Bringing social inclusion to college campuses

Photo of Kennedy Donnelly
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Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

Our story began in 2003, Anthony and I were lucky enough to join GUSR in 2012 & 2014 as leaders helping to plan events like bi-annual play performances, epic dance parties, and sports activities. GUSR was started from a clever idea to bring those living with disabilities in the Spokane community onto Gonzaga University’s campus for an integrated, two-night retreat. Since then, Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation (GUSR) has evolved into a community of over 180 active members who gather weekly. In our time as coordinators we learned: Integration breeds strong, lasting communities; Every person, regardless of their cognitive or physical abilities, has infinite worth; Students that have positive interactions with the disability community are more likely to continue their involvement beyond school; Celebrating abilities is a blast! We want to expand GUSR's model to other communities.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Many young people lack the social skills to include their peers with disabilities in activities. We hypothesize that this problem originates in the public school system, where students with profound physical and behavioral conditions are typically placed in special education classrooms. By creating a safe space for people of all abilities to come together, we will enable our members to engage more with the disability community beyond college.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We work with college students to establish “Flair Communities” at their school, where people with and without disabilities can gather to participate in integrated social activities like dances, game nights, and play performances. It starts with motivated students submitting an application form on our website. Then, we work one-on-one with them to ensure that Flair’s programming would address needs of the local disability community. Next, we collaborate with student leaders to plan an event on campus to gather member interest and make introductions. Finally, the newly established community will decide which activities they’d like to plan and how often they’d like to gather. Flair HQ provides ongoing training, support, and resources to make their campuses more diverse and inclusive. Additionally, we we also run a “Celebrate Abilities” campaign, which includes a “toolkit” for schools to host an awareness week, and opportunities for people of all abilities to “Share Their Flair” on our website. Our hope is to educate the public on best practices for inclusion and to end discrimination against people with disabilities.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Flair student coordinators meet to plan community games, prepare materials, and manage logistics. Caregivers and parents enjoy a 2 hour period of respite as their clients and children attend Flair programming. As people start to arrive on campus, the room fills with laughter, conversations, and the excitement of seeing one another. The evening starts with “announcements”, where everyone has the opportunity to share updates ranging from exciting birthday plans to stories from work. People then break into small groups to participate in the games that have been prepared. Flair games are always adaptive, and there are alternative activities available for members that wish to engage in other ways. Furthermore, games are designed to evoke storytelling and assist people in getting to know one another. As time goes on programming becomes more tailored to the community’s interests.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Flair’s approach is different from existing organizations in four ways. First, there are no goals, mentors, worksheets, or skills to learn during our programming. Second, Flair is interested in providing individuals with disabilities a college social experience because they are less likely to attend college. Third, supporting other nonprofits is a key part of our business model. It is part of our mission to motivate and mobilize a new generation of volunteers to engage with those organizations doing great work. Lastly, we want to promise that 100% of donations go to programming.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

As we prepare to launch our pilot program at Whitworth University in the fall, we have engaged in marketing and advocacy efforts on-campus to gather interest from potential community members. To date, 45 students have expressed interest in volunteering and three have signed on as community coordinators. Two faculty members have offered to oversee the program year-to-year to ensure long-term sustainability at the university. Additionally, the University of Portland has asked for Flair’s help to expand their activism and awareness efforts. We will be working closely with their administration to roll out our “Celebrate Abilities” campaign at UP’s campus, which will include educational materials and best practices for social inclusion. Finally, we have partnered with two other disability nonprofits in the Spokane area.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We aspire to be the global leader in the movement for inclusion. We know that our programs are a small piece of the solution, and that large-scale collaboration between organizations in the disability sector will be key to making progress. To elevate Flair, we want to host an annual “Inclusion Summit”. The goals of the event are threefold. First, bring leaders from other nonprofits that serve individuals with disabilities around the same table to discuss how we can collaboratively work towards a more inclusive world and share best practices. Second, honor organizations that have done excellent work to facilitate diversity and inclusion in their communities. Lastly, educate and inspire attendees with speakers and workshops.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

Flair’s biggest need is seed funding to expand our operations and improve the quality of our community “toolkits”. Additionally, we’d like to hire a few staff members to improve the way we capture and engage with community members and potential donors. Examples of these staff members include a Training Developer, Marketing and Community Engagement Specialist, and a Salesforce Expert. Finally, we will need legal counsel to help manage risk and liability within our communities.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Donations less than $100

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

Supporting other changemakers is a core part of Flair’s business model. As we explained in question five, we will work actively to connect our volunteers to other organizations in our network of community partners. Furthermore, we will collaborate annually with our partners to share best practices, create a holistic inclusion strategy, and offer support where needed. It is our hope to become a leader in this space and encourage other nonprofits to raise the standard for people with disabilities.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • T-Mobile page or contact
  • Ashoka page or contact
  • Word of mouth


Join the conversation:

Photo of Claire Fallender

I think the idea of promoting inclusion of people with disabilities through pure fun and interaction in social gatherings is a great way to draw in people who might not normally join. The fact that you already have 45 volunteers at the campus you are starting at is very promising and the plans you have for spreading to other campuses through Flair coordinators on each campus makes a lot of sense. It would be great to capture some of the experiences and testimonies of some of the disabled participants and NGO partners to understand the impact from their perspective. Best of luck on this endeavor!

Photo of Tyler Vogel

Thank you for sharing Kennedy Donnelly What a great mission!

Photo of Russell Agustin

Love your idea, I believe that the disabled community can and will benefit greatly from your work.

Photo of Nanaefua Eshun

I commend you for your willingness to work with those who have disabilities and partnering with students who can work with them and engage them in activities. The “Flair Communities” program appears to be beneficial to the whole community. Continue to do the good work you are doing.