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2016 Passionate Professional: Candice Jones Peelman, Starfire Council

We’re pleased to introduce to you Candice Jones Peelman, Community Coordinator with Starfire Council, and the 2016 Passionate Professional. We had the pleasure of spending a casual late-summer afternoon with Candice; walking around her neighborhood, discussing her work and snapping some photos in the process. Along the way we learned a lot about her work and the role she plays in fostering true community. Enjoy.

A few of the homegrown peppers that Candice and her family graced us with during our visit.

A few of the homegrown peppers that Candice and her family graced us with during our visit.

B+B: So Candice; what do you do?

Candice: I work at Starfire!  Starfire is a visionary organization working to build better lives for people with disabilities.  People with disabilities grow increasingly lonely and isolated as adults. Working with one person and their family at a time, we connect people to relationships and uncover a person's talents and passions so they can thrive in their communities alongside their neighbors.  My role has been in transition over the past couple of months as I step into the executive director role.  My day to day varies from grant writing, meeting people interested in getting involved in Starfire, attending our weekly brainstorming sessions, helping with logistics and planning for our major events, hiring and training new staff, and whatever else pops up during the day. I also write on our blog when I can.

B+B: How did you get started?  

In 2007, I graduated from Xavier thinking I wanted to teach.  It didn’t take too much time for me to realize I was wrong about wanting to be a teacher. I applied to a ton of nonprofits from March – May of 2008, and found myself interviewing for a position at Starfire.  Over the past 8 ½ years, my role here has changed, allowing me to grow and learn in ways I couldn’t have even imagined when I first started.

B+B: What would you like the world to know about the work you do?

Candice: What I want the world to know:  Our work isn’t “disability” work. The work of community building, connecting to neighbors and other citizens, and bringing to life new and interesting projects isn’t specific to disability. Starfire’s work is in stark contrast to what we see in the world every day: violence, fear, divisive rhetoric, hatred, loneliness, and broken communities.  Our work instead is about giftedness, honoring the best in the people.  And I think Starfire does this in a pretty unique and interesting way – by bringing people together through shared gifts, talents and interests. 

Our work is about giftedness; honoring the best in people...bringing people together through shared gifts, talents and interests.

B+B: What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?

Candice: One of the biggest challenges we face in our work is really what our work is all about: people with disabilities are socially isolated. At Starfire, we know that the more people who share common interests in a person’s life and can see them for their strengths, the greater access to opportunities such as employment and civic engagement people with Developmental Disabilities have. Loneliness remains a huge problem for people.  

Our work is to help people to come to know one another and that’s a huge challenge, ya know?  We know that we cannot force friendship or legislate love but because sponsors and donors invest in our work, because families believe in this work, and because community members and ordinary citizens do this work with us we are changing the very world we live in.  And at its core this is a pretty ordinary way to live.  But the impact on our communities, on our lives, and in the lives of people with disabilities is having an extraordinarily beautiful effect.

B+B: What are you most proud of in your work so far?

Candice: We just had our annual staff retreat, and honestly, I am most proud of being able to be a part of the transformation my coworkers are doing in the world.  Each told a small story of one person with a disability that they are working with and the narrative is astounding: people with disabilities being respected perhaps for the first time in their lives, people with disabilities finding jobs that are meaningful and interesting to them, people with disabilities finding friendship with ordinary citizens. I am most proud to work with creative community builders who are making this work happen alongside me every single day.

B+B: You work and live in the same neighborhood-Madisonville. Why is this important to you?

Candice: Our work of community building is actually everywhere.  Starfire’s work is where community is – so-called "third spaces" of a neighborhood like coffee shops and art galleries and rec centers and churches and temples and parks and local watering holes.  Each person that we work with – our work is in their neighborhood.  Our work years ago used to be that large groups of people with disabilities would be bussed to our office to then bus out to an “outing” together with a staff person and a volunteer.  We realized that this model didn’t actually make any sense, and after the outings, people were still just as lonely.  We were providing a temporary substitute for real inclusion.  So we changed that.

How might I get to know my neighbors? How might I be more involved in the neighborhood?
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Our work now is person-centered, tailored to each person we support, and very specific to that person’s goals in life.  My work with Starfire however, has taught me how to take this personally.  How might I get to know my neighbors?  How might I be more involved in the neighborhood?  How might I change the way I think about and interact with people?  It’s long haul work, but I think this mind shift makes me a better employee at Starfire, a better wife, a better mama to my babies, a better person overall.  So that’s also what our work is about: changing mindsets.

B+B: How can others get involved with Starfire?

Candice: Email me!  Let’s get coffee and talk about what you’re interested in and I’ll connect you to someone who lives close to you, and might also share those same interests. Donate money, gift cards or raffle items to a special event! Or sponsor a project! Invite us to speak to your work/church/civic group about what we’re doing in Cincinnati.

Congratulations to Candice Jones Peelman, Breighton & Basette Photography's 2016 Passionate Professional! 

Click here to learn more about the wonderful work being done at Starfire Council. 

Basette SmithComment