Winging it: with The Stauber Family

Listen on Apple Podcasts

This conversation with the Stauber family takes you into their story of what it was like to connect with more people who love birding. They decided to host a weekend birding retreat and invite people they met through networking to come. This podcast outlines how they came up with the idea, planning and logistics, and how they navigated the "environmental concern" that almost derailed their entire weekend.

Their project was done in partnership with Starfire as part of our work to put families at the center of community building.

Tammi: My name is Tammi Stauber and we have a 20-year-old son named Kyle. And we live in West Chester.  

Katie: So, you guys just completed a year with Starfire. Tell me a little bit about what that project was? 

Scott: One of Kyle’s big interests is birds. So what we did was created a birding weekend, and invited a bunch of guests who were connected with the Audubon Society, Cincinnati chapter, Cincinnati Bird Club. People along that line those who share the same interest in birding as Kyle does.  

Katie: Yeah and this interest in birding is more than just - I like to be outside and in the woods, right? Tell me about that interest that Kyle has and what that looks like.  

Tammi:  When Kyle was born we had two acres in the woods and my husband is the biggest Audubon-nut known to man. And we had every bird in our yard. So Scott had all these CDs  from Audubon and from Cornell University of bird calls.   

Tammi: What we didn’t realize is Kyle’s gift is audio memory and at age 2, age 3 he was putting those CDs in our old stereo and memorizing, we didn’t realize, he was memorizing all those bird calls by track. We’re thinking three hundred, four hundred, or five hundred bird calls he has memorized, and he still knows them to age 20.  

Katie: That is incredible, I didn’t realize that it was something that started that young. So when you chose what to do, you were thinking around Kyle’s interests. Why were you looking at Kyle’s interest in particular? 

Scott: Well we want to get him integrated, involved in the community - trying to link him up with like-minded people. People with the same interests, shared interests.

Katie: So let’s unpack how you came up with the idea to eventually have a retreat, what was your initial concept around what you would do?  

Tammi: My initial thought was a running event, Kyle ran cross country in eight grade and he wants to run again. But Scott and I don’t run long distance. So I thought I thought we would set some kind of annual running event. And that was mom, all on my own, in my own head, I get caught in my head.  

Katie: What do you mean by that? Why was it like being caught?  

Tammi: When we came to Starfire and started learning different strategies.  Taking people to lunch, taking other runners, birders, artists, taking even neighbors, just taking people to lunch and pick their brains, I just call it getting out of my own head.  

Scott: Yeah the cool thing about some of this was when we first started thinking about this we thought well we can do this, we can do this with no input from anybody else you know we’ll come up with the idea and then we can help execute. And then talking to a particular person at Starfire we were told to just talk to people, see what they think and let them kind of run with the program. Don’t plan everything for yourself, this is not about you, this is about Kyle integrating into the community. Don’t even make the event about him, just make an event of which he is an equal part of and let people volunteer and get the buy in from that. 

Katie: How important do you think those coffees were and those plannings were over time? 

Tammi: They were critical.  

Scott: Critical that’s the word I was thinking too.  

Tammi: It was fun and it was critical to get everyone’s feedback and to brainstorm with others. The synergy of getting all our ideas together.  

Scott: Yeah, simple conversations and getting buy-in, otherwise you’re going in cold asking people to do something when they don’t even know who you are. It just, you have to. 

Tammi: And we took a few birders to lunch and they said, well why don’t we rent a cabin out in rural Adams County and go birding? And that had never crossed our minds.  

Scott: And then all the pieces, well what would we need to do for this and this and and it just kind of fell in place in some ways. It still look a lot of planning.   

Katie: And did it fall in place because the people who helped come up with the idea were helping with some of the logistics and thinking through what to do?  

Scott: Yeah. 

Katie: Some shared ownership there, and that’s kind of what you were saying that you might get caught in your head, that the original idea didn’t have anyone else owning it and so that’s the shift where some other people being part of this and feeling just as passionately is what drives the whole ship.  

Tammi: Absolutely.

Katie: And then so everybody who participated in the planning of it how did you work with their schedules to make sure they were involved? 

Scott: Our event was more of a regional draw, it’s not people who live on our street. So our meetings were one on one, they were through email, phone calls things like that. It wasn’t like a collective group of people meeting all the time. Turned out there was a bigger interest than we really kind of expected so we had to kind of pull back on it because the place we were getting for the weekend wasn’t large enough to hold everybody. So their enthusiasm made things so much easier. The worse thing you can do is throw a party and nobody shows up.  

Katie: That’s really neat. And what was Kyle’s role in the project planning itself? 

Tammi: Excellent question.  

Scott: I won’t say Kyle initiated any of the plans himself, what we would do is we would always ask Kyle if he wanted to do this, get his sign-off essentially.  

Tammi: Is it ok to have a sleepover with ten people in a cabin? And he would give us a thumbs up or thumbs down. He would come on all the lunches with us or the coffees we would have with people.  

Katie: Once you came up with this idea together and you landed on your theme, you came up with what you were going to do, you probably set a date, picked a location, were there any other things logistically that you really had to work through that were big parts of this? 

Tammi: We had to watch the weather, and it rained, which actually turned out to be a good thing because the birds like the rain.  

Scott: Yeah, it was migration season for the warblers, it was in May, so a nice spring rain kept them calm and singing.  

Tammi: Picking trails that were accessible and worthy of seeing lots of birds. Picking a trail that was near a lunch picnic shelter, because we provided lunch.  

Katie: Did anything come up during the process where you felt like, oh no this is never going to work? 

Tammi: Oh big time.

Scott: Yes

Katie: Can you name a couple of those?

Scott: Well, we had a spot all picked out, it was an hour and a half east of the city of Cincinnati, and was it a week or two before? They said, there’s — I’ll just call it an environmental issue. They had some wild animals on the premises, and we cannot have you come to this.  

Katie: What type of wild animals? 

Scott: Feral hogs. 

