The purpose of the Missouri Access Recreation Project is to increase inclusive recreational opportunities þu opportunities equally available to anyone who wants to participate þu for youth with disabilities in their communities and schools. Barrier-free activities and opportunities are held in accessible places and led by people who support and welcome all participants. A project component involved the development of nine community inclusive recreation committees throughout Missouri. These committees provide a leadership role within their communities to increase inclusive recreation opportunities through trainings, technical assistance, family support, and recreation development.
Envision the leadership team
The project staff recognized four specific needs that the leadership team in each community should address to achieve the project purpose:
- Identify and address barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities in existing recreation opportunities
- Arrange training and technical assistance for individual recreation providers and schools related to inclusive recreation
- Provide assistance to and support to families in developing recreation plans for youths with disabilities
- Provide a forum where youth with and without disabilities, parents, educators, and recreation providers can share information, solve problems, and address barriers
Set leadership development goals
To address these specific needs, the core tasks of the leadership team included:
- Providing insight about the recreational needs of youths with and without disabilities
- Understanding and relaying the importance of inclusive recreation
- Motivating community members to get involved
- Achieving an effective working relationship between team members
Vital to the success of the leadership team was representation from various groups in the community, including parks and recreation providers, school systems, community recreation groups, local businesses and organizations, recreation professionals, families, youth with and without disabilities, and other individuals with disabilities. An estimated 10 to 15 people were needed for each leadership team to achieve this representation. Important skills for members to have included the ability to listen, the ability to be open to consideration of other team members¡¯ perspectives, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
The project coordinator and inclusive recreation consultant for the project provided support for the leadership team. The project coordinator helped to develop the leadership teams and the consultant provided training to team members. Project staff met at least semi-monthly with teams and provided technical assistance as needed.
In most communities, the leadership team has demonstrated a commitment to work together to improve inclusive recreation and represented the community¡¯s interests. The true commitment will be seen after the initial project is completed and funding ends. Ideally, teams would be strong enough to sustain themselves without the funding and support from project staff, though it is not expected that this will take place in all communities.
The leadership team required certain skills and abilities to meet the specific needs of the project and perform the core tasks (providing insight about recreation needs, understanding the importance of inclusive recreation, motivating community members to get involved, and achieving a workable relationship between team members). The following goals were important for the leadership team as a whole.
- Increase understanding of the importance of recreation for people with disabilities
- Recognize and utilize the experience and skills possessed by other team members
- Collaborate and use various resources to achieve goals
- Create a safe environment to learn from ideas and successes as well as failures
- Market effectively to people with disabilities and include people with disabilities in marketing efforts
Leadership teams differed in perspectives, which, in turn, depended on the communities themselves, for example, rural vs. urban, small vs. large. Other perspectives related to the role or jobs of individual members. Some members were accustomed to viewing situations from a micro level, with a hands-on approach, and others viewed situations from a macro level. This is not surprising given the fact that the team was comprised of individual recreation providers, parents, youth with and without disabilities and educators who can have a more focused perspective compared to community leaders and those who develop or manage recreation facilities on a larger scale.
Fortunately, the project viewed the lack of inclusive recreation opportunities for youth with disabilities as a community issue,not a disability issue.The community itself possessed the ability to address inclusive recreation, and the more the leadership team represented the diversity of the community, the better. Team diversity also could be enhanced with the increased involvement of the school system, which has been underrepresented in the past.
Select methods of developing leadership
Integral leadership development methods included trainings and technical assistance provided by project staff. The goal of these trainings was to provide practical tools to enhance leadership skills using "real-life¡± situations and environments.
To capitalize on mentors and peer connections to develop leadership, the project used a statewide meeting to bring members of the leadership team together a couple of times per year. These meetings provided an opportunity for leadership team members to learn from one another. In many cases, mentoring happened on its own as members sought out new ideas or solutions to problems from other recreation providers, parents, youth with and without disabilities, and educators or committees in different communities.
Set leadership development goals for individuals
The leadership team required specific skills and abilities to meet the project needs in its own community and to perform the core tasks (providing insight about recreation needs, understanding the importance of inclusive recreation, motivating community members to get involved, and achieving a workable relationship between team members). Team members improved their success when they:
Increased understanding of the issue
- Sought feedback from people affected by the issue
- Identified and addressed barriers
- Advocated for inclusive community opportunities
- Developed relationships and friendships in the community in order to expand and enhance the leadership team
Recruit new members to lead
To improve diversity and bring together necessary agents of change the leadership team needed to constantly be recruiting new members. In many cases, volunteer groups, have a difficult time retaining members and membership often changes, making continual recruitment even more important.
The contributions of new leaders depend on their strengths, background and experience. Leadership team diversity should reflect the diversity of the community. Continual assessment of the community itself ensured that the committee represented the socio-economic and cultural nature of the community.
Develop oneself as a leader
Leadership was enhanced when members participated in conferences and other continuing education opportunities. New techniques, best practices, and new resources learned outside the scope of the project enhanced the project itself and contributed to the knowledge base of team members.