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With a recent expansion to the Milwaukee area, the nonprofit organization Living Our Visions Inclusively (LOV Inc.) offers a new resource to people with disabilities seeking to build connections in community settings. It’s part of LOV Inc.’s broader efforts to build equity and inclusion for people with disabilities.
Working one-on-one with individuals, the organization’s Bridge Builder Project staff work to identify each individual’s goals, ranging from joining community-based interest groups – think Dungeons and Dragons or a Euchre league – or attending art classes or joining a gym.
“Our process centers on really getting to know each individual, their personal interests, and what they value in relationships,” said Zach Lillo, the organization’s Milwaukee-based Bridge Builder. “Then we begin the planning process, identifying barriers, and determining next steps.”
Barriers such as accessible and convenient transportation and fear or anxiety around new people or spaces pose significant challenges to participating in community life, said Lillo.
That’s where Bridge Builder staff come in. Building a trusting relationship with each individual is an essential first step, followed by identifying safe and welcoming groups. The Bridge Builder and the person with disabilities attend new groups together, making it easier to try new experiences or activities. Additionally, Bridge Builders work to help each person learn how to set up their social schedule, get to the groups as independently as possible, and how to look for future groups on their own.
It’s a program that has seen a lot of success in Dane County and now is offered for the first time in the greater Milwaukee area.
Lillo, who served as a Bridge Builder in the Madison area for four years before moving to Milwaukee, recalls one such success story for an individual looking to get back into theater but needed some practice and a space they felt comfortable going to. Together with Lillo, they made a plan to attend an improv group.
“Learning to navigate spaces together is key to what we do. The individual I was working with had a stutter, and someone in the initial improv group laughed at them. This was a setback, but we processed how we can’t control how others react to us in the community, but shutting out the community is not the answer.”
From there, Lillo began to seek other options and connected with a theater professor who helped create a limited workshop in a safe space. It was a great experience that led to additional theatrical explorations, including hosting dramatic reading over Zoom during the pandemic and writing a musical.
To participate in the Bridge Builder Project, individuals should contact LOV Inc. LOV Inc. works closely with IRIS and Family Care. Private pay is also available. To learn more, visit lovinc.org.
CONTACT: Zach Lillo, firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-354-1076