Can it be??!!
Unbelievably, yes, Networks is now 25 years old!
While it’s certainly time to celebrate, it is also important to remember all those who have traveled with us, helped us, challenged us, cheered us on, & joined with us over these amazing 25 years. You helped us realize our vision & assisted us to become more of who we are today.
Together we have
- fought injustices & discrimination
- encouraged others to find & raise their voices
- re-imagined schools, workplaces, communities, & lives
- assisted groups to coalescence around important issues
- found solutions (or at least some parts of solutions) to change the world to embrace ALL people.
We are still going strong & look to the next 25+ years of hard but exhilarating work.
But first, we will be taking time each month this year to look back, honor, & celebrate.
This month we are overjoyed to bring you some thoughts from a few Networks’ folks…. their perspective on what Networks is! ♥️
Networks is a lot of things but for me, Networks is an idea. It is an idea that every single being must be fully included, heard, respected, and treated well and wholly… all in creating and visioning a more equitable and just society and world. Networks is a safe place to ask “Why?”, “Why Not?”, and even admit, “I don’t know… but let’s figure it out.”
When I came to join Networks nearly 15 years ago, I was a bright-eyed energetic 20 something and thought I knew it all. I think they brought me into the “family” for my tendency to (sometimes) be a spitfire. As I moved through the days, weeks, months, and finally years of being with Networks I came to realize I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and where I had the opportunity to stretch and grow (sometimes painfully!). I was given a solid foundation in my previous “lives” with other organizations and employers in various positions.
My greatest teachers were those who worked (and work) at Networks, who are affiliated with Networks, and whom Networks has had the honor to “walk along with” (individuals, families, teams, etc.) over the years – and even those who have pushed back against Networks and the work we do.
Networks is a BIG, bright idea that is now 25 years wiser. I am honored to call Networks my employer, my teacher, my family.
(Jessica Stover: Director of Training and Consultation)
Ever since I can remember, there was Networks. My mom, Michelle Sparling, started working for Networks when I was a baby. So for me, Networks is family. I grew up going to beach retreats where Rosa taught me to float and where Mike taught me to surf. It was during a Christmas party at Networks that I first learned I loved BBQ chicken pizza. Going to the Valley Forge office and drawing ridiculous pictures of Mike on white boards was always fun, but most importantly, learning that EVERYONE deserves to be treated as an equal.
Networks isn’t just a business, it’s a family. When I was in high school, Mike passed away. I remember being very confused and wondered what would happen with Networks. For my whole life, I knew Networks as Mike and Rosa.
In college, I decided to study Psychology. I loved working with people and growing up I had incredible examples such as my mom, Rosa and Mike. I wanted to do something like them. I wanted to work with people, I wanted to change lives like I saw them doing. In college, I had to complete an internship. I asked my mom if I could do an internship with Networks. I absolutely loved it! I remember thinking how cool it was that I grew up a child of Networks and now I was interning with them!
After I graduated college, Jessica Stover asked me if I wanted to help with event planning for Networks. I was going to be WORKING for Networks! I no longer was a child learning how to float in the ocean, drawing pictures of Mike on the white board, or eating BBQ chicken pizza while the adults played “cut throat Santa” (a fun version of gift giving), I was an employee of Networks for Training and Development!
Networks to me, is family. Ever since I started working for Networks I’ve thought to myself, “I want to make Mike happy.” I think to myself, “If Mike were here, would he be pleased with how I am handling myself? Would he be impressed with me?” Networks, isn’t just a business, Networks is home.
The ocean was clear
The tide was still
Surfers sitting on their boards,
waiting for a wave.
I thought of you.
The sky was blue
The clouds were serene
The sun piercing down its rays,
I thought of you.
I stepped in the water
My heart beating fast
The waves were coming with force.
I closed my eyes,
and thought of you.
I gripped the board,
taking a breath,
and laid it on a wave
Knowing you were there.
My body against the board,
looking at the open blue water
waiting for the perfect wave.
I saw you smiling from behind
As the wave rolled under me
I kicked my feet
pushing me forward
my heart was pounding
I stood to my feet
I thought of you.
I heard your voice
your laughter was loud
I knew you were with me
just like when I was a little girl
holding my hand cheering me on
I felt you there
thatʼs why I thought of you.
