Dr. Laura Romano is currently a professor rhetoric and composition as well as in Ball State University Writing Program. Her community writing interests include oral history, digital technologies, and community identity. She is currently involved in Beyond I CAN which serves the Muncie community through the ‘makers space’ of Madjax.
Can you tell everyone a bit about Beyond I CAN and how its outreach affects the city of Muncie?
Beyond I CAN is an organization here in Muncie, which is a day program for adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. It’s a place for the artisans that go there to spend time creating mosaics, cards, clay sculptures and figures and basically learn skills that help them contribute to our culture in Muncie. The students work with Beyond I CAN for ENG 103 as well as ENG 104. So, it’s an entire stretch course of one year that allows our students to spend time with not only me, but with each other as one single group and also with our community partner. There’s really a chance to grow and bond and create connections, and the students and the artisans can get to know one another.
Because Beyond I CAN has been around since 2003, how did yourself and Ball State get involved?
I got involved with Beyond I CAN because I have a friend named Emily who is a Beyond I CAN client. She spoke so highly of the organization and the friends she met there, and it made me curious about what organization would offer this kind of service. We began working with BIC I think about three years ago, and we’ve been working closely together ever since.
Because of its recent move to MadJax, how do you think that has affected its purpose as a beacon that provides creative opportunities for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities? For better or for worse?
Beyond I CAN is now located in MadJax, which is the “makers space” located Madison and Jackson in downtown Muncie. The move here has been really great for the organization because they now have a much more open space, and the openness is wonderful. They can all see one another, but at the same time, they can have different stations of crafts, cooking and games that they can frequent throughout the day.
Is there a specific example of how Beyond I CAN has affected you personally?
I would say that Beyond I CAN has affected me personally in many ways. Mostly, it has affected me because I’ve been able to see our students change and develop in response to their work with Beyond I CAN. Always, when my students first enter the doors of Beyond I CAN, I can tell that they’re taken aback by the fact that the population there is different from what they’ve experienced before. I take such joy in the ways that the Beyond I CAN artisans and my class both grow, even in the first meeting, to find a new level of comfort and care for one another which continues to mature and develop until by the end of the year there’s real friendships that develop there between the artisans and the students. That has been the greatest joy that has come from this project.
Also, I have a couple of students who have become passionate about disability studies, and who now are regular volunteers at Beyond I CAN even outside out class time and even hope to pursue careers in that field. That is an excellent side effect, as well.
With all these courses offer, how can students that aspire to join the efforts of the 8Twelve look to become part of community outreach?
I would say that I would recommend that all students have the opportunity to join not only an immersive learning class, but an immersive learning class that allows the student to see how their life can be impactful beyond the university. Often, we do work that is useful within the university walls, work that develops the student intellectually and even personally.
But when you add in the component of working with a community partner, the student is really allowed to consider who they are as a citizen and who they want to be as a citizen. That is really an excellent thing for a student that age to think about. How do they want to engage with the world? How do they want to impact their broader community? It’s a real honor to be a part of that.