Although they are among the lesser known DDA services, Community Engagement play an important role in helping people connect to their local communities. If that description seems a little broad, Krista Milhofer would probably say that’s a good thing.
An Olympia-based Community Guide, Krista says it’s an outside-the box service that’s meant to be tailored to the individual. “It can look like whatever you want it to look like,” she says. “It really gives individuals and families the ability to be creative. It’s not about what the system wants to provide. It’s about what the individual wants to choose for themselves.”
After receiving a referral from a DDA case manager, Krista works with the individual (and family if needed) to find out what goals they want to work on. From there, it’s all about getting out into the community and meeting people who can help make things happen.
Krista supports individuals pursuing a wide range of goals: taking steps to be more independent; researching affordable housing; taking classes; filing taxes; and pursuing lifelong dreams. Along the way, it’s been all about meeting new people and building relationships. In other words, the kind of life the person wants to live.
It’s not about what the system wants to provide. It’s about what the individual wants to choose for themselves.
“There’s a real need for this,” she says. “I mean, the resources are out there, but people just don’t always know how to access them.” Community Guide and Engagement services are the link that brings it all together.
Vibrant, friendly, full of creative ideas and positive energy, Krista is a natural connector. As a former high school transition coordinator, she says, “I focused on finding out what students wanted to do after school and try to make our way to building that.”
She points to Michael, her first Community Engagement customer, sitting next to her in the coffee shop. “Michael, do you want to share what your goals are?” He perks up and pulls out a sheet of paper. At the top of his list of goals: starting a band.
“This Is Us,” he says, grinning as he shares the band’s name.
“We had to start with the basics,” Krista explains. “Michael needed an instrument, so we found a guitar at a pawn shop, but it needed some work, so we went to Music 6000 to get the parts. And then the father of someone we met, who’s a professional musician, offered to make the repairs.”
And that’s how it started. One step at a time, following leads and meeting people along the way. Connections build with each contact, and Michael experiences how to make things happen.
“As he’s seeing progress, he’s adding more goals, right Michael? You’re being more assertive and advocating for yourself more.”
Michael’s confident smile says it all. “I want to see my sisters,” he tells her. It’s one of his new goals, along with moving out of his current living situation into his own apartment.
Krista says she spends about 15-30 hours per month with each individual, as well as their families. One family she’s working with has needed help getting assistive technology. “The family was nervous about driving up to do the [technology] assessment, and all of the steps involved in the process.” Krista walked them through what needed to be done, and provided assistance and support through each phase.
She went a step further and enlisted the help of Ron Schooler, who has more expertise in technology. He’s in the process of contracting with DDA to provide Community Engagement services. It’s Krista’s hope that he can be the go-to tech person for other Community Engagement providers in the area.
Krista takes every opportunity to help people connect and grow, even beyond their time with her. She created a closed Facebook page for former clients and families. “It’s one of the ways we still network. Like, one of my clients designed and created a card game, based off of Yugio or Magic cards. He was interested in trying to promote it and look at how playable it was. So before Arts Walk, he invited people to Old School Pizza downtown, and I invited four gamers that I knew and other people I thought would be good social connections. So they ate pizza and hung out at Arts Walk.”
At its heart, it’s those connections on the way to achieving goals that Krista sees as one of the greatest benefits. “It’s building diverse relationships where people aren’t paid.”
A week after this interview, Krista found a pair of cowboy boots for $5 at a garage sale and took them to Michael, along with a donated acoustic guitar. “He was so excited,” she says, “jumping up and down and shouting ‘My band’s coming together!’”
Coming together pretty much says it all when it comes to what Krista and other Community Engagement providers do. They bring people together, reaching goals and building community.
Community Engagement is a service provided under DDA’s Individual & Family Services, Basic Plus and Core waivers. If your family member is enrolled in one of these waiver programs, contact their DDA case manager to find out how a Community Guide or Community Engagement provider can help them reach their goals.
View or download DDA’s Community Engagement Services flyer.
Learn more about Krista Milhofer at Planning the Next Steps.