Meet Joe Buchmann

June 19th, 2013
Joe Buchmann is the author of Bob's Story: Dancing Through Life in the May 2013 issue of the Community Inclusion Newsletter.
 Joe is a Lead Training Specialist with the Service Alternatives Training Institute where he provides a variety of training and services to both Service Alternatives, Inc. employees and to groups outside the company.  He was born and raised in Eastern Washington and graduated from Washington State University in 2000.  His first job after graduation was working at the Hutton Settlement Children's Home, where he discovered a passion for working with 'at risk' youth.  He is particularly  drawn to teaching and mentoring young people to learn and grow. He worked in the Children & Family Services division of Service Alternatives for 5 years before becoming a Training Specialist in 2009.
Joe is married with three children, and enjoys playing sports and spending time in the outdoors, especially fishing, hiking and camping.

Stephanie March 2013

June 28th, 2013


Stephanie?s reaction to receiving her first paycheck from her new job was worth much more than the piece of paper she held in her hands.

?I was blown away! I never thought in my whole life that I would get a check again,? Stephanie recalls. ?Then, I finally got my first check for $18.38. And it actually felt like $18 million.?

You may remember Stephanie. We introduced you to the bubbly 21-year-old in the Aug. 2012 issue of the Community Inclusion newsletter, and now we want to share with you everything she has been up to since then.

For starters, she now spends two hours a week handling data entry for the Elmview Vocational paper recycling program. She landed the job in late-January after much talk about wanting to work in an office.

?This has been a critical stepping stone for Stephanie to rebuild on what her vision of employment and community living is,? says Elmview Vocational program manager, Sheri Powers.

In time, Stephanie would like to increase her hours of work and areas of responsibility with answering phones being a key component of this people-person?s ideal job description. But in the meantime, she is gaining experience and confidence.

?I showed my staff members my check, and they were pleased...,? Stephanie says. ?I feel very pleased with myself, too. I can get away from everything that?s happening around me in my life for a couple hours when I go to work.?

In her downtime, Stephanie is getting back in the saddle this spring as she resumes her weekly horseback riding lessons at Spirit Therapeutic Riding Center, where she began taking lessons last fall. She enjoys brushing and feeding her horse, Lad, and putting away his tack. But, the highlight of her visit is trotting around the arena, as evidenced by the twinkle in Stephanie?s eyes as she describes the ride.

?It?s so cool,? she beams. ?It makes me feel like I?m four years old again.?

She is also spending her time attending church, going shopping, taking walks and connecting with friends via Facebook. She is even sporting some pink blingon her earlobes since getting her ears pierced in October.

?All my friends had it done, so I wanted it done,? Stephanie explains. ?And the next thing I want to join in on is tattoos.?

Stephanie has been venturing out more and also building more relationships with a wider circle of friends since moving into an Elmview supported living program a year ago. These changes are helping Stephanie inch closer to the goals she has set for herself, according to program manager Kristen Jarvis.

?Stephanie has made huge improvements from where she was to where she is now,? Kristen says. ?I think it?s just taking time for her to realize the range of what her life can be.?

Ultimately, Stephanie would like to live on her own, and she says that every day ? slowly, but surely ? she is getting closer to making that dream a reality.



Shawn's Story: A Tale of Transition

May 14th, 2013


Before I could even get through the front door of the beautiful Bainbridge Island house, Shawn Alexander was waiting for me and anxious to welcome me in to his home.  ?Hi Ashley!  Do you want a cup of coffee??

Of course I accepted, and with my cup of carefully prepared coffee (Shawn made sure to ask what I take in mine), he led me on a tour of his home.  We went through the living room, where I was introduced to all of the home?s pets including Shawn?s beloved cat, Tommy.  We peeked at his roommates? rooms on the way to his room, where Shawn showed me his beading art and offered me a necklace that he had made especially for me.   We checked out the basketball court where Shawn and his roommates refine their skills for their basketball team, and ended up on the back porch where a comfortable chair was set up.

?This is where I listen to the Ron and Don Show, ? Shawn said.  I instantly related to this experience, as I too am a faithful member of the Ron and Don Nation.  For anyone unfamiliar with the Ron and Don Nation, it is a local talk radio show that can be heard every weekday from 3pm to 7pm on 97.3 KIRO FM.  As we talked more, I learned that Shawn is not just another fan of the show - he relates to the larger community of the ?Ron and Don Nation? of listeners.  Shawn tells me confidently, ?I like Don best.?

