Working Together to Build an Inclusive Community: Lifeworks and Upstream Arts

The long-term relationships that Lifeworks has built over the years with organizations and businesses has helped us better support the people we serve and our communities. Our partnership with Upstream Arts, which began in 2006 (the year their organization was founded) provides an example of the impact that mission-driven people can have when they work together.

About Upstream Arts

Upstream Arts, a nonprofit that “uses the power of the creative arts to activate and amplify the voice and choice for individuals with disabilities” was founded by Julie and Matt Guidry after seeing the connection their son had with dance.

Julie reflects: “We have a child with pretty significant disabilities. Caleb does not use words to communicate. At a very young age, he would watch his dad dance during rehearsals; and he started to mirror what Matt was doing on stage – but it was not just fluid mirroring. My son took turns. And that give and take was something that we as a family leveraged as a place where we were going to be able to check in with our kid.”

When their son started middle school, Matt and Julie brought this idea to his classroom and realized its incredible potential. She notes, “We found out pretty quickly that we were able to use the arts, creativity, and play to develop foundational skills.”

As the Guidrys explored further how art could be used as a vehicle for building soft skills, they reached out to organizations that help people with disabilities. The relationship with Lifeworks began with a simple phone call: “We [Upstream Arts] are doing this work and we really think that it would be pretty impactful if we were able to work with some of the adults in your program.”

Lifeworks and Upstream Arts Partnership

Lifeworks embraced the opportunity and together, the organizations have grown and increased the amount of opportunities for the people we serve. Being one of the first adult programs to work with Upstream Arts, Lifeworks was able to play a key role in generating ideas for classes and content.

Upstream Arts uses the creative process to develop fundamental social and communication skills. Raquel Sidie-Wagner, Regional Manager at Lifeworks, notes, “The soft skills that we are helping to develop – like the ability to engage with people and express needs are so much more crucial than we give them credit for – they are essential to living independently.”

Julie explained: “Lifeworks really came along on the journey with us. This partnership has been 13 years in the making and Lifeworks has really helped us think about the places we can show up and be really relevant to the community. They have been excited, willing, and open to innovating with us.”

Through conversations with Lifeworks staff regarding employment for people with disabilities, Upstream Arts examined and designed curriculum that addressed how they could support people in their careers. This seed grew into one of their eight core areas: The Art of Working, which “cultivates soft skills vital to obtaining and maintaining employment while exploring the fundamentals of visual art, theater, poetry, music, and dance.” It is one of their most popular programs.

How We Work Together Today

This spring, Lifeworks participated in their newest 12-week program, The Art of Voice and Choice, which focused on informed decision making and person-centered planning; it was attended by people with disabilities and their support staff.

Raquel reflected on the importance of the program, “So often people with disabilities are told where to go and what to do – so this class provided the opportunity for people to learn how to discover what options are available and then how to make a choice. The program has also helped staff open up our minds to the possibilities of what goals we can help people achieve. And if we are doing our jobs well, the reliance on support from us decreases while independence increases. The more our staff understand person-centered planning the better advocates we can be for the people we serve and their families.”

Our work together helps to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a self-determined life. Diversity of thought and style that happen through community partnerships, like the one between Lifeworks and Upstream Arts, helps us all innovate and navigate through the constantly changing landscape of services for people with disabilities.