Ongoing Education Supports SOAR365’s Core Values
Last fall, under the colorful, changing leaves at Camp Baker, a group of people could be seen working hard on social skills. Only this time, it wasn’t SOAR365 program participants — it was our administrative staff!
SOAR365 employees were participating in Disability Etiquette Training provided by Beyond Boundaries, a local nonprofit that facilitates inclusive outdoor adventures. Under the guidance of Shep, Beyond Boundaries’ co-founder and director, SOAR365 staff participated in highly interactive games, activities, and conversations with one goal in mind: improving comfort and understanding in social interactions with people with disabilities.
WHY DID SOAR365 DO THIS?
While many of SOAR365’s trained, experienced professionals work one-on-one with individuals with disabilities each day, our administrative staff is equally hard at work behind the scenes, helping us achieve our mission — even if their day-to-day roles don’t involve direct contact with program participants.
However, administrative staff members didn’t always feel confident that they were communicating correctly with program participants, noticed Diana Miller, SOAR365 VP of Marketing & Communications. Diana reached out to Shep to ask for advice, and Shep immediately suggested the Disability Etiquette Training.
One of the biggest barriers to learning about disability is the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. But after Shep got SOAR365 employees up and moving — working with others to solve challenges or perform role playing exercises — self-consciousness quickly fell away. The playful, teamwork approach helped everyone let their guard down.
“We want people to understand that you can learn and do this, and it can be fun at the same time,” says Shep.
Shep Roeper, Director / Co-Founder of Beyond Boundaries
This enjoyable approach mirrors that of their outdoor adventures. “Yes, you’re socializing with someone that has a disability, but you’re also rafting or fishing,” Shep explains. “Everyone is out of their comfort zone, sharing these new experiences.”
EXTENDING DISABILITY TRAINING TO VOLUNTEERS
At the time same, Alison Jones-Nassar, SOAR365 Volunteer Engagement & Events Manager, noticed “many of our volunteers have felt the same feelings of uncertainty, hesitancy and awkwardness about disability.” As part of our award-winning volunteer program, Alison makes sure to educate volunteers on disability etiquette, appropriate conduct and respectful language. However, Alison wanted to provide volunteers with even more training on this important topic.
She knew just who to call – the same organization that conducted the staff training in which she participated. “Our causes align so well, and our program support opportunities are so similar — Beyond Boundaries really gets the emotional dimension of what we are asking volunteers to do,” she explains.
“I felt that Beyond Boundaries’ etiquette training takes some of the concepts that I speak about in the abstract (at our training) and perhaps can drive them home in a more concrete way.”
“I think it’s really important for the rest of the organization to appreciate how far out of their comfort zone some volunteers are going when they apply. They are really trusting us to help them be prepared and know what they need to know,” she adds.
WHY BEYOND BOUNDARIES?
Beyond Boundaries’ Disability Etiquette Training grew out of their own volunteer orientation efforts as a non-profit. They realized that while participant feedback was enormously helpful, it wasn’t enough to make volunteers feel comfortable and confident working with people with disabilities. This conversation- and activity-based training — consisting of deep discussions, simulated disability exercises, and more — was the missing piece.
WHO ELSE CAN BENEFIT?
In 2021, Beyond Boundaries held a total of 14 different sessions with local organizations and businesses. As Shep says, “Every business could really use it.”
Kendall Rice, Beyond Boundaries board member and SOAR365’s Assistant Vice President of Compliance, Case Management and Quality, agrees. “Their Disability Etiquette training is helping Virginia employers to become proactive and comfortable in utilizing the talents of people with disabilities (by providing) the necessary education and awareness that all employers should seek to have in their work environments.”
Awareness that benefits not only employees, but employers themselves, as more and more businesses around the world are learning the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
At SOAR365, making our workplace more inclusive also helps us live out our core values of treating others with dignity and respect and striving for excellence through continuous improvement.
If you’d like to learn more about volunteering with SOAR365, please contact Alison Jones-Nassar, Volunteer Engagement Manager, at [email protected] or (804) 665-1214.
If you’re interested in Beyond Boundaries’ Disability Etiquette training or would like to learn more about their outdoor adventures, please visit https://www.beyondboundariesrva.org/ or email [email protected].
Our Adult Day Program participants have also enjoyed getting to know the Beyond Boundaries team. Last year, Beyond Boundaries took Adult Day Program participants fishing in Bryan Park. Learn more about trip!
Learn more about our trip on Instagram.