I had come to interview Shawn about community inclusion.  The more I got to know about him, the bigger this article became in my head.  Shawn is part of so many communities, and has experienced so many things, that I struggled to choose which few examples I would use to answer my core question: How had Shawn become a part of his community?

Over the past several years, Shawn has had experiences that many of us can relate to ? he holds a job, he is a proud pet owner, he lettered in high school tennis, he is a sports enthusiast, he plays on a recreational basketball team, and, of course, he is a faithful listener of the Ron and Don talk radio show.

In addition, Shawn has had experiences that many would be envious of.  He has met the Seattle Seahawks, and the Sea Gals.  (When I asked him more about meeting the Sea Gals, Shawn told me, ?I?ve still got it!?). A sports writer from the Seattle Times created and gifted him with a ?mock sports story? about Shawn and his Seahawk player namesake.  He has taken the field with the Seattle Sounders during their pre-game warm-up, and been invited into the press-box during a Sounders game.

For Shawn, the ability to fully embrace life through experiences both big and small is something that is not taken for granted.  In fact, when Shawn was first diagnosed with his disability at a young age, his family was told that their options were either to place Shawn in an institution or to go it alone.Jeanne Alexander, Shawn?s mom, shared that at that time, there were few community options for children with disabilities.When Jeanne and her husband finally found and enrolled Shawn in a pre-school for kids with disabilities, she said,?Our doctor wanted us to give him the contact information - even our doctors didn?t know what was out there for us.?

In 1975, when Shawn was 16 years old, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act passed requiring public schools to provide equal access to education.  Shawn was able to enroll for the first time in a public school setting at Kentwood High School in Kent, Washington.  Despite their initial nervousness, this integration proved to be a wonderful experience for Shawn and for his family.  At the end of the year, when yearbooks were distributed, Shawn?s impact upon and involvement with his school community became poignantly clear.   His fellow high school students, many of whom had spent little time prior to that year with people with disabilities, filled his yearbook with messages such as, ?You have taught me so much? and, ?No matter where you go in life, you will always be above us.?  Shawn had been embraced by this high school community.

?Shawn showed it to me on the way home, and I started crying.The things that were written were so sweet and beautiful,? Jeanne says as we discussed this experience.It still brings tears to her eyes.

Over the past several years, Shawn has lived within his community in a home shared by roommates.  Two years ago, he and his roommates were offered an opportunity to move into a home on Bainbridge Island that would be left to them in a trust.  Suddenly, Shawn was able to experience a slice of the American Dream ? he became a homeowner.  Though the move was initially difficult, Shawn tells me, ?I like this better?I want more people here!?

Shawn has been afforded many opportunities in life.  However, the experiences are secondary to the community that they bring.  As Craig Fredrickson (one of Shawn?s home care staff) points out, Shawn does not want to experience life alone, ?[Shawn] wants to have fun, and he wants others to have fun? He says let?s go do this.?

As I left the house, Shawn walked me to my car.  Remembering our shared interest, Shawn earnestly asked me, ?Do you think that we could send this story about me to Ron and Don??

Suddenly, I realized that this story was not about merely answering how Shawn became part of his community.  The real story is how fully and actively engaged he is with all the communities around him - every day. I also realized, with Shawn?s parting words, that he and I shared in a community. Regardless of its size or nature, sharing an interest in listening to the Ron and Don show is more than entertainment; it is a group of people who gather together every day. It is a community which Shawn and I and thousands of others choose to belong to.  The moment we realize that we have a commonality with someone based upon choice and experience, we instantly become united in community.

Shawn has found community through his home, his employer, the local businesses he frequents, his activities, and through this community of people sharing something in common. Shawn has touched others and he continues to be touched by the people in his life. Isn?t this what community is really all about?



Ken's Story: A Black Belt Attitude

May 14th, 2013

What does it take to achieve a black belt in martial arts?  Ken, a black belt in Taekwondo, says, ?Mainly, you have to have a black belt attitude.?

Ken has been a dedicated student of Taekwondo (a martial arts practice which blends both physical and mental disciplines) for the past several years.  It is clear that he is very proud of his accomplishment, as he should be. Only students who can demonstrate the ability to execute all of the skills in combination with the attitude and confidence deemed necessary to carry the honor of the belt earn the rank of black belt. 

?I had a (video) game called Tekken?I asked if I could try Taekwondo, and they said ?Yeah?,? Ken recalls.  Determined to find a location to begin practicing Taekwondo, Ken called a few different locations until he settled on one close to his home.

