This article was written as part of our 10-year celebrations on 29 June, 2023. Please be sure to watch the lovely video messages we received from Graham Hambleton, John Armstrong, and Janet Klees: you’ll find these towards the end of this page.
Last night we celebrated an important milestone for Imagine More.
Ten years ago, my husband Paul Kruger, our friend Jacki Kearslake, and I took a leap of faith and founded Imagine More. It has been quite a journey! We have gone from working in a voluntary capacity to being a well-funded organisation that employs an intentionally small, passionate, and fabulous team of seven.
Imagine More started because Paul and I shared a strong vision of a community where everyone is included, valued, and contributing in meaningful roles. This vision had its beginnings almost 21 years to the day: the day when our youngest child, Jack, was born.
Back then, we were living in rural NSW on a property. When Jack was two, I stumbled across a workshop that Family Advocacy was running in a nearby town an hour away. I was the only one that turned up to the workshop. I was so pleased they didn’t cancel it as it was the first time somebody had talked to me about Jack living an ordinary but great life that would be similar to that of his three sisters.
This is exactly what we wanted for Jack’s future, but nobody until that moment had helped us imagine this for him. Instead, with all good intentions, everyone was directing us to place Jack in segregated settings. Early intervention, early intervention preschool, school support unit…. what we now refer to as the “polished pathway of a segregated life”.
We moved our family to Canberra when our eldest was in year six and Jack was four years old. I was searching for a similar organisation to Family Advocacy here in the ACT. I discovered some local advocacy organisations were doing important work, but nothing like Family Advocacy. I couldn’t find any organisations that were sharing information on inclusion, that nurtured leadership, or shared stories of what is possible for people with disability; how it is possible to enjoy a life of contribution and participation through valued roles in the community. I had to keep going back to NSW to gather more information and stories to help our family put our vision into action. We worried that other families were potentially missing out: who was supporting the Canberra families to imagine more?
We had entertained the idea of starting an organisation for many years. Still, it wasn’t until 2013 that we felt we had the courage and the right support to take the leap of faith. We talked with Jacki to test our ideas. We wanted to make sure that people living in the ACT also heard stories of people with disability getting the good things in life that led to a meaningful life embedded in their community. We wanted to be an organisation with strong values of inclusion, relationships, community, valued contribution, and belonging.
We had learned about Social Role Valorisation theory (SRV) and decided we would use SRV principles to guide our work. This decision ensured we would invest in family leadership with a focus on people with disabilty taking up valued roles in the community, a pivotal aspect of our work from the beginning that continues today.
When we started Imagine More, we had no funding behind us: we operated from kitchen tables (ours and those of other families) and cafes.
A few months later, when we discovered Disability ACT was offering funding to support families to attend interstate events, we were thrilled. It just so happened that Belonging Matters was about to hold a conference in Melbourne. The conference would feature stories of what was possible for people with disability, and we knew that these were something local families needed to hear. So we quickly gathered some families together and applied for funding to spend two days in Melbourne.
This event was life-changing for some families. They heard how other families had taken the road less travelled and instead took a path towards something familiar to most people in society: a life with purpose and contribution through valued roles that results in a sense of belonging.
A couple of months later, we held our first conference.
Had we held a conference before? No.
Did we know what we were doing? No.
But that didn’t stop us! We had attended several conferences before and knew what we wanted to create. So off we went.
We called our 2013 conference “An Ordinary Life”. We hosted speakers from overseas, interstate and in Canberra, and around 100 people attended. To our surprise, it went well! Paul and I even managed to dash out during the conference to attend our eldest daughter’s graduation.
In 2015 we received one of the first Information, Linkages and Capacity Building grants. This was the first grant that gave us sufficient funding to do some serious work.
We have since successfully applied for capacity-building funding: this has given the organisation greater financial security, which has sustained and expanded our work. There’s so much to be done in this space, and we’d love to be doing more to change the systemic devaluation of people with disability. We are constantly having to remind ourselves to stay within our purview.
Whilst we do have Government funding to support the work of Imagine More, we intentionally remain small to remain laser-focused, potent and committed. We are not about building an empire.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of spending time with many people with disability and their families that have dared to seek out the good things in life. They are the true leaders paving the way.
I have had the privilege of working with leaders from aligned organisations that I continue to learn from and glean support from. I’m especially grateful to those who helped us get started and the many people we have met and learned from throughout the 10 years.
I want to thank Jacki Kearslake for believing in what might have seemed like a wild idea ten years ago and having the courage to start this journey with us and for Adrienne Gault, who followed Jacki in taking on a Director role.
I want to thank my husband, Paul, for being the orchestrator of the company set-up and the financial backbone of the work of Imagine More since its inception.
And together, we want to thank our children, Heidi, Annie, Lillie, and Jack, for being our ultimate inspiration in all our endeavours. We’re so proud of each and every one of you.
And finally, I want to thank the current team of Imagine More: Anne, Erosha, Fiona, Jacki, Julia and Paul. You are a fantastic group of people to work with, and bring welcome, warmth, skill, and passion to our work.
We are grateful for the support we’ve received from the Canberra community and look forward to continuing our work alongside the families and professionals who share our vision of a typical life for every person with disability.
Here are some lovely video messages sent to us for our celebration.