Social sustainability is difficult to define and is very broad – encompassing the health of people and their communities.  It includes such topics as social equity, community resilience, social justice, labor issues and human rights. The work being done at Beyond I CAN is a good example of social sustainability.  In their mission statement they are “dedicated to the lives of individuals with special needs through the experience of running their own business, from artistic design and production to marketing and sales.  Enhancing the quality of their lives due to self-confidence built on real abilities, the artisans become productive citizens in their special way.”

Nancy Barnett is the unpaid director who created the organization after she retired as a special needs teacher at Southside High School in Muncie.  While working there she ran an after-school program called I CAN for special needs individuals.  However, she realized that after graduation these individuals had no place to go and few prospects for employment and social engagement.  She recognized their need “to work in their own special ways and to take pride in their work accomplishments and giving to the community” as they transitioned from high school into the adult world.  Thus, she started the not-for-profit Beyond I CAN organization and gift shop.  Several volunteers help Nancy and Ball State students majoring in Special Education can earn service learning hours toward their degrees by interacting with the artisans.

beyond I CanAt Beyond I CAN individuals can choose the projects they’d like to work on and the staff helps show them how but “there are not mistakes, only encouragement”.  The creations incorporate recycled materials whenever possible.  For example one project includes using recycled portions of Christmas and greeting cards to make creative cards for all occasions.  The Muncie Community Foundation has used a Christmas card of their design for the last 6-7 years and cards also are available at the Minnetrista Gift Shop. The artisans also create pottery, teacher gifts, bird houses, purses for little girls, gift bags, aprons, pens with wood and beads, key hangers, Christmas ornaments, nativity scenes and glass paperweights (using all Indiana components including glass, sand and fossil crinoids).  Some of their creative projects are labeled with the following poem:


m I Perfect?

I may not look like you.

Or do everything you can do.


My hands create.

My heart sings.


i m Capable.

i m perfectly imperfect.

r u?


In addition to learning skills and developing creative products the participants enjoy  social interactions with other participants, companion dogs and volunteers.  Isn’t it wonderful to have Nancy in our community working for people who are often overlooked to teach them life and artisan skills?  Her shop accepts donations of recycled materials or money and she welcomes new volunteers.

Nancy Barnett, Director

Beyond I CAN Gallery & Gift Shop

1510 S. Burlington Drive
Muncie, IN 47302
Store hours:1-4:30 pm T, W, TH & 10 am-2 pm Sat.


Submitted by Carolyn Vann and Catherine Holland