Katie: Oh of course

Scott: Feral hogs were loose on the property and we need to trap them and we can’t have humans at the facility because it’ll spook the feral hogs. So we had to scramble, Tammi actually did, scrambled and found a place that we then rented for the weekend.  

Katie: That must have been just.. How did that feel, gut wrenching? 

Scott: (Laughter)

Tammi: Gut-wrenching except that the rental I think turned out to be a better option for us.  

Katie: So it was a good thing, hogs feral hogs who would’ve thought can actually be the best part of your project?

Scott: Yeah and then we walked into the place we rented and the first thing we see is the mounted head of a hog on the wall, and I was like, this is perfect, it was meant to be.  

Katie: So take me to the day of the birding event. It sounds like a lot of the planning happened with you all and you were the connection but maybe having everyone in the room at once was kind of an exciting thing. Where everybody’s like, now we’re all here. Tell me about the day, how did it feel? 

Tammi: It was May and it was rainy and we all met at a trail head and that’s how we got our day started with a hike. 

Scott: And we turned the hike procedures and all that over to one of the birders, who was familiar with the trail. So they led the hike and we just participated like everybody else.  

Tammi: It was exciting, everyone showed up.  

Scott: Everyone showed up.  

Tammi: We had 17 on the hike and I think 14 came back to the cabin for dinner. That was exciting to finally get inside and out of the rain. We had a lot of fun stories to tell. And then ten people, that’s the limit on the cabin for spending the night, so we had ten conversations to midnight.  

And what Scott and I noticed too, Kyle being such a (I don’t want to say expert) but the audio memory, he can hold his own in that group of experts.

Katie: Were they impressed by the level of knowledge that he has?

Tammi: Absolutely.

Katie: After all this your goal to help Kyle get more integrated into the community, and also as a family to connect more socially with people who share the birding interest, what has happened since? What is a result of this project that you want to share? 

Scott: During that weekend one of the activities we did was we had a little contest where we would play a bird call and the avid birders had to identify what the bird was. We had fifteen birds and Kyle ended up winning the competition. It was pretty cool in and of itself. Then a few months later there was a bird outing, and the person that was leading the birding walk - we had never met. And when we introduced ourselves to him he said,

“Oh Kyle I’ve heard about you, you’re the one who knows all the bird calls.” 

So we decided to take him to lunch just to make the connection with him.  Over lunch he said he would like to do that, he heard about the birding weekend, he actually knew of the place we went and said that was one of his favorite places to go birding ever. And he would like to do that same weekend if we’d be interested in doing it with he and his buddies. So great yeah, we’ll do that. And then at lunch he decided I have about an hour, I’m going to go birding, Kyle would you like to join me? So we all went birding and it was kind of interesting because Josh kind of took Kyle. And they went birding and Tammi and I were kind of behind them watching it was pretty cool because it all came out of the birding weekend. It was that connection, he knew about the weekend, he knew about Kyle’s skills, he knew of where we went birding, it was just this perfect puzzle that was put together.

Katie: And you didn’t even have to put that out there? 

Scott: He did it all. It was his idea, and it’s his guest list, so we’re connecting Kyle to a whole other group of people he didn’t know before.  

Katie: That’s incredible, thank you guys anything else you want to say?

Tammi: Well, I was going to say, I felt as the non-birder, you know the big let down after the big weekend… Birders all go away for the summer and I thought, oh my gosh we did all of this and there’s no connection. And then a month later they go on that hike and then — there’s Josh.  

Katie: Pretty awesome.

Tammi: It was awesome.

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You're Never Ready - with Mieke

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Ever felt stuck? Or like you don't know where to begin? This conversation with Mieke will help you conquer some of your own doubts around just getting start. Mieke is part of Starfire's initiative to put families at the center of community building… This means she was granted a small stipend and offered a mentor from Starfire, to help nudge and uncover her family's own wisdom around building community. She addresses some of her own struggles - like expanding her concept of who her "neighbors" might be, her epiphany  around how to bring her four kids' passions  together in one project, how she leveraged weak ties of people she already knew to help with the project, and what tools you actually need to get started…

Mieke: My name’s Mieke and I have been passionate about community building pretty much since forever. I was the kid who was the bridge between friend groups in elementary school, I got voted most outgoing in my high school class of 307 people and I have just always been about bringing different groups of people to the same table.  

1:59 – 3:12 

Katie: Yeah, and that’s very true. I know you personally as well and I know that that’s been my experience with you. So your high school classmates - they had it right. So one of the questions that comes up a lot about community building and trying to do a creative project in your neighborhood is that starting is the hardest part and for somebody like yourself, it sounds like you’re more outgoing, so help people who might not be as outgoing, also bring them along in this podcast, so they can get a deeper understanding of what ittakes. Because I don’t think this is just for people who are outgoing, do you? 

Mieke: No, definitely not.  

Katie: Ok, take us back to when you first started your project with Starfire what were some of your first steps? 

Mieke: The hardest thing about getting started for me was that I didn’t feel like I was owned by any particular geographic neighborhood. I feel like I belong to Cincinnati, and I wasn’t sure how to narrow that down.  

Katie: So your project really started around that problem that this is supposed to be a way to activate my neighbors, but what you kind of had to come around to or learn was that community could be a community of interest, is that right? 

3:13 – 4:09 

Mieke: That’s exactly right. So that was my first struggle and I struggled with that for like five or six months. We walked our neighborhood, we looked around and we looked at the community bulletin boards and looked at the rec center and met people and I just still did not feel like that was what we wanted to do.  

Katie: And you had said that was a neighborhood you had newly moved to? 

Mieke: Yeah, and so just kind of first problem expanding my concept of who my neighbors are and realizing that it’s ok to do a project on a community of interests rather than a geographic community.  

Katie: So once you landed on that how did you come up with that community of interests?  

Mieke: The next big problem that I had was that I was very involved in a lot of this community work in Cincinnati but I was doing it without my kids.  

Katie: And you have how many kids? 

Mieke: I have four kids.  

