Mark Hassemer

Mark Hassemer

Dear Friends of ACT,

If you read this newsletter with any regularity, you know that change is a common theme. Here we go again.

Anticipating a special visit to our ACT offices this week, a few of my colleagues and I started taking a closer look at the Day Program and ACT Career Services, in an effort to better tell the story of the dramatic changes we’ve experienced over the past two years.

You’ve heard it here before. When faced with strong external pressure to change, we were disoriented and inclined to push back. We got angry. We wondered if people knew how upsetting the new ways would be, and how hard it would be to let go of something we were proud we built.

But we settled down and gained our bearings. That process of reorienting, imagining, and recreating our future began with grounding ourselves in our Mission and Vision.

When we revisited our Vision, we saw that we weren’t always hitting the mark. In the ACT Works program, we weren’t living up to what we said we believed. We’d been lulled into inaction by the comfort of routine.

This is our Vision:

ACT’s vision is an inclusive community where everyone belongs, participates and is accepted.

These words helped us find the creativity and courage to move forward with new programs, to say goodbye to the past, and press on.

Great story. But there’s more.

While preparing to welcome Mark Stringer, Director, Department of Mental Health; Valerie Huhn, Director, Division of Developmental Disabilities; Duane Shumate, Director, Employment and Training; and several of their colleagues who run State-operated programs, we noticed that the language of our Vision statement falls short of our aspirations.

It’s a big deal to have Missouri’s top leaders in the profession visit with us, asking questions, learning about some of our stumbles and recoveries, and, genuinely celebrating.

They thanked us for our candor, for not papering over the flaws. They applauded our innovation.

They looked at the empty room where our recycling equipment once operated. No one was there working. They said, “You did what we asked you to do.” People with disabilities are not congregated on that work floor anymore. They’re out working or seeking work in the community, or they’ve chosen to do something else.

Our visitors left saying they got what they envisioned for the visit: part instruction, part motivation.

But they didn’t go without us first telling them our Vision was going to be revisited. We’re going to talk about it. And we intend to go back to our Board to propose a change to the last word: accepted. We don’t want persons with disabilities to merely be accepted. We want them to be valued.

There’s a big experience gap between the receiving ends of those two words.

I cannot close without acknowledging how extraordinarily proud I was that day of our ACT employees. Thanks especially to Jessica, Michelle, and Craig.

After the visit from the State officials, I was keyed up and a little drained. Much of that feeling was driven by how deeply satisfying and fulfilling it is to see dedicated people with direction accomplish so much.

This newsletter is full of profiles of new staff members who have recently joined us at ACT. When you read about them, you’ll want to meet them. I know they’ll make me proud, too, as we keep changing for the betterment of the people we serve.

Until next month,

Mark