Disability Network Lakeshore celebrates 30th anniversary

As Disability Network Lakeshore (DNL) celebrates its 30th anniversary, it credits its longevity to the commitment of volunteers like the Rev. Terry DeYoung, and staffers like Rick Diamond, who have been with the nonprofit from the early days.

In 1990, DeYoung was serving as a pastor of a Holland church when he was approached about getting involved in an organization serving people with disabilities. 

“I think because I have a disability, which I’ve had since birth, someone who was on the local board asked me to join the local nonprofit that assisted those with disabilities, called the ARC (the Advocacy and Resource Center of Ottawa County),” says DeYoung, who has a rare condition that affects his joints and bones, requiring numerous surgeries. 

“Soon after I joined, a separate nonprofit was created, called the Lakeshore Center for Independent Living (LCIL). I was on the ground floor of the establishment of what became DNL,” DeYoung says of his decision to shift from the ARC board to the LCIL board in 1992.

Disability Network Lakeshore is one of about 350 Centers for Independent Living (CIL) across the United States. At least 51% of CIL board members and employees, have a disability. DNL provides services to people with disabilities across Ottawa and Allegan counties.

Passion for social justice

Diamond, who has been with DNL for 29 of its 30 years, is the organization’s director of operations.

“DNL helps people with disabilities access resources and develop skills,” says Diamond. “We also educate the community on the benefit of including people with disabilities. For individuals, we don’t just provide a name and number; rather, we help them navigate the resource and learn to advocate effectively for themselves. On a community level, we send a clear message that disability is broader than most think, and individuals with disabilities want to and do work, live, shop, and recreate just like everyone else.”

Diamond says he made the career switch to pursue a more fulfilling path linked to social justice.

“I have always had a passion for social justice tied to my deep-seated belief that all people, regardless of their circumstances or background, have much to offer to all,” says Diamond. “I’ve always believed that there is strength in diversity. When I contemplated a career change in the early 1990s, I thought that though I could work in the for-profit world, I really wanted to work for an organization that made a real difference in the lives of people.”

‘This is what I am looking for!’

Diamond saw a posting in the newspaper that the then-LCIL was looking for an independent living services coordinator. 
Rick Diamond
“Since I had close family members living with a disability, and knowing how some felt marginalized, and based on the job description, I decided to apply for the position,” explains Diamond. “After my second interview, I said to my wife, ‘This is what I am looking for!’ I called the then-executive director, shared why I felt I would be a good fit with LCIL, and asked, ‘What do I need to do to get the job?’”

Twenty-nine years later, he’s still happily employed at the LCIL, now known as DNL.

“Originally I was hired to coordinate our Independent Living Service program and to work with a state agency that exists to help people with disabilities to obtain and maintain competitive employment,” says Diamond. 

“Over time and as we grew, I became the director of employment services, and developed programs and services such as Job Club, interviewing skill development and so forth,” he says. “I worked with our state association of Centers for Independent Living to utilize a common database so that we could document and show the impact our work makes not only in the Lakeshore area, but statewide. 

“For the past several years, I’ve been the director of operations and one-third of our leadership team. I supervise other staff, perform database administration, oversee quality assurance, partner with other organizations, and continue to work with other CILs,” says Diamond.

Dedicated, passionate staff

DeYoung also still works with DNL but continues to do so as a volunteer. He credits his work with DNL with his current job as the coordinator for disability concerns with The Reformed Church of America.

“There’s no way I would’ve felt comfortable or qualified for this job without my time with DNL,” says DeYoung. “I have been serving and promoting full inclusion of people with disabilities in our churches since 2009. When I visit churches around the U.S. and look for resources, I always point them to their local center for independent living.”

Both DeYoung and Diamond hold many great, impactful experiences from their time with the DNL over the past 30 years, but both credit their coworkers for giving them some of their best experiences.

“I have worked with the greatest coworkers,” says Diamond. “The dedicated and passionate staff of DNL are what makes us who and what we are.”

Diamond is also extremely proud of DNL’s growth over the years.

“Overall, one of my best experiences has been watching DNL grow from a small nonprofit that people did not know about or listen to, to becoming a respected organization and part of the community,” he says.

Educate, advocate, and serve

Diamond and DeYoung will continue to educate, advocate, and serve our community within DNL and ask those who don’t know much about DNL to ask questions and learn about the civil rights and injustices around those with disabilities.

“We’re not an organization that often gets a lot of visibility,” says DeYoung. “If someone needs help making accommodations with their job, home, transportation, DNL can help them by providing resources or referrals. If there's injustice around disabilities, we’re a justice advocate. We work toward systems changes — employment, government, transportation, etc. That’s one of the core services that DNL provides.”

Diamond echoes this.

“Our primary focus is to make sure people with disabilities have a voice and the chance to make their own decisions,” he says. “Disability intersects all social identities and since one in four Michiganders has a disability, our work is not just about ‘someone out there somewhere.’ Disability is about you and me — the people we love and the people who love us.”

For a better understanding of disability resources and living with a disability, DeYoung recommends visiting the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) website, watching the documentary “Crip Camp” on Netflix, or reading the memoir “Being Heumann,” by Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner.

Individuals and businesses looking for information about working for or volunteering with DNL — or hiring those with disabilities — may reach out to DNL.

This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.
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