Nonprofit Spotlight: What COVID Life is teaching us about inclusion |

Nonprofit Spotlight: What COVID Life is teaching us about inclusion

Plumas Bank sponsors this content

LaVonne Brooks

Special to the NNBW

LaVonne Brooks, CEO of High Sierra Industries.
Courtesy Photo

Never in modern times have we humans experienced the fear of the unknown as we seek to plan for an uncertain future. Now in forced togetherness, even families of moms, dads and kids, who love each other express feelings of boredom and sadness from a daily diet of sameness.

This is COVID Life.

We long for socialization in wider and more interesting ways. We look back on activities we likely took for granted and wish we were able to do them: to party with friends, nachos grande arriving to our table packed into our favorite corner booth at the taqueria, hugging people, seeing a smile, high-fiving anyone around us in the bleachers, cheering as our team scores.

We look forward to being able to live that life again. Thanks to COVID Life, perhaps we’ll notice in the moment how precious inclusion is. Even though we know it’s for our own safety more of us now are experiencing firsthand that physical, emotional and social exclusion hurts, and like the virus, it will not go away easily.

What if in the name of safety, lack of self-determination, loneliness, and isolation is not just your reality this year, these features describe your daily life? COVID Life for many people with disabilities just describes their extended reality, often for many years.

And now while many of us are experiencing COVID Life, thousands of Nevadans are even more isolated, with fewer activities in which to engage, while parents and providers see funding issues looming on the horizon adding to their COVID Life stresses.

Sounds dire. It is in many ways. After COVID Life, after quarantine, when fear becomes hope and trust, how will we be changed by this experience? Will we find the courage to change what we can? Participate in this time of great reckoning for excluding, labeling, prejudice.

Can we dare to expect and take action to support true inclusion in our businesses, in our homes, in our everyday life? Generally, change requires a significant experience that causes us to question what we think we know. If Covid Life helps us glimpse how isolation or exclusion feels can we build on that and start by being kinder?

Michael Brueggert, left, and James MacNamara HSI.
Courtesy Photo

A question, followed by supportive silence (no foot tapping, texting) to wait for an answer saying with your face that you are willing to listen with an open mind. Help me understand your perspective?

If there is a kinder question to start an honest dialogue, ask that question. How can I include you more, value your input more, value your ideas, your decisions? Begin a dialogue with first line staff, with customers, with your leaders, it’s the first step to identify areas of strength and opportunity for a more inclusive anything.

High Sierra Industries (HSI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We develop and use learning systems to benefit people with disabilities and those who support them.

You may wonder what you, a complex organization or small business can possibly learn from us? For over 20 years we’ve successfully pivoted, shrunk, grown and stretched our business and our resources while honing our success teaching people with different abilities to identify and achieve their goals.

Our greatest lesson learned and biggest secret … people are people first; we ALL have different abilities.

The X-treme Ability Challenge (XAC) is our annual fun-raising event. The XAC was created as a fun, participative way to dispel stereotypes, prejudices and exclusionary labels used to describe people with different abilities. Participants in the XAC, for just a few minutes, do a task using skills such as using sign language or using a wheelchair.

We’ve taken the XAC to a new level; as employee development to explore your organization’s inclusion culture in a positive and outcome-focused way. Inclusion conversations aren’t easy conversations to have. When were they ever?

What we DO KNOW is thanks to COVID Life more of us have some experience with exclusion upon which to build and improve INCLUSION. What we also know is how to facilitate honest dialog, do data analysis and provide actionable recommendations.

Whether you have us help you or not, you can lead an inclusion dialogue, ask questions, dig deeper and identify opportunities to create a more inclusive work environment where your employees, the people YOU support, can’t wait to contribute every day!

Be a catalyst to a conversation of inclusivity in your organization, to learn more about the XAC, please call LaVonne at 775-771-2494 or Jimmy Breslin at 775-846- 8008 or visit

High Sierra Industries, dba iCelerate, is a 501(c)(3) not-forprofit organization. We develop, deliver and use learning systems that benefit people with disabilities and those who support them. Learn more at

LaVonne Brooks is CEO of High Sierra Industries / iCelerate. Plumas Bank sponsors this content.