Here at Anythink, we are guided by shared values that inspire community and inclusivity. We have compassion for our customers, and we believe that anything is possible. Nine years ago, Hannah Martinez – a concierge at Anythink Wright Farms – noticed an opportunity for the library to intentionally include people who are all too often overlooked in our society. On any given day, she would see groups of adults with disabilities visiting Anythink to have lunch – ushering themselves into a corner to privately use the space, maneuvering the library in an attempt not to be seen or heard. Martinez knew there was so much more the library could offer to these customers, and so much more these customers could gain from the library. Empowered and encouraged by Anythink’s shared values and driven by the desire to meet a community need, Martinez began to formulate an idea. She envisioned unique and accessible library programming, catering specifically to these individuals, with activities like storytelling and art projects. Her dream came true in 2014 with the first AnyAbility program.
As a monthly program, AnyAbility grew in size and success, and the idea itself became an extension of Anythink’s philosophy and values. It became an invitation to adults with disabilities to come alongside us in building strong community ties – ties that recognize the value of each person’s contributions and talents. AnyAbility evolved into an opportunity to recognize and build confidence in adults who often struggle to be seen and heard.
Creating an inclusive community is more than getting the physical elements right. While the Americans with Disabilities Act provides guidelines that can make a building more accessible to adults with disabilities, making a community that is welcoming to adults with different abilities can be a little more difficult. Anythink strives to create spaces that are welcoming both physically and mentally. Staff recognized that we needed to be more deliberate in our efforts to reach out to these individuals, intentionally building relationships from the ground up. Since then, staff at Anythink have witnessed a transformation in the way AnyAbility attendees interact with peers, customers and staff. The relationships that have developed include a level of trust, respect and appreciation that had not fully evolved prior to the inception of AnyAbility. We celebrate that we have more areas in common than things that set us apart. On any given day, staff and customers alike can be found striking up conversations about their favorite books, bands or movies. While common interests can feel like a simple concept, it is one that creates a strong level of connectivity and a solid foundation for building an inclusive community. Anythink Wright Farms concierge Amanda Moldenhauer recently confirmed this.
“Both staff and our community are learning to create a more cohesive and inclusive environment because of AnyAbility,” Moldenhauer notes. “One of my favorite memories of being at Anythink was seeing a customer and her child reading a book out loud and an AnyAbility customer came over to listen to the story. She was invited to sit, and they read several books together.”
As staff, we benefit from these relationships on a daily basis. Additionally, the work we’ve done to embrace this community reaches beyond our space. Janet Lemle, a community program manager from North Metro Community Services, one of many agencies that provide residential and community participation services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Adams County, shared her thoughts with the AnyAbility team.
“One of the most difficult tasks I attempt every day is to find community activities that provide positive interactions and experiences for the individuals I support,” Lemle says. “I can say without hesitation that Anythink is a place that not only welcomes our individuals, but also finds a way to connect with each one, every time we go. I work with a large group of adults that have a variety of different abilities. They have many talents and skills, but one of the reasons they attend our community program is to open their horizons and experience the community in a new and positive way.”
Since its first program five years ago, AnyAbility is alive and well in 2019. With consistent attendance of 40-50 people at each monthly program, it is one of the most successful adult programs we offer at Anythink Wright Farms. Just this past year, we hosted a Zumba class, performed science experiments, learned from a nutritionist and (perhaps most popular) sang karaoke. We also spent time with Lucas, an avid mystery reader, and Andy, who is always ready with a thumbs up to brighten your day. We hung out with Connie, who is reserved but not when it comes to air guitar, and Jesus, who knows every word to “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias. On any given day, we see the comfort and ease with which adults with disabilities utilize our space. They, as any community member who walks through our doors, are greeted by our staff with warmth, with a “Charlie, how was your weekend?” and the chance to feel seen and heard. Our lives, and the lives of every member of our Anythink community, have been enriched by a simple shift towards inclusion, and towards compassion. ■
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