Anyone who’s been at the Mill Valley Community Center over the past many years has no doubt been witness to the meticulousness of Connor Barbee.
The Mill Valley native, who has autism, was hired by Mill Valley Recreation several years ago through its “Work Training Experience” program run by local nonprofit Integrated Community Services (ICS). Barbee plays a number of roles at the center, including providing an attention to detail in cleaning equipment in the fitness facility, for instance, that is beyond reproach.
ICS created the video above many months ago, and we are embarrassed to have missed it at the time. But we couldn’t skip the opportunity to share it, even if tardy.
“Connor doesn’t have a voice sometimes because language is such a struggle,” says Barbee’s mom, Janet Miller. “A silent influencer is how I describe Connor.”
“I’ve seen this young man grow from being a shy wallflower – now’s he’s part of the team,” says MV Recreation Director Sean McGrew. “I have seen that growth. He’s the reason I want to clone people. That’s the guy I want here. It fits so right in line with the mission of the Community Center. Different is OK. Different can be loved. And different can do a heck of a job in making that place spotless.”
Stephanie Moulton-Peters, a former longtime Mill Valley City Councilmember and now the District 3 Supervisor, calls ICS “an organization that meets people where they are – all of us – and draws out the best of us. What’s really happening here is a revolution in how we look at each other, how we look at disabilities, how we see the wholeness in each other.”
“Although he’s just one person, (Connor’s) reach really shows the power of how these services we provide at ICS can affect so many people,” says Abby Yim, ICS’ executive director.
“This is something that should go out to the entire country,” says Equator Coffee co-founder Helen Russell, who collaborated on a pending, pre-pandemic effort with ICS to bring a coffee cart to the Community Center.
The Barbee family’s efforts to expand programs for people with different abilities dates back to 2009, when Miller and her son Tyler Barbee started the Challenger League in 2009 with the goal to give kids with special needs like Connor the same chance as other kids to participate in organized baseball by pairing them with “buddies” – primarily high school and middle school athletes – to assist them. Over the years, the scope of their efforts expanded dramatically in the form of an adaptive needs collaboration between Mill Valley Recreation and Project Awareness and Special Sports (PAASS), the Challenger League outgrowth that Tyler Barbee started in 2014.
Mill Valley Recreation continues to expand its award-winning collaboration on programs for children with special needs, adding a variety of dance and kid’s cooking to a roster of programs that includes yoga, clay, ceramics and pottery, martial arts, strength and conditioning and swimming, among others.