After five years of training, practice, development, and tournaments, Ken finally earned his first-degree black belt, the first of nine possible levels of black belt within Taekwondo.He attributes this accomplishment to his hard work, and his focus on the main goal. ?You don?t goof off in class, and you mind your own business and do what the teacher says.?

Was learning Taekwondo difficult for Ken?  ?Not really,? he replies.  Though, Ken admits that there were times when he felt like walking away from the practice. ?When I was doing [it], I was about to give up.But one of my staff encouraged me to keep going... I wanted to make it.? says Ken. 

Ken?s athletic and competitive nature extends beyond Taekwondo. He plays competitive chess and has won several competitions. He has an avid interest in health and fitness (he even has a weekly tradition of rearranging his furniture to help stay fit), and then there?s bowling... 

Ken is a fixture at Hi-Line Lanes in Burien where he is part of a competitive bowling league. ?I?ve been bowling there for a couple years.  And I got my roommate on the league, and I got a couple other guys involved in it, too.? When I ask if his team is good, Ken replies, ?We are pretty good, yeah.? 

In fact, Ken?s team (K.T.M. which stands for the three bowlers? names: Ken, Tom and Mike) is pretty good ? as of my visit in January, they were ranked in second place in their Friday morning league.Though, as Tom puts it, winning isn?t the ultimate goal. As I watched Ken?s teammates and his competitor?s teammates cheering him on to pick up a particularly difficult split, Tom turned to tell me, ?This is what we are all about ? we have fun!?

During my time with him, Ken was eager to show me the many awards, trophies and items of importance that he possesses.  I asked Ken about these, and it quickly became clear that every item holds special importance and many fond memories that Ken has of his family, his friends and his community.

Ken is particularly proud of one item. ?Let me show you what keeps me going to Value Village,? he said.  Ken left the room and returned with a 1973 Terry Bradshaw jersey. Bradshaw, a former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, is now a co-host of Fox TV NFL Sunday. As he flips it to the back, Terry Bradshaw?s signature flashes from the fabric. ?And I only paid $9.99 for it!?

Ken?s accomplishments are particularly impressive given the work that he has done to get to this point in his life.  As a child, Ken experienced two head injuries that greatly affected his movement, and had to undergo many months of training and therapy to regain his balance and mobility.  Additionally, Ken has had to work around his Type 1 Diabetes since he was diagnosed at age 13.  Because of this, Ken is particularly careful about injuries as it may take him longer to heal. 

Though many may see these as limitations, Ken is unfettered in his pursuit of the activities and community involvement that he so enjoys.   In fact, it appears that Ken has utilized the circumstances in his life as a motivator to continually pursue more, and expand his world with possibilities.  As those who know him well would tell you, Ken does everything 100%.

In 2000, Ken moved to Burien where he lives in a house and is supported by Aacres Supported Living staff. This move marked the beginning of a new start for Ken, who began focusing on fitness and mental discipline as a means for managing his overall health.  As Ken?s staff indicate, Ken has been proactive in seeking opportunities to be involved within his community, and often presents his staff and roommates with ideas and opportunities for further involvement.  His own personal passion has provided him with great motivation and his staff's role has been to support his dreams.  

It is clear from my visit to Ken?s bowling league that Ken is not only a member of a team, but he is a welcomed fixture within his community. When I tell his fellow bowlers of the story that I am writing, many ask for a copy, and one bowler tells me, ?This is great - I would love to learn more about Ken!? Before I can leave, another stops me to say, ?We love Ken??

As Ken puts it, ?[In my community], I feel freedom?People accept me. I?m like one of them.? Ken is clear in his expectations and his goals ? it is this earnest persistence that has led him to take on challenges and adventures that many of us may find to be daunting. It is clear from Ken?s experiences and attitude that ?fitting in? has never really been an issue ? rather, the question for Ken seems to have always been ?What more can I fit in??

Jeremy's Story: Transcending the Odds

May 14th, 2013

Don?t ever tell me that I can?t try.?

These are words that most of us can relate to ? the instinctive desire to have a chance at anything and everything, and to have a say in how our lives are played out.

These were the words Jeremy recently shared with his legislators in Olympia as he advocated for improved services for people with disabilities in Washington State. For Jeremy, life is all about possibilities and opportunity, and the ability to direct his own life. It is about independence, and taking on the responsibilities that accompany that freedom.

Born in Kansas in 1972 with significant hearing loss and other disabilities that delayed his early development, Jeremy?s family was initially told by doctors that he would have major deficits in his development.  In fact, his doctors predicted that Jeremy might never walk, talk or gain education beyond a 3rd grade level. 

