In October 2010 Community Living St. Marys, the organization I work for, embarked on a Welcoming project. We kicked off the initiative by having Bruce Anderson of Community Activators from Vashon Washington come and work with us for a few days on how to create welcoming cultures in organizations and communities. It fit so well with our vision and values but provided a new way to step up the work we were doing.
Community Living St. Marys supports people with developmental disabilities to live their lives as contributing citizens of their community. The community development model has been present since the early days of its 50 year history. We understand that inclusion is only successful if we focus on a welcoming community for everyone.
What we did with the project is asked all employees, some families and people we support to pick one of four learning areas that they were keenly interested in working with others on and attend monthly meetings with their groups. Each group was asked to pick at least one small goal that could be accomplished in a month or so and one long term goal that might take 6 months to accomplish. The learning areas focused on different aspects of making our own organization welcoming and also the community as a whole.
At the end of the first year we had a celebration night where each group was able to share their accomplishments and experiences. One of the groups made some pretty dramatic changes to our offices that made them more welcoming to people coming in. Another hosted a number of community book readings at a local book store and another project was a short video of various citizens on how welcoming they felt the community was and how this could improve. There was even a fun social night organized with a hypnotist. Aside from the projects people talked about getting to know each other and work together on something very positive. Now we are in Year 2 and the learning goes on!