4:10 – 5:12 

Mieke: From 10-17 and they all have very strong opinions and a lot of varied interests.  

Katie: Ok, so each child had their own thing going on? 

Mieke: Yeah, a lot of our time is spent going in different directions.

And so I would say another big hurdle I had to jump over was how do I bring it all in guys, coach mom at the helm here trying to figure out what we’re going to do as a family and how we are going to combine all the things that everybody, exploring everybody's interests and bringing everybody back to the table together. So that each kid can feel some ownership of our project.  

Katie: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting as a parent to do that because you do, you end up, well this child likes ballet and this child likes soccer, this child likes crafts and this child likes theater. So you end up doing things very separately and in their own age group. So then to bring it all back together and say we are going to do something as a family, was that more effort in the long run to have everybody come together or was it more efficient with your time?  

5:13 – 6:29 

Mieke: I would say having a central focus point for what we are going to do with our project did end up bringing the kids all together which did make it somewhat more efficient. But the fascinating part to me was that the project that we picked had so many different tasks. We had a master tasks list and each of the tasks built on each kid’s strengths. One kid could really care less about art in some ways but he took on the role of you know I’ll walk the stuff over to the venue and I’ll walk my youngest brother over to the venue and I’ll help by transporting things and carry things. Which was really helpful because I don’t have a staff I don’t have administrators, or secretaries or anything you know, I could use about five. And you know another kid is very creative but very picky so I said well you can do all the décor and you cann design the space and she was ecstatic about that, that’s in her wheel house. I guess what I’m trying to say is the project ended up having lots of little tasks that played to each kid’s strengths which brought them all around the table in a way that I did not expect.  

 6:30 – 7:29 

Katie: Yeah, and I love the idea of having really intentional invitations for your children to participate but also anyone who is getting involved from the community, you have that mind set of: ok where are they going to thrive and how is this going to feel energizing for them so it’s not a chore? And definitely coming from a mother/parent asking your kid to do something often sounds like a chore but you found a way to make it this fun thing that they did together. So tell me a little bit more about your project, what exactly you guys ended up landing on.  

Mieke: I had been meeting with my mentor for this entire time at a café in our neighborhood and it turned out that being at that café every month ended up being the open door for my daughter to get a job there. So then my daughter started working there and we became friends with the owners, and made community for ourselves in this space and then one day our mentor said why don’t you hold an event at this café? You’re friends with the owners already, they’re open to doing cool stuff in their neighborhood.  

7:30 – 8:29 

Mieke: So we ended up saying what can we do that is a community event that gives back some kind of creativity opportunity to the kids in the neighborhood, our friends, the people that we know. We wanted to do an event that had mindfulness, art, music and food. And we ended up inviting some artists, we invited the pop-art truck, my friend Janet owns that.  

Katie: And you had not known Janet as a friend when you reached out to her right, because you guys had known each other as acquaintances and then you reached out, how did she take to that invitation? 

Mieke: Yeah, she was thrilled. She was super excited, I told her what my budget was she said she would make it work. At first with my mentor I was brainstorming, I could put out a call to artists, I could put out an ad and then it was like, stop, think. I already know people.  

Katie: So you had the pop-art truck, you had a woman from the Hive.  

Mieke: Yes, there’s a woman whose an art teacher who made art journals with people, like these little made out of one sheet. Then my youngest son is also an artist, and he taught origami at this table and just him being able to you know use his gift of creativity to do the actual teaching which he thrives in. Having him have his own space you know, where he felt respected, was huge for him.  

8:30 – 9:29 

Katie: And he did awesome, at ten years old I was super impressed.  

Mieke: He was nine at the time.  

Katie: Ok, yeah not even in double digits and he mastered me in origami I could not do it.  

Mieke: He’s pretty amazing at that.  

Katie:  So do you think for people who are just getting started and they might not have the vast network that you already had, do you think one of the steps might be, who do I know who knows a lot of people and going out to find that super connector in their life who might be willing to reach out to their network? 

Mieke: Yes, I think that makes a lot of sense, because you are your own best resource. 

Katie: Yeah, and it seems like what we tend to do right now is I’m going to go online, I’m going to Google it and then you just don’t have that personal connection to really start with.  

9:30 – 10:33 

Mieke: Right. And I think don’t minimize the fact that no matter how young your kids are, they have ideas, so don’t lose sight of your own household as a source for ideas.

Even for somebody like me who already has so many connections, it’s like, I have so many other things on my plate, this is for the benefit of you, the benefit of your family, the benefit of your community. There’s nothing to feel guilty about or feel stressed about, it’s a win win.  

Katie: Yeah, because we can definitely put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the ideal of what we have in our minds.  

Mieke: Exactly.  

Katie: So how do you know when you’re ready to jump in?  

Mieke: That’s a great question. I think of it a lot of times as how do you know when you’re ready to start a family? You’re never ready, there’s some things you can’t predict everything and you can’t know the end from the beginning. You just have to trust that it’s ok to not know what you’re doing and get started at the same time.

Things will happen almost organically and dare I say, magically.  

10:34 – 11:30 

Mieke:  It just kind of happens and you don’t have, there’s so few things in life that you are actually are ready for before you do them, but you just do them anyway.  

Katie: What’s the magic? 

Mieke: The magic is you already know people, you have a family, you have a community, you just haven’t really stopped to think about it. But it’s already in you. Literally you are the magic. You bring you to the table and everything else happens. You are the only tool you need. 

Katie: So it’s that simple? You don’t need some master chart that you hang up on a wall, it’s within you? 

Mieke: 100%.  

Katie: Mieke that’s too easy.  

Mieke: No I know, well let me just tell you a little secret. I did buy this big wall chart, it happened to have five rows and we have five people in our family and it had all the days of the week and it had all these little post it notes. I lost it.  

11:31 – 13:30 

Mieke: And then I replaced it, it arrived from Amazon and then I lost it. Basically there are no tools.  

