Smile Politely

The UnConference: An inclusive skill sharing event

Community events are never in short supply around the Champaign-Urbana area. One can simply browse Facebook to find a myriad of exciting activities for the residents of our community. The UnConference, taking place June 7th and 8th, is a unique one. It’s a skill sharing event, focusing on leadership, creativity, and community development. Essentially, the event is an open source opportunity, facilitated by Community Choices.

Community Choices is a local, non-profit cooperative, focusing on helping individuals with disabilities come together, support each other, and live a self-directed life. The objective for the organization is to create a more collective community throughout Champaign County, and the UnConference is the perfect environment for growth.

Becca Obuchowski, one of the event organizers, saw an opportunity for inclusion. The question for the organizers has most often been “Why are you doing an event like this?”

“The real reason for the event is that people with disabilities tend to be extremely isolated, they tend to not be included in general community culture that exists everywhere, and there is a lot less opportunity to explore the things that are going on. One of the things that our organization focuses on is building real connections that are based on common interests and not upon the fact that a person has a disability”.

“We would love for it to be an event where people can come with different ability levels. You have to want to share your idea, your skill, and your interest with people,” explains Obuchowski. The goal of the event is to bring the community together, by “helping people to make real and meaningful connections. Creating spaces for everyone.”

The UnConference has the potential to join people who have similar interests but would not otherwise have an opportunity to participate in related activities. “You get a chance to see everything that is happening within the community and take part in it. People might even see others who are passionate about the same things”.

“Embracing ambiguity” is one way to explain the theme of the event, according to Obuchowski. Though the UnConference does not have a designated structure, it has the “skeleton of a conference.” 

“While the event has a clear and distinct benefit for somebody with developmental and intellectual disability, it also creates an amazing opportunity for everyone. These are just basic human things, not just things for people with disabilities”.

Community Choices reached out to other organizations for help in setting up the UnConference. “When we were planning the event, we wanted to connect with other groups that had a similar mindset, but maybe not a similar focus or emphasis in the work that they did. So, partnering with the Urbana Park District, who’s tagline is ‘You Belong Here’ is perfect.”

Other organizations that have helped make this possible include 25 O’clock Brewing, Imbibe Urbana, and the Independent Media Center. Each organization has generously provided space where session leaders can share diverse topics with various levels of equipment.

“The Phillips Rec Center has two spaces that they are letting us use. They have a kitchen, so if people want to do something that involves cooking, they can do it there. And they also have a big fitness room with mats, in case people want to do a dance or a yoga session. One of the other spaces is here at 25 O’clock, and if people want to lead something with an outside focus, they can utilize the park”.

Those interested in participating are encouraged to attend what is called a calendar meet on Friday, June 7th. The calendar meet will produce a working itinerary by determining who will be providing sessions and what topics they will present. “We won’t know what any of the sessions are until the Friday night,” says Obuchwoski. “We will be at the Farmer’s Market Saturday morning to help spread the word, so that the people who did not make it on Friday can find out what is happening”.

The actual conference, or UnConference, will take place on June 8th, starting at 12:30 p.m. There will be a total of three, one-hour sessions, then people are encouraged to come back to 25 O’Clock at 5 p.m. for a follow up discussion and after party.

You can find out more about The UnConference at their website. Those interested in leading a session can attend an optional session leader workshop this evening, May 30th, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Champaign Public Library. 

Photo by Ekateryna Bondareva

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