(Laura Sparling McCall: Social Media and Marketing Coordinator)
For me, the seeds of this Networks dream were sown more than 25 years ago over a slice of pizza in center city Philadelphia.
Our founders, Mike and Rosa, had a dream to help people and I was asked to help with tax and business setup.
Many slices and stories later, here we are still celebrating the Networks dream.
(Michael Fittipaldi: Former Treasurer, Board Member, and Friend)
Networks is a small organization, but we are big in passion and commitment to what we do. I have seen that all at Networks truly believe in what they preach and practice: People with disabilities, any type of disability, should be fully involved in every aspect of their community. True full community involvement allows people to live the quality of life they should have, and I have seen how that effects people, both the person with the disability, and their family and friends, in a very positive way. It has been very rewarding to have worked for Networks these past 19 years and I look forward to continue helping with Networks mission for many years to come.
(Doris Kalina: Director of Administrative Services
A place I call home. A place for believing, trying, practicing, learning, experimenting, stretching and growing. It’s a place for sharing, guiding, and giving, too. Really, when you think about it, isn’t home a place to do all these things?
I remember when I began working at Networks, more than two decades ago. I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” Working the “Networks Way” was different than any place I had worked. It didn’t take long, however, to get into a groove and figure out how I fit into such a unique place, but I sure had lots of learning to do, and that’s one of the great things about Networks. It is a place to continually learn and not rest on our laurels. It is a place for standing up for what’s right, for people, and for situations. It is also a place to work with a great group of people! Over the years, we have all had some great times working and playing together, living life, raising families, and being there for one another all the while, doing what we love, in a place that we feel we can make a difference. That is what home is all about!
(Michelle Sparling: Employment and Transition Director)
The pediatricians examining my three-year old son delivered what they presumed was very bad news. There are special places for children like this, they concluded solemnly, and once that was settled I could think about starting over, having other children, enjoying a new life. They saw only one barrier to achieving this sensible outcome, and that was my unreasonable attitude: I had spent the diagnostic evaluation telling them how well-adjusted, bright, funny, and interesting this child was. Fortunately, a hefty dose of realism was within their healing mandate to provide: they wrote a script for psychological counseling and treatment, to begin at once. For me.
It is this kind of incident, played out by any number of well-meaning people in our lives – medical professionals, family members, school staff, neighbors – that can demoralize a person with disabilities (yes, even a small child) and their parents. It is all too easy to start doubting ourselves in the presence of deeply entrenched belief systems wearing the protective camouflage of expert knowledge, common practice, common sense, or what “everyone knows” to be true. Who do we think we are, anyway, to argue, to annoy, to insist that the world needs to change?
Being part of a community of like-minded people becomes urgent. You can’t be a parade of one wearing an inclusion heart on your sleeve and carrying the banner for diversity. You need a circle of friends who share your vision. So I began watching and listening for the messages and the actions that let me know I was in safe company, and would not have to defend or explain the attitudes that, in the eyes of my son’s diagnosticians, called for corrective treatment. Every time I met such people, it felt like a homecoming to a family I had not known I had. It was a great relief to be among others who understood my and my son’s experiences, and who connected, shared, advised, laughed, brainstormed – and, at crucial moments, just showed up for us.
Is it any wonder that these homecomings began to multiply, person by person, into an entire community? While my son was still in his teens, many of the people I had gravitated toward during his early years were in the initial stages of organizing a community, Networks for Training and Development, now known to many in Pennsylvania and beyond simply as “Networks.” That single word hints at how it works: you don’t need to be an employee of Networks to identify yourself as a member of this evolving community of practice, values and support. Through Networks, the “unrealistic” expectations that got me into trouble with my son’s diagnosticians continue to be nurtured rather than dispelled. It remains my destination when I want to think clearly and breathe free.
Happy 25th, Networks! Please keep a light in the window for all of us!
(Pat Amos: Longtime Friend, Collaborator, and Board Member)
Networks is… a family. My involvement with Networks began when my parents founded the organization when I was 12 years old, and I’ve seen firsthand how close-knit everyone at Networks has been throughout the years, with a feeling much more like family than simply co-workers. They treated me like family when I was a teenager, they welcomed me in as a family member when I began working with them while in college, and they’ve continued to support and accommodate me as family does when my life took me to new places and in new directions.
(Michael Landes: Webmaster)