It starts with art — creativity splattered across a page, pressed into pottery and scribbled into cards. Then it transforms, becoming merchandise handed out between creator and customer. The entire time, the artist can smile, the artist can laugh, the artist can create without any boundaries — without being prohibited by their disability. 

Beyond I Can is a Muncie organization designed to improve the lives of people who are 17 and older with disabilities through confidence building, craft making and socializing with others. Founded in 2004 by Nancy Barnett, the program began as a way to break down stereotypes, surrounding individuals with disabilities and engaging them in further education.

Brittany Bales, a special education professor at Ball State, said the employees — called artisans — plan the “wide variety of crafts created and sold.” The crafts range from cards to pottery, and they can all be sold at the storefront.

“There are some amazing things happening at Beyond I Can, and I would love to see more people check it out or purchase items from the artisans,” Bales said. “I think that this program is one of Muncie's hidden treasures.”

The building has employees who help with healthcare needs and create plans, as well as volunteers who work with the staff on preparing meals. They also communicate and partner with individuals with disabilities in order to help them with their creativity. 

Bales has her students complete volunteer hours at Beyond I Can as part of her class, and said her favorite part is watching the students grow throughout their work at the organization. 

“It's great to see students realize the possibilities and form new relationships,” Bales said. 

One of Bales’ students, junior special education and elementary education major Jessica Bockover, is a volunteer for Beyond I Can. She chose to volunteer in order to gain experiences in special education, but as she prepared to start volunteering, she grew more and more excited to meet new people and build positive relationships. 

“If I can have a positive impact on a person, it will give me a feeling [of] joy, knowing I could be there for someone and help them,” Bockover said. “[It] is really awesome to see how one person can have an impact on another.”

Beyond I Can has an impact on more than just the volunteers. Caytlin Beaty, an artist with Down syndrome, has attended Beyond I Can since her senior year of high school. She joined after her mother, Bernice Beaty, found out about the program. 

“After she gets out of school … there’s not a whole lot,” Bernice said on the behalf of Caytlin. “I didn’t want her sitting at home and having nothing to do, so I got her involved in it.”

Bernice works with pottery and clay at Beyond I Can every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. She said the best part of working at Beyond I Can is helping the artists overcome their own self-doubt. 

“One of the clients thought that they couldn’t do something in clay and I helped them, showed them how to do it, and then when it was finished, they looked at the finished product and they kinda wiggled and clapped their hands and smiled real big,” Bernice said. “I was happy with that. It made me feel good. I was happy that I could help them, show them how and make them feel good about what they’re doing.”

Bernice said Caytlin prefers to work on cards, but she still loves going to Beyond I Can with her mom. Bernice said she wants everyone to experience the opportunities Beyond I Can has to offer. 

“I just think that attending Beyond I Can has helped Caytlin build confidence, and I just think it’s a great place,” Bernice said. “I’d think it’d be great if the whole world and all of the people had a chance to experience it. The staff that works there — they’re really loving, they’re dedicated, they care about the individuals who attend the program. We all focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.”

If students are interested in volunteering for Beyond I Can, Bales said all they have to do is call 765-282-9335. 

Contact Elena Stidham with comments at emfloyd2@bsu.edu.