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CINCINNATI - It may be one of the most engaged local organizations you've never heard of. Starfire believes Cincinnati neighborhoods can grow stronger when everyone feels like they're part of the community, including people with disabilities.
"Nothing we do is specifically for people with disabilities. It is for everyone in the community," said Katie Bachmeyer, Starfire Researcher Storyteller. "We're focusing on relationships and bonds that lead to a decreased sense of isolation for all people."
Social isolation is particularly problematic for people with disabilities. Studies show many may have few friends other than the staff members and people they meet at social service agencies.
To battle marginalization, Starfire organizes conversations, collaboration projects, and informal seminars so people of all backgrounds and abilities can share their stories and talents.
Enter Starfire U
To help people with disabilities participate more fully in their communities, Starfire established Starfire U. The four-year program helps young people with disabilities chart positive and achievable paths for themselves after high school.
"We take the time to get to know every person in the program," Bachmeyer said. "We sit down with each individual and their family to talk about their interests, passions, and goals."
Like many young people, Starfire U participants don't always know what path they want to pursue. So, a key part of the program involves hosting seminars where community members share their passions, such as Indian art, life coaching, history, or Zumba.
After each participant in Starfire U chooses a theme for a collaborative project, the Starfire staff reaches out to residents who might be able to help. Members of a project committee, including the student, work together to develop and execute the project. Collaborating with fellow committee members on a defined project enables people with disabilities to gain real-world experience while building lasting relationships.
Starfire U calling
If a Starfire staff member invites you to participate on a collaborative project, it's probably because one of your friends, neighbors or colleagues recommended you.
"Part of our job is to keep collecting stories of people we meet and getting to know people throughout the neighborhoods," Bachmeyer said. Staff members are continually striking up conversations with people throughout Cincinnati so they can reach out to specific individuals who might be able to join Starfire U members in developing projects related to cooking, poetry, classic cars, photography, hiking, or other interests.
The range of collaboration projects is as varied as the individuals who propose them.
In May, Starfire U member Lauren Froh teamed up with Theresa Flaherty to organize a Renaissance dinner that raised funds for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Froh and Flaherty chaired a committee that researched medieval recipes, then cooked and served a meal before members of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company performed.
Other projects include:
- a spoken-word poetry showcase
- an after-party for a 5K run
- a website for movie lover
- restoring a Mt. Airy Trail to include a meditation component
- installing public journals in coffee shops around the city
In May, WCPO Digital reported on Michael Makin, a Starfire U student who is a fan of craft beer. Makin, who has Down Syndrome, teamed up with MadTree Brewing and Fifty West Brewing to create a special wheat beer.
- Read more: MadTree Brewing, Fifty West Brewing team up to help Starfire U student create new beer http://bit.ly/12qoGVH
"The best part has really been all the connections Joe and our family have made," said Joe's mother Beth Laage. "It's been great."
After Starfire U
In a June 27 ceremony at The Museum Center, 21 of the 88 people currently participating in Starfire U will graduate. Having a defined end to participation in the program is important, said Lauren Amos, Starfire's Director of Development, because it encourages people with disabilities to continue on a path that makes the most sense for them as individuals.
"That's the beauty of it," she added. "Once we've set them up on projects, they begin making connections and developing projects that they can carry out with their committee beyond Starfire U."
Some Starfire U participants get jobs, but skills training or job placement isn't the primary focus. It's about including people with disabilities in community projects and activities so they can naturally build the types of relationships that can lead to all kinds of opportunities such as volunteer positions or just being a valued citizen.
Relationships matter, Amos said, because "Probably the majority of people who have gotten a job got it partly because of someone they know."
Starfire U works both ways
Collaborating on a clearly defined project allows committee members to see beyond a person's disabilities. They learn that some people simply face different challenges, and people with disabilities deserve our acceptance and support.
Not all Starfire U participants stay with the program for the full four years. When opportunities arise, they are well-prepared and encouraged to take them.
For example, when Mike Holmes came to Starfire U, he knew he wanted to be a businessman. So Starfire connected him with employees at GBBN Architects, who gave him an internship as an office assistant. Once the co-workers got to know Mike as a person, the company invited him to join the staff.
Get involved with Starfire
To see what Starfire U is all about, you can attend the graduation event on June 27 at The Museum Center (tickets are $10). Or watch YouTube videos about Starfire projects.
- WATCH: Videos on the Starfire YouTube Channel http://www.youtube.com/starfirecincy
To get involved, you can accept invitations to participate in projects, start your own project at one of the Collaboration Gatherings this fall, or join any of the other gatherings listed on Starfire's calendar of events. All gatherings are open to the public.
Starfire receives funding through Hamilton County Developmental Disability Services, the United Way, private grants and foundations, and individual contributions. You can donate online, through the "Donate" button on the Starfire website (see below). All donations are used to help people in the Greater Cincinnati area.
Connect with Starfire
- Website: www.starfirecouncil.org
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/starfirecincy
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/starfirecincy
- YouTube: www.youtube.com/starfirecincy
- Blog: http://cincibility.wordpress.com
Do you know of a great community organization with a story to tell? Send information to Community Editor Holly Edgell via email: email@example.com
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