Volunteerism as a Pathway to Inclusion

Larry Clausen, Executive Director
Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council

DDNN Summer 2013

As much as I try, I find it increasingly difficult to stay in touch with the people who make up the community where I live.  I get tied to a schedule that sets a routine that’s hard to break.  Fortunately, I’ve found several volunteer opportunities that not only allow some of my time to be spent working in projects I believe in, but also pays-off in providing chances to meet new people and learn important things that aren’t a regular part of my life.  Volunteering is like that – creating options that can alter your views, introduce new thinking, provide personal fulfillment and in many cases, increase skills – which brings me to the Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism, (GCSV) which applies the vision of “Building a better Arizona through service and volunteerism”.  Recently, Bob Shogren, Director of the GCSV, began working with our Council to see how we could involve more persons with disabilities in volunteering.  This was an important step, since we believe that volunteering involving youth and adults, especially when related to service that can build job skills, is an important option leading to employment.  Bob’s office has several tools that can be used to support volunteerism, with one standing out as a great resource.  The Americorps program managed by the GCSV in Arizona, is a federally funded project which offers a variety of opportunities throughout the state and can lead to people finding jobs.  April 11th Focus Group: Increasing the inclusion of persons with disabilities in state volunteer programs.Americorps is unique in that it also offers a paid stipend to offset expenses of participants, an unusual occurrence in the field of volunteering. As we explore increased utilization of volunteering as a pathway to employment, Americorps offers an option with appeal to  persons with disabilities and one that we would like to see become more accessible.

On April 11th, Bob hosted a focus group at our Council offices, inviting persons with developmental disabilities, family members, and other stakeholders, to discuss how volunteerism in Arizona could be shaped to be more inclusive of persons with disabilities.  The focus group was one of many held in the state to invite public participation as GCSV designs its new strategic plan.  As the topic of specific programs (including Americorps) was included in the many discussions held across Arizona we are anticipating a broader involvement of persons with disabilities in the projects that will offer benefits to participants as they volunteer and build important links that increase community service, potential employment and a greater Arizona.