Madison Blanton is the CEO of One Step Beyond, Inc., a nonprofit with campuses in California and Arizona that provides comprehensive programming and services for adults who have intellectual disabilities. On Nov. 20, One Step Beyond hosts its first-ever virtual gala event (to register, visit osbi.org/2021gala). Highlights of the event, which will shine a light on abilities, inclusion and opportunity for individuals who have intellectual disabilities, include an online silent auction, a charcuterie board and dessert prepared by One Step Beyond Culinary Program participants and a performance by Camille Sledge. Learn more about Madison Blanton…
Hometown: Glendale, Arizona. Currently living in Belmont, California.
First job: I was a lifeguard at a water park.
Favorite ways to spend your free time in CA: Living in the bay, while expensive, comes with its perks. The weather, the landscape and the culture all contribute to various opportunities to drag my kids out of the house, away from television screens and electronics, and explore the place we call home. We try to get outside as much as possible, and Lake Tahoe has become our happy place. We try to get up there as many times a year as possible in the winter and summertime. It’s become my personal mission to make sure I dip my toes in that crystal clear freezing water at least three times a year.
Your biggest accomplishment and why: This might seem like a cop-out, but I’m not sure yet. I know when I look back at my life, I want to see that I made a significant impact in my community. I think I am on my way toward that with the critical work my organization is doing to promote intentional inclusive practices for people with disabilities in all areas of our society. We have come a long way since passing the Americans with Disabilities act in 1990. However, ableism and discrimination unforcedly still exist, which makes it hard to look back when there is still so much work ahead of us.
Someone who inspires you and why: It is hard to pick one person who inspires me in my work line because I am surrounded by it every day. I have had the privilege to work with individuals with disabilities for more than 20 years. Even in that time, they continue to surprise me with their courage, strength and resiliency in the face of what can seem like impossible boundaries. It is easy to get discouraged when things are not going the way we planned, but one particular buddy of mine, who also happens to be one of the adults in our program, always reassures me that “tomorrow is only a day away.” While I know this is partly a ploy to get me to sing the “Annie” theme song with her, it is also a wonderful reminder that we do not have to stop just because we hit a roadblock. We always have the opportunity to come back and try again tomorrow.
Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: Get as much facetime with the people in your organization as you can. The best part of working with the people we work with is working with the people we work with! The adults in our programs, their families, our donors, volunteers and community partners, and last but certainly not least, the staff at One Step Beyond, who are some of the most fabulous people around. Each member of our One Step Beyond community is the best! But unfortunately, my particular role at One Step Beyond does not allow me to hang out in our art studio or life skills classrooms all day, which is understandable. But whenever I can, I make it a point to have lunch with our program staff and participants, give a few of the families we support a call to check-in and catch up and make sure our donors and volunteers genuinely understand how much we appreciate them. It can be very easy to develop tunnel vision when you have a million emails, a strategic plan that needs updating, and multiple projects creating piles on your desk. But it is so essential for nonprofit leaders to stay connected with the people who are most impacted by their mission, and those personal connections make all the other “work” worthwhile.
Favorite quote: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” ―Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.
Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: Working for a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping others succeed gives me purpose in life. As caregivers, we provide so much of ourselves to the people we work with, so it is vital to promote self-care for ourselves. As for me, I care for myself by practicing yoga almost every day. Whether at a yoga class or meditating at home, I try to find space for at least 15 minutes (but hopefully longer) to clear my mind and refocus my short and long-term life intentions. Over the years, my yoga practice became an essential and significant part of my personal well-being, and I eventually wanted to share that well-being with others. So, I became a certified yoga teacher. Between work life, family life and our trips to Tahoe, I somehow find a way to teach two or three hot yoga classes per week.
What makes someone fabulous: Compassion. Not just in nonprofit work, but in life! It is so important that we stop and do our best to appreciate another person’s perspectives or situations, especially when they are different from our own. When we make an effort to act with compassion and understanding, we get the opportunity to connect with people on a much deeper level because we gain a deeper understanding of where their motivations lie. At One Step Beyond, we constantly say, “put yourself in their Birkenstocks,” or “Reeboks,” or “Ferragamos,” whichever footwear you prefer. We do this with the people we work with because, with compassion, we can better understand what is important to them and how to best support them on their path toward independence.