The formation of Vitalize Kitsap was inspired in the fall of 2000 when several girls, with a range of intellectual disabilities, gathered for a birthday party. Although the girls had interacted while in school, they’d never really gotten together just for fun outside of the classroom. The girls had such a great time, that another event was planned for the following week, which again, was a huge success. This inspired their parents to continue planning outings and other recreational gatherings for the children. As the girls got older, the size, scale and scope of the programs and activities grew with them. This eventually led Holly Aardal, an educator and administrator in special education, and Deb Payne, a special education para-educator, to co-found Island Time Activities (ITA), which gained official status as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2011.
VK’s mission is to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities so that they can lead self-determined meaningful lives. They offer tailored individual programs to their members that allow them to gain new skills, develop independence, participate in the community through healthy activities, socialization with friends, and employment.
I spoke with Kellie Creamer, Executive Director of Vitalize Kitsap to learn more about these programs and the impact they have on the lives of our community members.
“We meet with each person who joins VK to articulate their goals and interests in each of our seven areas of focus: Arts & Culture, Lifelong Learning, Health & Fitness, Job & Life Skills, Relationships, Communication, and Community,” Kellie explained. This is known as VK’s Personal Goal Plan (PGP). VK staff members work those individual goals and interests into their Adventure & Activities plans, “so that our members are working towards their own best lives within the framework of a social club,” Kellie continued. “One of the areas of improvement we have in our society is recognizing that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the same right to agency and self-determination as everyone else, and VK empowers people to pursue exactly that!”
They offer multiple programs each week, which include the aforementioned Adventures & Activities sessions, and Book Club, Drama Club, Friday Social Club, and individual Community Engagement and Specialized Habilitation sessions. The programs are offered year-round, click here for more details. Throughout the year they celebrate the big holidays, participate in community events, and observe the life milestones and achievements of their members.
“Some of our annual favorites include our April Fool’s Day party (complete with hilarious pranks), our epic Halloween celebrations, and our New Year’s Eve soiree…but really, we have great things happening every single day that include our members’ favorite activities and particular interests,” Kellie said. “We think a life of meaning is built mostly through our everyday actions and interactions, so that’s where we put our focus each day.”
Like everyone, VK had to adjust for the Pandemic so that they could continue to serve their members to the fullest extent. “We knew that the pandemic lockdown would hit everyone hard, and we felt responsible to our members, to make sure that physical distancing didn’t mean social isolation.”
Kellie explained that they began using Facebook, WhatsApp, and email to stay connected. When they discovered Zoom, they realized they could implement daily online sessions that included all their members. “Our staff assembled packets of materials that we delivered to doorsteps, then we all met in Zoom to cook, create art, read and tell stories, and just generally have a great time together.”
Celebrating Life’s Milestones
VK members range in age from teenagers through senior citizens and over the past 22 years, they’ve watched their members achieve milestones many of us take for granted. Members have graduated from high school, taken their first jobs, starred in plays, moved into their first apartments, and gotten a driver’s licenses. “Equally important and worthy of celebration are the things that empower us to be our full selves, such as developing and sharing a sense of humor, learning to say ‘no’ and stand up for yourself, identifying your own goals and aspirations, learning how to make choices based on your own internal compass, and nurturing empathy and building true friendships,” Kellie said.
Expanding Art & Culture
In 2022, Vitalize Kitsap received a two-year Art & Culture grant from the City of Bainbridge Island Cultural Funding Committee. The purpose of the grant is to create a one-of-a-kind theater production in partnership with Bainbridge Performing Arts (BPA). They hope to be one of the first performances when the new Buxton Theater opens in 2023. “We’re so honored to have Elizbeth Allum, BPA’s Education Coordinator, joining us each week to help us bring our original theatrical production to life,” Kellie said. “She instantly understood the strengths of our members and has innovative ideas about how we can amplify our voices and play into our individual strengths to produce an inclusive dramatic experience that will engage the wider community.” Kellie also noted that our disabled friends and neighbors are a vibrant part of our cultural community’s life, “and we’re grateful to the COBI Arts & Culture grant and our partnership with BPA for helping us bring this alive locally.”
Vitalize Kitsap rents the social hall at Seabold Church on Bainbridge Island, where most of their programming takes place. Click here to visit their calendar with weekly program descriptions.
Additional services include transportation, personal care, skilled nursing care, respite care*, staff and family consultation*, and Bainbridge School District Adult Living Program services.
*Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Developmental Disabilities Administration
To learn even more about VK, check out their video: About Vitalize Kitsap – YouTube
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