on what has been there all the time. Finding new interests is an added bonus on the journey and finding new people to help walk down the path is very important as long as they arrive there naturally.



Ian Hulse.                                                                                                                                   Mamre Association, Inc.                                                                                                     Brisbane, Australia

We must protect them from…[fill in the blank].

The following post was written by Jim Karpe a father, coach and advocate for people with disabilities in the New York City Area. 

We must protect them from…[fill in the blank]. For example, failure.  “We must protect these special needs children from failure—it will harm their self esteem.”  Sound familiar?  Coach Gary and I brought one of our NYC Special Needs soccer teams out to California for the National Games, to play against other special needs teams.  And we got some surprises.  We had expected to mow down the competition.  Instead, we turned out to be the grass, not the lawn-mower.

 First, a confession of dis-loyalty:  I also coach Baseball.  And I drill into my teams and parents "Baseball is about failure and redemption.  You are going to strike out, and then later you are going to get another chance."

 Turns out to be true of soccer as well.  On July 3rd, we played tough games against competitors who out-weighed us and out-skilled us.  In one game, our teen-agers were completely out-matched by a crew of young men in their twenties and thirties.  Yes, they were special needs, but they also had, on average, a physical advantage of six inches and 70 pounds.  And the carnage continued on July 4th.  The Alhambra Phoenixes out-ran and out-scored us, even though we got an assist from the star mid-fielder of Montebello "Sharline the Machine".  We made her an honorary NY Skyline team-mate-- she's the one in the red socks.  She has excellent ball-handling skills, and got the ball down-field for us.  But despite that, we still could not manage to finish it off, and once again were out-scored.  Those are some of the triumphant Phoenixes off to the left.

 We lost again.  But played better than ever, with more coordinated team-work than ever-- more passing, more running down the field to help out a team-mate.

 In our final game of the tournament, against Grenada Hills, it all came together.  Everyone was involved, and everyone brought their "A" game.  Gabby (#4) put on the after-burners.  In the second half she put up three goals.  Sean(#2)  put up a couple of goals, despite persistent (un-called) holding fouls from Grenada  #10.  

AJ (#11) and Eli (#7 playing now in white NY t-shirt) ran and created passing opportunities which led directly to scores by Gabby and Sean.  

Amanda (orange goalie shirt) did her usual excellent job as goalie, but with additional skills-- keeping her feet together to prevent the nutmeg-- and with more defensive assistance from Sandy and Angelica.  The old Angelica (#8) came back to us, upping her pace from "saunter" to "merciless charge".  Sandy (#3) intercepted the attackers on several vital occasions:  Assessing the situation, timing her move and turning the ball back over to NY Skyline.  It was a great game.  Against a roughly equal opponent.  Final score, seven to seven.  But only roughly equal because our kids were putting in extra effort after facing-off against fierce competitors over the prior three games.  

Failure plus effort leads to redemption.  A familiar formula in sports, but often considered out-of-reach for special-needs players.  All of us-- parents, coaches, buddies, on-lookers-- often feel that we need to protect them from the sharp jagged edges of reality, of failure.  For example, the convention in VIP soccer is to not keep score.  Unfortunately, in our zeal to protect, we cut off the opportunity to go through the rest of the arc.  Failure comes first, motivating extra effort.  And then redemption.

It was not the National Games we expected to have.  Nothing close to what we planned. And it worked out great.


What does this mean for our soccer program?  It is not that we will start arranging for all of our players to experience failure on regularly scheduled basis.  As with so much of life, there is a balance to be struck.  One size does not fit all, especially in the world of special needs.  But for the parents and coaches of West Side Soccer League VIP, the experience in California has re-calibrated our thinking about the balance between protection and exposure.  

So what will happen is a little more failure, a bit more exposure to the jagged edges.  And consequently a lot more opportunity to experience the self-motivated change which leads to greater achievement.  On the field, and off.