Denver Mill Levy Supports Organization that Connects Those with Disabilities to Peers through Travel
The Wayfaring Band team, from left to right: Executive Director Andrea Moore, Community Engagement Assistant Faith Vidrine, Program Director Kendall Hagar and Program Assistant Jen GaNun.
Sliding down waterfalls, hiking mountains and riding on planes are just snapshots of the work at Denver-based nonprofit The Wayfaring Band. The organization bands together those with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to go on life-changing journeys, providing opportunities to learn from each other along the way. The Wayfaring Band’s mission is captured in its motto: Everybody In.
The organization’s adventures, called tours, help create a more inclusive community for those with disabilities, co-founder Andrea Moore said. Some of the locations they’ve traveled to include Paris, the Caribbean and North Carolina.
Groups are made up of band members (those with I/DD) and leadership fellows (those who are neurotypical) and one artist-in-residence who creates an ode to the trip experience. Trips include individuals with a broad range of abilities and behaviors. Five trained staff members provide appropriate care and support for a total of 16 travelers per tour.
The Wayfaring Band was one of the first organizations to become a Rocky Mountain Human Services community partner and access Denver mill levy funding to support the unique value the organization offers those with I/DD. The funding comes from Denver property taxes dedicated to Denver residents with I/DD and is administered by RMHS to individuals and community partners, like The Wayfaring Band, which has received funding since 2017.
Mill levy funding has helped 27 travelers with I/DD across 16 different trips in the last two and a half years. Many were new travelers who either had significant cost barriers or lacked awareness about the organization. They often were individuals with I/DD who live independently and navigate systems on their own, and may lack the resources that individuals who live with family members have.
"The funding has really allowed us to tap into a different section of the community,” said Program Director Kendall Hagar.
Program Assistant Jen GaNun said new band members feel like they can participate with a bit of mill levy support.
“They’re able to actually make it happen,” she said.
Through The Wayfaring Band’s tours, those with disabilities often teach leadership fellows new ways of thinking about the world and interacting and open their minds to new possibilities. Band members also learn new life skills, connect with peers and experience the feeling all humans search for – the feeling of belonging.
“We all have special needs and we all have special gifts,” Andrea said. “We’re not that different.”
Band member-turned-employee Faith Vidrine, who has Down syndrome, said The Wayfaring Band has given her a new voice. She’s participated in tours since 2014, but last year she was hired to support community engagement and local partnerships.
Faith has had mill levy support herself to go on tour. At 31 years old, she lives independently. She believes the connections travelers make on tours are extremely valuable.
“I think it’s important for people, knowing how we feel,” Faith said.
This year, Faith co-hosted The Wayfaring Band’s new podcast, aptly named Everybody In, which supports the mission of fostering inclusion, interdependence and genuine connection between diverse communities. In the first episode, Faith explores topics related to her Down syndrome and discovers that she and her coworker Jen both have similar life struggles for different reasons, making them more similar than different. The Denver mill levy helps support the cost of producing the podcast and pays Faith for her time.
The podcast wrapped up its first season in April, and The Wayfaring Band is working on the second season with a new co-host. It has been downloaded almost 7,800 times, reached people in 35 different countries and was featured on the “New and Noteworthy” section of the Apple Podcasts app. It presents real conversations between those with disabilities and those who are neurotypical, which captures the essence of The Wayfaring Band’s adventures. It’s a way to spread the band’s message further and help create social change that fosters the inclusion of those with I/DD in their communities.
Through the combination of trips, events and the podcast supported by mill levy funding, The Wayfaring Band projects to benefit more than 135 Denver residents with I/DD and their friends, families and allies in 2019. According to Faith, the value she and other travelers receive from The Wayfaring Band is priceless.
“Belonging and feeling a part of everything – it makes us feel good inside,” Faith said.