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"How people live should be determined by how they wish to live, not by their diagnosis."  – Thomas Pomeranz, Ed.D.

On Thursday, May 19, 2016, Starbridge kicked off its new conference series, Building Our Community: Principles and Practices of Inclusion and Self-Direction. The series is a way to invite experts to the table to engage in meaningful conversation about inclusion and self-direction. From these conversations, we will cultivate the practical tools and steps needed to achieve positive outcomes in individual lives and to transform our communities.

Dr. Thomas Pomeranz was the featured presenter at the full-day conference, held at Staybridge Suites Rochester University. More than 100 people attended the conference, and the audience included professionals in a variety of fields, self-advocates, and family members of people with disabilities.

Starbridge staff Colin Garwood, Jason Blackwell, and Courtney Dolan with presenter Dr. Tom PomeranzOver the last forty years, Tom has conducted thousands of seminars throughout the United States and Canada. His program, Universal Enhancement, teaches strategies promoting full community inclusion and supporting people to have a quality life. For professionals working with people who have disabilities, Dr. Pomeranz encourages a shift in the thinking about options that should be available to people through person-centered planning. He challenged attendees to ask themselves, “Would you like to trade places?” The conversation continued with tools and strategies professionals can use to empower choices and evaluate options based on a quality of life profile.

When asked how they might use the tools learned that day, one attendee shared, “I will always put myself in [my clients’] shoes and ask, ‘Is it good enough for me?’.” One self-advocate left the conference with this conviction: “I will advocate more for myself and not be afraid of what others will say.”

The afternoon included a panel discussion facilitated by Dr. Pomeranz. The panelists were Tara Alexander, Support Staff; Anthony Arnitz, Self-Direction Liaison at Finger Lakes DDRO; Lynn Barnett, Fiscal Intermediary Coordinator at Starbridge; Cheryl Garlock, Support Broker from CP Rochester; Gretchen Jackson, a family member and Advocate at Starbridge; and, Joe Jackson, an individual using Self-Directed Services.

Dr. Pomeranz invited self-advocates and families to a special, free evening session, held at Al Sigl Community. Fifty people attended to hear Dr. Pomeranz speak about the ways family can empower support staff. His recommendations included leading by example, showing appreciation and addressing concerns in nonthreatening ways.
Afterwards, one family member said she planned to use the strategy of “being an exemplar, and showing leadership in her role as a parent”. A self-advocate mentioned that they would share what they had learned about Universal Enhancement with their new employees.

The conversations will continue later in 2016 as Starbridge presents three half-day workshops to talk in-depth about leading self-directed lives and transforming our communities to include everyone. For more information, please visit the events on our calendar.

The proceeds raised by this series will support Starbridge’s public education programs and the work we do in transforming communities. Special thanks to Faraci Lange Attorneys, P. Kenneth Dennis Foundation, and First Niagara Bank for their sponsorship of Starbridge’s 2016 Conference Series.

To view photos from the day, go to our photo gallery.