The 2014 San Jose Symposium Report

A big thanks to Cathy Bouchard, Rex Zimmerman and the whole Hope Services crew in San Jose for hosting our latest symposium on April 4, 2014 in San Jose California. Over 50 people participated in lively discussion and debate, and it was one of the best symposiums to date.

The challenge of self-determination, consumer satisfaction and community inclusion is front and center with most human service organizations today. Individuals and organizations have realized that the traditional public and private methodologies have not led way to the inclusive opportunities that are wanted. Consequently, new approaches must be sought and developed.

Interdependence is a concept that reframes the structure around human services. It is an approach that focuses on assets and looks to build partnerships and consensus. It suggests that the realities that surround people who use human services are often not the issues that services must be framed around. Rather, Interdependence appeals more to the realities of relationships and the basics of human values that we all crave as members of groups within our greater culture.

The concept of Interdependence uses a macro perspective that demands we understand culture, community and social capital. Using the metaphor of a bridge, we can better understand why people with differences remain in separate, offset places. Although a person’s difference might separate them from others, it is the passions, capacities and similarities of people that can create the foundation to build the bridge back to community. On the other side of this bridge is the community, with all of its customs, rituals and structure.

In order to be successful, we must look at community and how relationships are built. We define community as a “network of different people, who come together regularly, for something in common.” This definition helps us understand that building relationships is a process and as support people we can facilitate this process. The 4 key steps in the process are:

Al explaining the importance of our social capital. 

Al explaining the importance of our social capital. 

1. Identify the passions, interests, hobbies, and avocations of the person. (Find their similarity)

2. Find a community or group that meets around the same commonality you found in the person you support. (explore

3. Study, observe or discover the key behaviors that are expected in this group. (So you might coach or prepare the person for what is expected)

4. Find a “gatekeeper” or influential member already in the group and ask them to introduce your client to the others. (So that their value spreads to your client)

It is important to appreciate the influence of these four steps. They create the process necessary for people to begin to develop social capital. The more time people spend and the more similarity they exchange, the greater the chances that a relationship will unfold. More forward thinking individuals and groups are beginning to embrace and utilize the component parts of Interdependence to not only approach human service needs, but to build the very fabric of their communities. Such was the activity recently supported by the Milbank Foundation for Rehabilitation at the Interdependence Network Symposium at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits in San Jose California.



Should Do

The first task was to become clear on what we should (vision building) do individuallyand collectively to build opportunities for all people to be more active in the community.Using an interactive, nominal process the groups identified many strategies that they should do:

David helping his group brainstorm.

David helping his group brainstorm.

1.    Lead by example

2.     ncrease training opportunities

3.    Foster valued roles within community environment

4.    Smile…positive 1st interaction

5.    Support individuals as individuals

6.    Help person identify value and foster it

7.    Improve transportation options

8.    Listen more

9.    Taking advantage of tech/social media to encourage inclusion in community

10.  Assess your own social capital

11.  Measure/Assess social capital as part of IPP process, include in goals

12.  Close group homes and sheltered workshops

13.  Get more funding to meet individual needs

14.  Educate the community

15.  Change intake process to better understand and serve

Jamie's group identifying strageties

Jamie's group identifying strageties

16.  Volunteer my own time to support social capital building for individuals

17.  Reintroduce to neighbors

18.  List natural supports & resources in each person’s communities

19.  Think creatively about how to expand natural supports

20.  Always consider quality of life “Is this good enough for me”

21.  Use person centered tools

22.  Staff actively recruit gatekeepers

23.  Help people identify their interests

24.  Research & ID community resources

25.  Find people with common interests

26.  Get staff active in local communities

27.  Make a community map for each person

28.  Involve families

29.  Think more macro then micro

30.  Develop more partnerships/relationships with community members

Creating a blueprint for change

Creating a blueprint for change

31.  Staff and ability to take individuals out for one on ones based on interests

32.  Clients having a voice in the activities

33.  Employing staff  that want to be there

34.  Assist clients in volunteering in community

35.   Intentional creation of natural supports

36.  Think about transportation

37.  Increase visibility and exposure meaningful way

38.  Increase employment options for people

39.  Be person centered when developing new programs

40.  Share success stories

41.  Nurture concept of value add of people with disabilities to community

42.  Help people meet their neighbors

43.  Releasing own agenda

44.  Be engaged in the community and get to know what’s happening

45.  Help people get contact information from people they have similar interests with

46.  Bridge the gap and fade out the support to encourage the relationships to build

47.  Support staff to be involved and contribute in systems change

48.  Train staff to help prepare folks to engage in community successfully

Could Do

The next step was to reconvene and the same work groups converted their list of "shoulds" into ones they could actually do. This conversion created a new list of "coulds". This new list included real actions that group members think they can actually do in their daily life.

1.    Develop more partnerships/relationships with community memberships

2.    Staff training and education

3.    Get families involved to find out what the client needs for support

4.    Asking clients and staff for feedback on ideas

5.    Connect HOPE with Project Cornerstone

6.    Be person centered when developing new programs

7.    Nurture concept of value add for individuals with disabilities contributing to community

8.    Bridge the gap and fade out the support to encourage the relationships to build

9.    No bad ideas and don’t be afraid to fail

10.  Dig deep to find out what is important to people

11.  Introduce people to neighbors

12.  Train staff how to connect people with disabilities with their co-workers

13.  Encourage people to join service clubs

14.  Increase volunteer opportunities and opportunities for involvement with universities

15.  Find 3rd places – regularly engage in these activities

16.  Try to find out about community activities

17.  Lead by example,  listen & smile

18.  Hiring practices to focus on better matches to support individuals (& CEU options/trainings)

19.  Collaborate cab company that supports  service to community and transportation for individuals that incorporates a valued role within service

20.  Create community connections both with in the community and settings and site based programs were access may be limited or challenging

21.  Educate the community (not to be scared, but rather to understand needs, differences, and similarities

22.  Volunteer my own time to support building social capital and community inclusion

23.  List and understand “natural support” in each persons community and think creatively about how to expand them

24.  Always consider “quality of life” issues and “is it good enough for me? Never forget the client

25.  Train staff to help prepare folks to engage in the community successfully

It was exciting to see the similarity and diversity of opinion on this issue. One theme was abundantly clear, if we are to build a culture that truly finds opportunity for community inclusion, we must change some of our current behaviors.


Change is never easy. People and organizations have a propensity to keep the status quo, reject new ideas and continue the course, even if it does not solve the problem. Yet to stay the same is to stagnate.

What you have just read is the fuel for change–the raw material of growth. The strategies listed offer us a map to a new place–one that is at higher ground, further evolved. Know, however, that the achievement of some of these solutions will not come easy. They require a conscious and direct effort. They also require that individuals and organizations have a warm and hospitable core.

Either way, we must step forward to address these issues. Rarely do people realize the opportunity we have to touch lives and, in turn, impact our culture. How fortunate we are–yet how serious the task. Thanks for all that you do and best of luck in continuing to build a community where each belongs.