However, Jeremy began beating the odds early in life, and by age 2 he was beginning to walk and talk, and was learning to sign. Rod, Jeremy?s dad, lovingly jokes, ?We prayed for him to be able to walk and talk, and now we pray that he?ll shut up!? Jeremy was very engaged in school, church and the Boy Scouts, where he ultimately earned the prestigious and coveted rank of Eagle Scout. 

Though he has experienced much throughout his life that has shaped him into the person he currently is, the past seven years of Jeremy?s journey have been perhaps the most remarkable.  During this time Jeremy began, step by step, to become a full participant in his community. 

This transition began with a switch in living arrangements, and a drastic reduction in the medications that he had been taking for the majority of his life. In the past, Jeremy tried both living with roommates and in a supported living environment with varying levels of success. ?When I was in Yakima, some of my roommates could not talk? There was no privacy, no nothing.? 

After experiencing some struggles in his living situations in Yakima, Jeremy and his family decided that it would be best if he temporarily moved home while they searched for something closer to the family.  In December of 2006, just three days before his birthday, Jeremy moved into his own apartment in Vancouver, WA.  Initially, this move took some adjustment. Jeremy had to learn to utilize the supports in his life in different ways, and this wasn?t always easy. However, Jeremy has ultimately experienced great success on his own, and is content living with just one roommate: Onyx, his beloved black cat.

So, how does living independently compare to the life he left behind in Yakima? Jeremy shares one thought that many of us can relate to when moving in to your first place. ?It is different living here, because I had not done cleaning [before]??  But on the positive side, he says, ?Now I?m my own boss? ?

The changes in Jeremy?s life have brought him even closer to his family. He is very much looking forward to someday spending time with his dad restoring classic trucks, a dream they both share.  He?s also looking forward to spending lots of time being on a beach, and being out in the country.

Jeremy has made it a point to know his neighbors, and to invest his time in making positive contributions to his neighborhood and the greater community. Debbie Thompson, Jeremy?s advocate through the ARC of Southwest Washington, says, ?Jeremy takes being a member of a community very seriously? He wants Vancouver to be a good place, and wants to be part of it.?

Jeremy?s sister, Brandi, fondly recalls a recent interaction she had with the employees at the local hardware store in Jeremy?s neighborhood.  ?I went to the hardware store, and they wouldn?t rent to me until they realized I was Jeremy?s sister?. Everywhere I go [in Vancouver], I am ?Jeremy?s sister?.?

Jeremy and his dad have volunteered with the Vancouver Police Department?s ?Neighborhood Policing Officers? program for the past 4 years, and Jeremy has become close with many local officers.  Jeremy?s commitment to the Department has been to watch for and report tagging and graffiti within his neighborhood, a job that he takes very seriously. ?It?s like they just don?t care? Punks come and hang out in my area, and they don?t care? And that?s not right.?

Quite by chance, Jeremy reconnected with a friend from his childhood, Mike, whom he had met during his high school years at a summer camp through the Hearing Speech and Deafness Center (HSDC). Though he and Mike had not seen each other for years, they immediately recognized each other at a community gathering in Vancouver, and picked up their friendship where it had left off nearly 15 years earlier. They often spend their days together watching movies, playing games, hanging out at Gamestop, and dreaming of attending Emerald City Comicon.

The growth and change Jeremy has experienced over the last few years is tremendous. At this point in his life, Jeremy is proud to report that takes no medications, he has begun educating himself on various areas of interest (including flight and planes), has taken a new interest in reading and keeping up with the news, and is connecting with his community and neighbors in ways that he was never able to do previously.  As Jeremy?s mom, Debi, puts it, ?The community is his playground...?

Recently, Jeremy celebrated a major milestone in his life: Turning 40. The party, a surprise organized by his close friends and family, left even Jeremy speechless. ?I almost passed out. All my friends and family were there?there were 20 people waiting for me?? The party was a huge success. His friends from the police department showed up with a special birthday surprise ? handcuffs and a mock arrest.

Though it has been a long journey to get here, Jeremy is truly at a point in his life where he has what all of us crave ? independence and the opportunity to try for whatever his heart desires. Though all change comes with growing pains, it seems clear Jeremy?s life is continuously enriched by the connections he?s made.  As Jeremy told us when we were leaving, ?I am so glad that you are here doing what you?re doing, because I tried to [write my story], but I have no time to do it? I am so busy doing!?