Katie: Clearly it wasn’t being used enough if you’re able to lose it. Well I think that’s really important because sometimes tools can get in the way of doing what is hard. And it’s not to say that tools are bad or that they don’t come in handy for some people but the point is that there is no magic thing that’s going to get you on that track.  

Mieke: I mean I think everybody has all the tools that are needed just kind of built into being an adult in this world and you just keep putting one foot in front of another and you keep going down a path and it ends up being something so much more special than you set out to make it.  

Katie: Well let’s end on this quote then, from T.S. Eliot “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”  

Mieke: It’s good.  

Katie: What’d you think about that?  

Mieke: In more poetic terms it’s a value that I live by.

I’m not responsible for the outcome, I can’t make people love something that I do or participate in something that I am passionate about but I just keep going anyway. And yeah I think you just have to take the leap, trust that there’s going to be a trampoline under there somewhere and that you’re going to bounce back higher than where you started.  

Katie: Sounds like fun too. When you put it like that. 

Mieke: Super fun. I’m all about fun.  

Katie: Well thank you, I appreciate it.  

Jean Vanier - Philospher, Theologian, Intellectual, Human.
Jean Vanier Starfire

At the age of 90, Jean Vanier died last month leaving behind a remarkable legacy in this world. If you’ve not heard of him, it’s likely because of his steadfast dedication to the lives of people with developmental disabilities, people whose lives were on the periphery of society, not often seen or valued.

Known as a philosopher, theologian and intellectual he was most simply, human. In 1964, after becoming aware of the inhumane conditions of institutions in which people with disabilities were living, Vanier bought a small house and welcomed two men with disabilities as housemates, Raphaël and Phillippe and founded the first L’Arche community, one example of community living for people with disabilities. Instead of starting a program, or building a new institution, Vanier instead lived alongside his friends and at the time of his death this year, had lived over fifty years in communion together with people with disabilities.


Referred to by many as a living saint, he was just a person, like any of us. While he gained notoriety, asking to present and speak across the world, receiving awards for his work with people with developmental disabilities he was quoted as saying,

“I feel that people are saying, ‘You’re doing a beautiful work’; and that doesn’t interest me, because what they are really saying is, ‘I’m glad you’re doing it, not me.’”

Through his work in the L’Arche community, we are given one example of how we all might work to build “inclusive communities of faith and friendship” wherever we are. One in which “transforms society through relationships that cross social boundaries.” L’Arche today has communities in 38 countries, with over 10,000 members with and without disabilities living in community together and continues to grow. This was one step towards more integrated community life for people with disabilities. Jean Vanier’s work and his life began to spark the imagination for what more could be possible for our friends, family, and neighbors with disabilities.

His life serves as a reminder that it is not our purpose to create more systems or institutions in which people “go” but to instead foster the kind of community and culture that Jean Vanier embodied in his life: welcoming, reciprocal, personal, and individual.

It is our purpose instead to work towards creating communities that truly believes for everyone: You Belong Here. 

Jean Vanier, September 10 1928 - May 7, 2019

Candice Jones Peelman is the Executive Director of Starfire, a visionary organization working to build better lives for people with disabilities.

L’Arche is able to testify that the art of living together is born from the creative welcoming of humanity’s diversity and fragility. Learn More:

Candice Jones Peelman
Reaching Toward Belonging: with David Hsu, Lynda Kahn, Jack Pearpoint, and Jo Krippenstapel

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Starfire brought in L.A. based social innovator, David Hsu to talk about the impact social isolation is having on American life at our last un-conference event. His presentation, “Profits & Purpose in the Age of Isolation” highlighted some of his findings shared in his e-book Unthethered: If you haven’t read Untethered yet, it’s an incredibly impactful (and quick) read.

This podcast is a conversation with David Hsu, Linda Kahn, Jack Pearpoint, and Jo Krippenstapel, centered around the theme of social isolation and the universal drive for human connection. We dig into ideas around who is leading the effort to become a more tethered society, the greater impact that comes from doing things one-on-one, and how we might all begin to reach for a future of belonging in small, practical ways.   

We hope you enjoy!

The more people understand their lives and part of their purpose as reaching for belonging, for themselves for their communities, there will be all sorts of innovations.
— David Hsu


Katie: Why do you think some people avoid the topic of social isolation?  

David: I think talking about social isolation forces you to deal with the reality that they’re all human problems, and human problems -- human dimensions are sometimes the most painful to confront.  

Linda: I think it’s because it’s so complex. People want it simple and it is so multifaceted and complex that there are no easy answers.  

Katie: So that’s Linda Khan and Jack Pearpoint, who both joined us for this podcast. You’ll hear from Jack next. Jack and Linda are long time advocates, presenters, movement builders of inclusion. They are inventors of person-centered approaches like PATH, MAPs, Circle of Friends and their ideas have really revolutionized the way that we tell stories and convey ideas when it comes to inclusion. 

Jack: And we are all looking, we have been trained to look for the 15-second-quick-fix and that’s not going to work. That’s not the nature of this issue, this is a human scale problem of global proportions. Which of course then shuts us down, until you sort of cut right back to well, actually it’s just the two of us and we can start right here right now. And it doesn’t matter where you start.  

David: Yeah, a lot of people in my world like to rush to policy or what can we do to raise awareness? As if awareness alone is something that changes things

So I think talking about social isolation, at least for me, clarifies that solutions lie in humans coming together and translating whatever we come up with into action. 

And that sounds vague but thinking about the ways in which people are isolated can help access I think why at root some of these issues like opioids, or suicide, or recidivism are such hard but I think solvable issues.  

Katie: So it offers a sense of clarity on a multitude of very complicated sometime personal issues but it kind of pinpoints something.  

David: Yeah and for me I mean I the people who have made a big impact on me, they sort of see that everyone is part of the solution and I think that a lot of the time we define problems in ways that make it seem that there are special people in society who can’t be a part of the solution and I just I want to fight against that. 

This is why with social isolation which is in many respects can be a health issue. I’ve seen in America us increasingly medicalizing it. And I want to go in a slightly different direction because I think we need more leaders not fewer, more specialized leaders.  

