On The Road, And Then?

I made a good move starting up my new blog Keenan Speaks. It’s a new professional goal to get out more and purposefully spread a positive message about including people with disabilities in the community in neighbourhoods, workplaces, and community venues, and it’s working well.

By working well, I don’t mean merely that I am getting invitations, but rather that the response is delivering results: employers that want to find out more about hiring a person with an intellectual disability, a volunteer board member of a fundraising body that thinks LiveWorkPlay should be a beneficiary, a passionate citizen that wants to volunteer…

It’s also a refreshing break the endless scarcity dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s true that there are thousands of people on Developmental Services waiting lists who need and deserve support. But it’s also true that a lot of what goes on in the sector has little connection to helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities enjoy an included life in their community. A lot of the resources expended only produce results that exist within the system: institutional forms of housing and institutional forms of human warehousing in agency facilities through day programs and sheltered workshops.

Getting out and talking to “regular people” reminds me that although the system has serious problems and needs to be reformed, there is nothing stopping an agency like LiveWorkPlay from connecting with coalitions of the willing within the system, as well as the big world beyond Developmental Services to make a difference in people’s lives.

I am grateful to Community Living Atikokan and Community Living Thunder Bay who invited Julie and I to visit their organizations in March. This exposed us to new ways that we could make a difference. It doesn’t matter that LiveWorkPlay has certain distinct differences from other organizations. What matters is what we have in common. I’ve come to understand there is lot that other people can take from our experience and that we can in turn learn from them about how to work together to make the world a better place for marginalized citizens.

And so it is that Julie and I are off to two conferences in the relatively distant lands of Wenatchee, Washington (near Seattle) for the Community Summit and Long Beach, California for the APSE National Conference. We are honoured and humbled to be sharing the spotlight with legends like Al Condeluci, Bruce Anderson, Norman Kunc and Emma Vander Klift, and more.


This is also a bit frightening but Julie and I have figured out that something we bring to the discussion is our ongoing very close daily connection with people with intellectual disabilities, their families, and community partners. Nothing we have to say is theoretical: it’s what goes on every day with our staff team colleagues. There’s only 10 of them, so we are close to the action, to understate the situation.

We know that what was celebrated at Engines of Success last Thursday is not typical of what Developmental Services agencies are supporting, and so we have something important to share, even if we’ve not taken a breath to publish books about it or design a training curriculum (not yet, anyway!).

We do hope to inspire people, but also make sure that they understand the difficulty of this work. The real world is a messy place. There are no guarantees and certainties, there is only the relentless drive to support people on their own life journey.

We are excited by also tired, and so it is with great excitement that there is a gap in time between these two conferences, and we are going to take full advantage of this opportunity to spend some time along the sea coast of Washington, Oregon, and California. We desperately need to unplug a little.

We’ll be back for the week of July 7 and I’ll be right back at it with a planning meeting on Monday for the Opportunities and Possibilities: Fundraising and People with Disabilities conference.

I look forward to sharing all of the experiences of this road trip when I return. I expect it will be an odd mix of human services epiphanies to observations about sea otter behaviours! And perhaps there will even be some crossover between the two.

Who knows what’s next? It will be exciting to find out!

About Keenan Wellar

Keenan is a citizen of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and co-leader of a social change and community benefit organization, LiveWorkPlay.ca, a registered charity which helps the community welcome and include people with intellectual disabilities, autistic persons, and individuals with a dual diagnosis to live, work, and play as valued citizens. LiveWorkPlay was named Ottawa's Best Non-Profit of 2019 by the Ottawa Board of Trade and Ottawa Business Journal "Best Ottawa Business Awards " With Julie Kingstone, Keenan is co-owner of Wellstone Leadership Services, dedicated to supporting a culture of excellence for non-profit, private sector, government organizations, collaborations, and partnerships. Keenan is a founding member of the leadership group for the From Presence To Citizenship collaborative. Keenan is a regular guest (monthly) of the News 1310 Power Lunch radio show, and he writes the monthly NPQ North column for Nonprofit Quarterly. When not working and supporting various social causes, Keenan loves kayaking and wildlife photography, cheering for the Ottawa RedBlacks and Pittsburgh Steelers, and causing a disturbance on social media.
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