Improv with Casey

“Improvisation is theater for everybody.”

I watched a group of about 15 individuals file in one by one into our cafeteria at Hi-Hope. You don’t know quite what to expect when you schedule different volunteers and classes for our individuals. Some days are better than others. No one thing is ever a guarantee. It’s one of the most challenging aspects of our jobs, but also one of the most rewarding. But it became clear rather quickly that Casey Whitaker’s improv class would be different. It would be something special.

Our improv instructor, Casey, instructed the group to gather around and opened the class with an ice breaker, called Small Circle. She started the activity by introducing herself and incorporating a gesture. The individual beside her introduced themselves, then mimicked her gesture and added their own. This continued until the last person in the circle was introduced.

There’s a common misconception that adults with disabilities cannot participate in drama activities due to their perceived limitations, but our individuals at Hi-Hope are capable of doing so many wonderful things. They proved that they can benefit from drama activities much like any theater person could. Casey led them through a series of different activities, including Word at a Time Story and Stage Picture where a group of individuals stood in the front of the room and told a story to the rest of the class with their own bodies in freeze frame with Casey narrating the way.  The group came to life with each passing activity. It was amazing to see them engage and interact with Casey and one another. They were able to collaborate, work on their confidence and be present in the moment. The class finished the day presenting what they learned to staff and peers in an entertaining and interactive improv show in our Lifelong Learning Center.

Casey Whitaker is a seasoned stand-up, sketch comedy and improv performer based in Los Angeles, and the daughter of Hi-Hope’s Board of Directors Treasurer, Yvonne Whitaker. She has trained and toured with the prevalent Chicago improv comedy enterprise, Second City, known for its many famous alumnus. She has toured in Europe with her stand up and performed comedy for the prominent Norwegian cruise line. Casey is also a playwright and premiered her first full length play Lucky, Liar, Loser as part of the Artist in Residency Series at Saint Mary’s College. If you aren’t catching her on a stage, you can see her on TV in commercials.

I was blown away by Casey and how she interacted with our individuals. She was charismatic, flexible and made sure to meet each individual exactly where they were during the course of the day. Casey made sure to demonstrate to our individuals that there were no wrong answers or actions in improv. You work with your partner and you move forward. I think we all learned a valuable lesson through Casey and our individuals. The art of improv and the skills acquired can break down barriers and connect people in a multitude of ways inside and outside of the theater. We can’t wait to have Casey back at Hi-Hope for another class!


Chef, restaurateur, author and activist Alice Waters once reflected that "this is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive." This quote really captures the essence of a new and hopefully - to borrow a word from Waters - ongoing activity we have started with Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church (PHBC). A few months ago, Jennie Sankey, Associate Pastor for Christian Education and Middle School Youth, contacted Hi-Hope to explore ways to get her middle school students involved with Hi-Hope. After taking a tour and learning a bit about what we do, an idea came to fruition to create a monthly gathering on Sunday evenings that would bring together Hi-Hope's group home residents and staff and the churches middle school students and staff for some casual food and fun. It was ultimately decided that the church would host the meeting to give Hi-Hope's individuals the opportunity to visit a new location. On Sunday, September 9th, Hi-Hope visited PHBC for the first time and it was fantastic!

Hi-Hope's individuals showed up wearing some of their Sunday best and after a short gathering and brief prayer - led by Hi-Hope individual Terri - the doors to a large meeting hall were flung open and dinner was on. The church members and Hi-Hope individuals sat together to get to know one another better. The church served pizza and pasta and Hi-Hope brought sub sandwiches and sweet tea. Ice pops and ice cream sandwiches concluded the meal after which everyone lined up for a Polaroid photo booth and took individual and group shots. Once folks got their pictures, they were given the opportunity to sit down at a picture decorating station to add some additional bling.

Everyone left with a picture souvenir to commemorate the first gathering between these two great community organizations. Hi-Hope wishes to extend its sincere thanks to all the middle school students, parents, church staff and Rev. Sankey for making this possible and we wish to express our happiness at the prospect of seeing you all again very, very soon when we can usher forth the spirit of hope, joy, thoughtfulness and life.

"You should feel a nice, gentle stretch"

Canadian Gymnast and Olympic Gold Medalist Kyle Shewfelt recognizes the advantages of yoga, stating, "not only is yoga excellent for flexibility, but it is also a great tool for longevity and injury prevention, as it allows for internal body awareness." This is fantastic because yoga is now a regular part of programming at Hi-Hope. Since February of 2018, Hi-Hope has been participating in weekly yoga classes. The instructor, Patricia, is a photographer and friend of Hi-Hope CEO, Susan Boland Butts, and has taken photographs of our individuals in the past. The yoga studio is in Pat's garage, which she converted to a photography/yoga studio and is big enough to accommodate 5 students, a Hi-Hope staff member and Patricia. 