Katie: Ok, and that gets to your point of like policy and awareness, right, but what you are saying is it’s really more about people who are the most marginalized, vulnerable and isolated are the change makers actually, they have the answer.  

David: Yeah they are the real change makers. A lot of people that I work with through LA kitchen are people who are off the streets, have recovered from addiction, are home from 20 or 25 years of incarceration and its not a profound mystery to think why these people have a super well developed sense of the power and value of human connection because they’ve lacked it. Or they have against their choice been isolated from the community.  

Katie: Yeah, and I wonder if we can segue into the conversation around people being wasted, that people are being wasted. 

JackWe have developed a society that throws people away and doesn’t even notice. 

And that doesn’t sound very good, we don’t think of ourselves aspeople who do that - but we’re doing it. And struggling to come to terms with that, so it’s a fascinating challenge that we’re all working on. And the way you have to come to terms with that is in a conversation with somebody who has been exploited. And that’s anybody anywhere, and the leadership for this change is not going to come from systems. If we figure this out, and I think we can, leadership is going to come from the margins. It’s going to be all the people we have systemically excluded, when we slow down enough to listen to them. And one of the, I think one of the most exciting capacities that whether its ex-offenders, or people who have been through residential schools and other institutions, or people with disabilities, if we make a space where it’s safe and we slow down enough to listen. They teach us to slow down and listen. And boy do we need that right now. 

So, there’s actual enormous unrealized capacity to resolve some of the most fundamental issues in our society, by slowing down to listen. And its available to any and all of us next door, around the corner, over coffee.  

Katie: So now you’re going to hear from Jo Krippenstapel who is also around the table for this podcast. Jo is one of our mentors here at Starfire. She has inspired many many many of the changes that we have made in the last ten years. I do want to apologize for the quality of audio you are about to hear from Jo, it isn’t the best but she has a lot of great things to say so listen up.  

Jo: One of the other ways that I think it connects is how universal this experience is of being untethered. Right, it’s not just “they” are untethered- it’s we are all untethered and for us as a society of people to make space to have those conversations about “what are the gifts of people who have been previously devalued?”

If I’m only tethered to people who are exactly like me, then I don’t have any way of making a stretch to people who have been homeless or imprisoned or come from another country. This is where it starts to come together. 

Linda: So that’s a really interesting point, and another way to think about who are your people and where are you spending time? Because it’s another way of noticing, who's missing? Who are you not connected to? Where are the people of difference? Who else do you know? How are you spending your time? When you think about who are your people, if you’re not tethered to.  

Katie: Yeah and I’d like to bring it into more of a definition around tethered that you offered in the primer, you talk about connection as a mixture of strong and weak ties and I loved how you held up weaker ties as actually the most important. And why I loved that illustration so much is what we see in people’s with disabilities lives who we talk to is that their weak ties are often minimal if not null. And that while they might have family, they may have moderately strong ties. A lot of times those moderately strong ties are staff, people who are paid to be in their life, or they’re other people with disabilities. So that’s the picture of isolation it’s the picture of segregation as well. So you know, the weaker ties why are they valuable, why are you saying that they’re indispensable?  

David: Yeah I honestly can’t remember where I learned the language of not being able to access worlds beyond your own but I like it because it’s often the weak ties that help us travel more, further. And in very practical ways, you know you think about searching for a job, searching for romance, searching for belonging and our families, our closest friends are important but they often only take us so far. If you think about highly networked highly powerful highly influential people they are people who have amassed an extensive networks of weak ties that they activate when they need to.

Everyone needs that network of weak ties. 

But I think there’s another part of it that is a little but more hedonistic, sort of pleasure-centric, which is just that - this is other people’s research, but at the end of life, a lot of the time when we think back on our lives, there are small moments of intimacy that we experience with people who we may have met once, maybe on our travels, maybe … who knows where. But who help us to feel human in a way that can last a lifetime and I think that’s extraordinary and it’s a thing that happens through weak ties often. So there’s this saying in sociology, the strength of weak ties like weak ties have outsized strength in human communities.  

Jo: What I love about this notion of weak ties is at least to me, it makes the whole effort more approachable. If you say “Gee, I notice you’re a little weak in the most intimate friends category why don’t you get three next year?” I kind of get anxious. But if you say, how about a dozen weak ties, over the next couple of months. I can start to feel some energy about that, feels very doable, feels a little interesting. Really feels different to me.   

Linda: Because it’s then about the power of showing up, of starting to discover, ok so let’s look at your neighborhood and your community, and what do you care about and where are you hanging out and starting to discover what people’s interests are. And just places to show up and hang out whether it’s become a regular coffee shop or something that you join because it's interest that you have, there’s weak ties.   

Jack: And that makes it very, very doable because anybody can do it, it’s not that difficult. So one of the terrors you know “in the dark of the night” issues of what’s happened to the work of many people - its been industrialized by many people. Not here, not at Starfire. But the pressure to, ok we need numbers we need them now we need them reportable with stats. And we’ve commodified the very thing that we were trying to do. Not we have but -- it has been done with well-intentioned people trying to figure it out... But the pressure to do it faster, do it more for less, those kinds of pressures are enormous and the pressure to not do that is enormous.  

David: I mean I still think -- I still care about doing it at a bigger scale.  

Jack: Oh yeah  

David: Faster, improving it I just think we can do that one-on-one, it just requires that everyone be a part of it. There’s lots of ways of to do that and mass storytelling is one of doing them. What I think is more critical than the scale at which we recruit is kind of the desire and a belief in bringing people in and showing them how useful whatever they bring is.  

Linda: I think one of the things that’s really exciting about the way David thinks about this is just people stepping into some action and responsibility. Thinking about so what can I do about this?

What’s my contribution to the very problem we have? I think that’s pretty interesting because you need the contributions and the solutions of everyone, including the people the most impacted. 

And so I think trying to make this everyone’s issue is really interesting. 

Katie: What I want to pull out a little bit more is this idea that who are the leaders of this movement? That yes it requires all of us and yes it requires the marginalized and it requires those who aren’t typical leaders. But it does require it does require leaders at the top also. And that’s part of your work David right is to talk to business leaders and to talk to philanthropists.  

David: Yeah I mean I definitely have an interest in engaging resourced people, but it’s mainly out of an interest to help them understand what types of leaders they should be supporting. Rather than thinking oh me as a philanthropist, I’m the answer to society. It’s much more as you scan the landscape which good philanthropist is like doing all the time, you can recognize Starfire. You can recognize the kind of work they’re doing.  

Jack: And when you make the kind of transition Starfire is making, which is incredible, courageous and wonderful you lose some of your traditional backing.  

David: Yes 
Katie: I think that’s kind of what I was going to is this idea that there are a lot of Executive Directors in place right now, who have been in that role for however many years, they are not going to change their model or shift their financial structure to do something risky, to change their model to be more impactful. And to give leadership to families like we’ve learned how to do at Starfire, and to give leadership to people with disabilities to do projects cool projects in their neighborhood. The executive directors that we know, a lot of times, say excuses more that have to do with putting the onus back on people with disabilities to say it’s their choice to be with each other, you know they deserve this day program or workshop because what else are they going to do? 

Jack: And we surveyed them and they say they like it.  

Katie: Yes, the data shows...that they’re all happy.  

David: That’s a really interesting point, there’s a lot of lying in the world of impact and in non-profits. In having, I mean I try to study big non-profits that are doing the kind of work that we all care about but seem to be doing it on a huge scale. For example, there are non-profits who I will not name like in LA who will serve huge numbers of people who are coming out of prison, and huge numbers of seniors and things like this -- and their annual reports look amazing. Right? And then the more you sort of learn and talk to people and dig you know there is some muckraking that is appropriate I think in this world. Impact, there are a lot of lies that are told about large scale impact. There are so many dysfunctions in our mass like mass-style interventions. Whether it’s for hunger or aging or mental health services, or any of these kinds of things, where well intention folks we end up creating solutions that still waste just only en mass. For me it’s slowly seeing this and connecting the dots and I think people who have worked over the years and decades in disabilities probably have the most powerful ways to help people understand this. 

So I think there are people who work one and one also, we shouldn’t be unfairly or inappropriately modest.

Or we can say oh it's messy it's not so tangible the impact. But I think when you consider the amount of lying that takes place, we should stand firm about tangible proven impact at the scale that we’re doing. We should also understand and be able to tell the story of how one to one work does have this amplifying power. And I think that -- I’m still in the process of figuring out how to do that.  

Katie: I'm glad to hear the struggle is still alive and well. And that there are still no answers yet but we’re doing the right work and that’s what’s important. One of the things you say in Untethered is that “We are reaching for the future of belonging,” we’re reaching for that. So you know you talk about how old ways of belonging need to be remade. Let’s talk about what’s emerging and how people can like somebody said here show up, all we have to do is start showing up. What are those patterned ways of living together that need to be encouraged? 

Jo: I think the local movement is very hopeful and when people experience it, it feels fun. You get such an immediate sense of something’s really different about this than my usual pattern. 

So there are so many examples of local: local food, local beer, local everything, right? When we lean into that I think we will start to tether ourselves to people who aren't exactly like ourselves.  

Katie: Lean into local, I like it.   

David: I mean for me reaching for this future of belonging is all about reaching. I love this T.S. Elliot line which is, “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.” 

The more people understand their lives and part of their purpose as reaching for belonging, for themselves for their communities, there will be all sorts of innovations.

It feels weird to name certain things because they’re so infinite. Like they come to they come to life in so many ways, which is why it’ s beautiful. It’s about this overall pattern and it’s about this sense of chaos that we are trying to create. The best kind of chaos. People just trying things.  

Linda: It does have to do with the courage to engage. It involves some introspection. And then there does need to be ‘what’s my local action going to be?’ Including noticing when the future we’re leaning into is here. There will be moments where people experience belonging, and we better notice those too, it’s not out of our reach. It’s living now as well and being able to share those stories and notice the experiences and understand how did it happen. It always takes courage to do that, so I’m often thinking about stretch and courage and being honest to notice when I haven’t done it.  

Jack: If we just make a space, and it’s -- it is scary I agree. You mean I’ve got to meet new people? Yeah. But it’s not that difficult if you go for loose connections. If we make the assignment: by tomorrow morning by ten am you have to have a best friend for life, we’re not going to do very well. But there are an infinite number of loose connections, we don’t even have a clue how many there are out there. It is beyond our limited human capacity to even imagine. So anything goes if we make the space. I think my metaphor for it is we need to get our fingers in the dirt, dirt is universal, and you don’t know what the wonderment will be yet. And next time it will be a different array of goodies. But there are always goodies.  

Katie: And Jo, when you’ve said before this is finding new ways to spend time together, and it’s deciding to spend time together. And then it’s finding new ways on how to spend time together. I just love that simplicity there. It’s powerful. Jack, Linda, David, Jo, thank you so much for spending this time together, I really appreciate it.  

David Hsu Untethered


Live Storytelling: Saying “Yes” to More

This is Carol Combs’ story of “awakening” – told live at our BYOB(reakast) event. Carol shares how her family went on a journey over the past year to step out of comfort zones, invite people in, and start connecting by starting a community quilting project in her neighborhood.

TRANSCRIPT: If somebody were to tell me ten years ago that I would be sitting here sharing the story of how our story went from “I” to “we” I probably would have chuckled a little bit and been like, what are you even talking about?

So ten years ago my son was born and he was born into a world that wasn’t made for him. He has a plethora of diagnosis that we received at an early age. And with that came a big long list of can’ts and won’ts and nevers and it was extremely disheartening. What I have discovered over the last year and a half/two years is I thought at the beginning I had this “we” thing down, like “oh this is us and we’re doing it” and what I have learned is that it was more “I” that was doing it, “we” was just a collective term, of well it’s me and the kids and we got this.  