Patricia creates a calming ambiance with music, dimmed lights and candles to encourage relaxation and mindfulness. She also ends each class by giving her students a special beverage that changes from week to week. She has also had participants stay after for lunch following the class. 

Stacy Badjan is the staff member currently assigned to this project and she reports that the class is going great and that "the individuals love it." Participant Carl approached CAG Coordinator Valorie Williams after his first time and said that he loved yoga and wanted to continue taking the class. While there are regulars, if people are absent, Patricia is flexible and will work with substitutes. She wants to open the class to anyone who is interested so new participants will rotate in over time. 

We hope to continue offering unique and interesting activities to the individuals we support at Hi-Hope. Yoga class joins the diverse list of volunteer driven offerings like hula dance class, cooking class, music appreciation, Name-That-Tune, aerobics, sign language and many more. A big thank you to Patricia and all our volunteers for making the days and weeks at Hi-Hope that much more interesting.

The "Rush" of Rush

Hi-Hope is once again the beneficiary of some very generous volunteer efforts as part of Perimeter Church's annual Rush Conference. For those not in the know, Rush Conference is a student-led leadership conference with "stuff like worship, small groups, seminars, food, fun, missions, enough candy to frighten a dentist, and well, tons more." Hi-Hope benefits from the "missions" component of the conference. The Rush website describes the missions as follows: 

Part of learning to be a mature follower of Christ is learning to be His hands and feet. Community outreach projects all over the city of Atlanta allow students to exercise their faith and to experience what it means to share the love of Christ.

Hi-Hope loves being a mission site as it guarantees that every summer, for three days, a group of fantastic students visit us with open minds, full hearts and the desire to serve. There is no service challenge they are unwilling to tackle. As in previous years, the volunteers spent the first half of their visit interacting with our individuals. Afterward, the groups tackled operational projects. This year they sorted art supplies, moved artwork and moved some seasonal decorations into more permanent storage. It might not sound like much, but their help reduced the project timeline from several days to a couple hours. This year's groups represented folks from Perimeter Church right here in Atlanta, a group from Florida that had visited Hi-Hope several years ago, and a group from Chickamauga.

Each year Rush is a bit of a whirlwind - or a RUSH. It is three busy days of young folks coming with energy and enthusiasm and the genuine desire to help. It injects our organization with vitality and inspiration and the capacity to take on some tasks that we just can't handle on our own. Indeed, the "rush" of Rush is a welcome and wonderful thing that we look forward to doing for years to come.

The Results Are In...

In our last blog post, we wrote about the upcoming elections for Hi-Hope Client Council. Well, the elections happened on Wednesday, June 13 and the results are in! Director of Day Services, Adria Wiggins, has this to say:

Over the last few weeks our candidates used their creativity to develop their campaign strategies. They created signs/posters, met with their peers and, of course, offered them some treats (for example, Jell-O, freeze pops, etc.). Ballots were cast today. Our individuals had the opportunity to select the candidates of their choice with some visual supports and assistance from staff. 

Hi-Hope staff prepared for the elections well in advance to make the experience interactive and to simulate an authentic election experience. For example, individuals cast their votes in a ballot box and received an "I voted for Hi-Hope Council" sticker when they finished (a special thanks to volunteer Maureen for creating the stickers).

Communication Support Shari Durand issued the following summary after the elections:

This year we had 23 candidates: 10 for President, 6 for Vice President, 2 for Secretary, 3 for Treasurer and 2 for Sargent-at-Arms. On May 18, 2018 we held the Client Council interest meeting and after explaining the different offices to the group, the facilitators noted which individuals wanted to run for a special office. The following 3.5 weeks were full of campaigning and learning about the electoral process. On June 13, 2018, the elections were held. Individuals were provided with ballots, large pictures, communication devices and time to make their selection. 74 separate ballots, 326 individual votes/choices were made and completed... It was a great turn out, with every individual making choices from among their peers!

The title of this blog entry is "the results are in..." and indeed they are. Without further ado, here are the election results:

President - Robyn J.

Vice President - Natalie F.

Secretary - Amanda H.

Treasurer - Donna W.

Sargent-at-Arms - Jim P.

Congratulations to all the winners and their opponents who participated in the process. Everyone should be proud of their efforts and take pleasure in knowing that they brought the beauty and elegance of a fair and honest democratic election to life at Hi-Hope. Three cheers for everyone involved. Hip hip hooray...