We said no to a lot of things because the older Grayson got the more aware the more barriers we were facing. The more that we worked with our providers the longer the list of can’ts and wonts grew and we kind of isolated ourselves.

We said no to a lot of things because the older Grayson got the more aware the more barriers we were facing. The more that we worked with our providers the longer the list of can’ts and wonts grew and we kind of isolated ourselves. So it was very easy to say no to going out and doing things, because there were those barriers: there was a lack of understanding, there were stairs, there were comments made, “What’s wrong with him?” and so it was very easy for us to close ourselves off and kind of give into this notion that his good life consists of providers and services and that’s it. He doesn’t have a long life expectancy so we are just going to kind of say here you go, here’s these people who are going to help you and we isolated ourselves.  

And looking back and kind of reflecting, I gave into the notion that we were bound to this life of commiseration and sadness. So over the last year and a half I was introduced to what happens if you say yes to more, what happens if it’s not just Carol doing these things it's you all doing these things. You all being me and the kids and whoever we ask to come and have a seat at our table.

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I did not realize the power of saying yes and I didn’t realize the power of connections, or what I was missing until I started saying yes.

I did not realize the power of saying yes and I didn’t realize the power of connections, or what I was missing until I started saying yes. So we said we are going to go along with for this journey and see what it’s like. And you know what’s the worst that can happen? People will tell us no and that’s ok. So I started thinking about what can we do to get out into the communities what are the barriers that we are facing, what has kept us from going forth and making those connections in our community.  

 And as I made this list I started seeing that there are ways to overcome it, all I had to do was ask. You have something that you are willing to share with our family we want to do a family project. It is fortunate to have Sandy here today, I’ve known Sandy for nine years and she has always been one that says “what can I do to help, let me be a part of things.” And I’d be like “no.” I was afraid to let people into our world, I knew I was struggling with the diagnosis, and how to overcome those barriers and I would say no because it was just easier to say no, it was a way of protecting our family from people walking in and out of our lives. And it was a way of protecting those from what I felt at the time was sadness of the diagnosis. Thankfully Sandy was always there and she was always kind of “what can I do, is there anything I can do?” 

So we started thinking about our gifts and our abilities as a family, that was something that I had never really done before. And we recognized that Grayson has the gift of bringing people together and looking back over our journey that is something he’s always been very good at. His older sister she is extremely creative, very artsy.

So we said “yes” and started discovering our gifts.

And I asked Sandy I said “we are thinking about doing a quilt project. So she said “well I know how to sew.” And we started collaborating together, and saying what does this quilt look like, how can we make this ours, how can we get our community involved.  

And we started hosting these Sew and Play events. Each week they grew, some weeks it was just us and that’s ok because in that time we developed these relationships that are so deep, and I learned about Sandy and some of our other friends. I learned things about them that I never knew before and it was because we had come together, it was because I invited them to our table and they said yes. And I started discovering that we have the same Christmas Eve tradition, that we all have this special like sparkle for Christmas. I discovered that we had people showing up who had always kind of been in our life but we never like invited them to come to things and they started showing up. We stepped out of our comfort zone, we invited people, people said yes. 

We stepped out of our comfort zone, we invited people, people said yes. 

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We have this beautiful quilt that documents kind of our summer, of growing and learning about our community and connecting. And we still have some pieces left to add. This quilt means the world to me. I can tell you the stories that were shared the day each of these quilt panels were made. We all worked together on these quilt panels. We met over thirty different people in our community. All because we were like, we’re going to learn how to sew together. And we are going to tell stories and we are going to gather around once a week and just let people discover Grayson and discover us. And just be open to more.  

So our latest event was a Christmas caroling event, we held it in our neighborhood right outside on our front lawn practically. It was definitely a big step for us. So I was looking at pictures and the first picture for our family project and it was just the kids and I. And this year we rounded out the year of a picture of the kids and I and about twenty other people from our neighborhood, from our community, from our past. That we didn’t even realize were following our story and they said, “Oh they’re doing a caroling event let's show up and support.” We’ve allowed people into our circle and we have discovered that those connections are so so so important, it’s made a huge impact on our lives and it just has made life better for us.

We’ve allowed people into our circle and we have discovered that those connections are so so so important, it’s made a huge impact on our lives and it just has made life better for us. 

It’s a brighter life. Because we can now go out and we’re not alone and I realized that all along it was me doing these things and I wasn’t letting anybody else in. And the moment I started inviting people to our table and the moment they started saying yes we shifted from “I” to “we”. We broke that association of we are bound to a life of commiseration because Grayson’s different and it all started with a single stitch. 

If you liked Carol’s story and would like to meet other families who are at the center of a connected community, let us know!

BYOB(reakfast) live storytelling event is supported by our friends at Contemporary Cabinetry East

Live Storytelling: An Employer's Evolution | Sean Barnes

Sean Barnes is the owner of Ladles Soup, a family-owned restaurant specializing in soup, sandwiches and salads. Sean moved here recently from Charleston and he was looking for a way to get more involved in the community, when he met Emily. The story he shares is about the relationships that he formed with Emily as an employer and how it woke him up to a whole new idea of what it can mean to be a boss.

He told his story at our BYOB(reakfast), a storytelling event held at Starfire monthly.

TRANSCRIPT: In March, I moved up here to Cincinnati with my husband from Charleston, South Carolina. We started this franchise company in Charleston, South Caroline in 2007 and we have 13 nationally. We moved to Ohio because one of our friends decided they didn’t want to own the store anymore. So we took over the market, moved our entire life up here, bought a home even. Fell in love with the city it’s great. Met Emily with Chris, he came in and asked for job opportunities. My first initial response or my first thought because Emily has cerebral palsy so she’s actually in a wheelchair with a controller. So my first thought was, well I mean I would love to but there’s no job here for you in this industry because you have to stand up all day, and you have to be able to reach certain things. And I’m just thinking like it’s not going to be, I’m not going to be able to give her something because she does not have the ability to perform the task. So then Chris said she really enjoyed social media. I was like ok well maybe there would be something there. So I thought about it and we hadn’t had anybody overseeing our social media except for my step-dad because its family owned and operated.  

So he runs the Facebook and Instagram and everything. So we really wanted to entangle ourselves into the Cincinnati community since we have no roots here. So I thought what better way then to be involved in a community organization such as Starfire. So I asked him if we could let Emily take over. And then we figured out that we would do this program called Emily’s choice. Which really helped us out too, she could come in, she would try the food, she would try like the half sandwich and something off the menu and she would create this combination. And then she would take it home and try it and I would request that she would send me a rough draft of her feedback of the food by Friday. At first it was like three sentences of the food and then four of like personal experiences throughout the week.  

So we had to kind of cater it as it evolved, and we had to be like you can’t say that this is horrible, you know, because you’re working for the community, so you have to like I mean as much as you want to say it you have to say it’s delicious or not my personal favorite but..., so we started catering that and I told her we could throw in a segment too where she could talk about her week. And when Emily comes in on Mondays she comes in at 1:00pm because that’s her lower her down time and she comes in. The struggles at the beginning were like talking to her because she doesn’t communicate back unless like she will but normally she’s in her tunnel vision of Instagram followers, and she’ll follow all these people and she’ll look at them and I’m trying to have a conversation with her and Its kind of difficult sometimes to hold her attention. I found myself like halfway through it feeling like a butt one day because I was being more stern like hey listen we have to get this done. And I just felt bad because I was like oh wow I hope I didn’t talk to her badly and make her feel bad. 

Then the coolest thing was when we went to see A Star is Born with Lady Gaga, because that’s what she wanted to go see, and that same showing there were four other people with who were disabled, and they came in and they were mostly in wheelchairs. So the people there trying to fit five people with wheelchairs, automated wheelchairs in there at one time. And this one girl, was sitting next to Emily and this is when I saw her personality shine through. Because normally her personality is through text and its you know like she hasn’t really opened up to me but she was sitting there and this one girl halfway through the movie, right next to her, starts snoring. And I just see her look at the girl, turn her head to the right and turn back and like roll her eyes, and I was like *laughter* I was like, because she’s really getting into the movie. So I don’t know it was really funny. I really love working with her she’s a fantastic human. The cool thing is I told Emily at the start she would get paid for her service per store, so each store that we open her pay would increase and it will add an extra percentage. It’s pretty cool, we are going to continue, we love Emily.  


BYOB(reakfast) live storytelling event is supported by our friends at Contemporary Cabinetry East

Live Storytelling: Living in the Moment | Rosalyn and Mary Beth

Rosalyn and Mary Beth share their story of how they came to see the importance of living in the moment.

Here's the story of Rosalyn and Mary Beth's project together, done in collaboration with Starfire. Rosalyn and Mary Beth came with their team from Envision to learn from Starfire how to build connections through creative projects in the community.

Thanks to funding from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation


Rosalyn: It doesn’t matter what color you is God made you in a different way. 

Mary Beth: Or what country you’re from, or what country you’re from or what religion you are. Everybody’s different.  

Rosalyn: Yeah 

Mary Beth: We’re all alike, disabilities, colors, skin, we’re all God’s children. Ros and I were involved in the community inclusion project which was a great chance to give Ros $250 to throw a party. We went to the west side brewery & company. And what we did, Ros invited a lot of people, she’s a library girl, so all her library friends were invited. I invited some of my friends and my family. We’re getting ready and a quarter after seven we’re thinking what’re we supposed to do. The party was supposed to start at seven, we didn’t know if people were going to show up. It was the coldest day of the year, and it was snowing and what we learned, what I learned is to live in the moment. So in that moment what we did was we decided we’re in this room, they have Pandora, we decided to dance instead of be nervous and wait for people to show up. Didn’t we Ros? 

 Rosalyn: Yeah we danced.  

Mary Beth: So anyway, a quarter after seven I see my daughter coming in with the Skyline dip and everyone started coming. So Ros was on. 

Rosalyn: Yeah.  

Mary Beth: Which what did you do then? 

Rosalyn: I said hi to them, hi. And I hugged them, I missed you and happy to see them.  

Mary Beth: And these are people she sees periodically but maybe once a year. The cool part is one person, was specifically Ros’ friend. And she was from the library and she came out on that cold night and Ros was so pleased to see that she showed up.  

Rosalyn: Yeah *laughter* Yeah.  

Mary Beth: it made her feel really good especially to see Laura.  

Rosalyn: We know each other, a long time ago. And I said hi to her.  

Mary Beth: About five years you’ve known her.  

Rosalyn: Yeah I’ve known her five years.   

Mary Beth: Through this experience we’ve learned, like I said, live in the moment. If one person showed up we still could have had fun. We could have gone to the bar and invited people to come in. There’s always a way. You know not to get upset or nervous about things that we don’t have any control over because things like that always happen. Ros through this, one of my friends has invited her to do lunch so they are going to go to lunch together. She now has a gift, her plaque to give to her friend Suzy whose her best friend at the library who couldn’t make It that night. One other thing, all her friends got to get together and meet each other and that was the positive.  

Rosalyn: Yeah we talking, about different stuff.  

Mary Beth: To sum it up I would say back to the live in the moment thing, not to be nervous or stressed, take a deep breathe. We can’t change things how they’re going to turn out and things always work out. It’s changed Ros and I were she’s a lot more friendly, of course she’s very friendly anyway, but she feels loved, that’s the main thing. She knows she's loved, and it was her gift to the community. She picked for those plaques to be made which was a beautiful thing. Right Ros? 

Rosalyn: Yes, yes. 

Mary Beth: Ok that’s pretty much it.  

Audience: Thank you.

Rosalyn: You’re welcome. 

BYOB(reakfast) Storytelling Event is sponsored by Contemporary Cabinetry East