Bingo Night From Home

Alexis Bevels, host of our bingo night from home, poses in front of tree-filled background.“I’m in my bed right now – actually I’m not in my bed, but there’s no reason I couldn’t be!” – Alexis Bevels, kicking off the evening

At the end of August, our Young Professionals Board hosted a virtual bingo night from home. In an average year, Independent Futures attends Hambingo at Hamburger Mary’s, but this year looked quite a bit different. 

More than 30 members of this community joined us from places close to home like Wilmette, Chicago, and Evanston as well as locations far away like Florida, Texas, and California. Hosted by a Hamburger Mary’s favorite, Alexis Bevels, we laughed and joked the night away.

Bingo Night From Home In The Time of COVID

Screenshot of Zoom screen from bingo night with many faces.As many of us know now, it can be hard to entertain folks on a Zoom call. At Hamburger Mary’s, attending Hambingo is like getting dinner and a show. Performers such as Alexis call the bingo numbers with a flare, and then they entertain guests with song and dance.

Alexis managed to make virtual bingo feel almost as good as gathering in person. With her own soundboard and some great background music, our attendees remained upbeat and excited to play. 

Playing To Win

Independent Futures was able to attain several gift cards as prizes for winners. These included cards for Five & Dime, Unabridged Bookstore, Wheel & Sprocket, and more. One extremely lucky family even won 3 times! 

After each winner confirmed their bingo numbers, Alexis asked, “What have you been doing at home?” We learned that some folks are mostly working from home right now, while others are teaching and learning French. Thankfully, our community is staying home as much as possible to protect themselves and their families.

Join Us Next Time!

We all had so much fun at virtual bingo that we are thinking about hosting at least one more this year. Let us know: would you join us again? 

Help Create A Citizens Agenda

The 2020 election is just under 60 days away. This year, we have all seen opportunities for civic engagement rise. Now you have the chance to choose your elected officials up and down the ballot this fall.

In the past year, Independent Futures has published pieces about voting in Illinois primaries, registering to vote, becoming an educated voter, and how individuals with disabilities can run for office. In this piece, find out how you can help create a Citizens Agenda with your elected officials.

Why A Citizens Agenda?

Our elected officials represent us. Part of their job is to address the issues we think are most important. Even our elected officials can’t be experts in everything though.

Sarah smiles in foreground of photo with two women standing behind her, one in green and the other in blue.That’s why it is so important to contact the elected officials who represent you! Sometimes our representatives need us to explain why something is troubling us, and sometimes we need to tell them why we support certain issues. 

With so many ways to connect these days, it’s never been easier to make your voice heard. First, we will cover some resources for Illinois residents, and then we will include national resources to help our national community get involved. 

Advocacy Resources for Illinois Residents

If you live in Illinois, you can find your elected officials by searching your address at the Illinois State Board of Elections website. When you enter your address, the site will show your elected officials and their contact information. With that information, you can reach out directly and share your hopes and dreams for the future.

WBEZ Survey

WBEZ 91.5 Chicago's NPR News Station logoFor local Chicagoland folks, WBEZ wants to know what you care about. They’re asking listeners to share, “What do you want your Illinois elected officials to be talking about this election season?”

Fill out WBEZ’s brief survey to share which issues are most important to you. What do you wish your representatives knew? Do you want them to change something? Tell them how today! 

Illinois Housing Blueprint

Folks in the disability community know how difficult it can be to find housing that is both accessible and affordable. This survey from the Illinois Housing Blueprint will help them understand community needs in Illinois. Fill out their survey to share your experience with community and housing.

National Advocacy Resources

If you don’t live in Illinois, you won’t find your elected officials on the Illinois State Board of Elections site. Instead, you can visit CommonCause.org to look up your elected officials. Knowing who your elected officials are will help you learn what they stand for – then you can tell them what you need! Contacting your representatives is great for national, state, and local city council issues too. 

ARC Illinois logo, ARC ConferenceOther places to look for support in advocating for your needs include state chapters of national organizations like the The Arc, TASH, and more. Each of these organizations should have a page explaining the policies they advocate and how you can get involved! 

Using Your Power

While it is crucial to use your vote in every election, our civic duties do not end there. It’s just as important to establish a habit of reaching out to your elected officials about changes you want to see. By contributing to a citizens agenda campaign, you can start exercising your voice beyond the vote now by getting involved! Click on any of the links in this blog to get started.

Breaking The Mold: How You Can Run For Office As A Person With A Disability

By Ed Carter, ablefutures.org

A person in a wheelchair moves down a hallway in actionPolitics is a highly contentious and often unforgiving arena, so it takes a great deal of grit, courage, and energy to pursue a political career. It also demands no small amount of resources, and it is for this reason that so many ethnic, minority, and marginalized groups are so noticeably under-represented. Among these are people with disabilities, which is a real shame as this is one group that needs to be represented in political offices.

Thankfully, the tide has been changing, and we have seen more and more candidates with disabilities throwing their proverbial hats into the ring of late. Indeed, if you’re a person with a disability who is planning to seek a political position, the potential for doing a load of good by representing your fellows is great — not to mention, worthy of the challenges that you are bound to face (of which there will be plenty). Here are a few things you must remember as you get ready to go into the political sphere.

Choose to Have the Best People in Your Camp

A photo of the Capitol building at night against a clear blue evening sky.At the core of every successful political campaign is a corps of staffers. This is basically a well-oiled machine made up of both volunteers and paid individuals that, simply put, gets things done. Your campaign staff will take care of everything from fundraising to research, voter canvassing to scheduling appearances and appointments — the list can go on and on. And because each element of your campaign is essential, you want to be certain that you have the most efficient and most effective individuals in your camp, as well as the most trustworthy.

Among the people you will need in your campaign is an email marketing consultant. Such a professional is especially important in this day and age when even political campaigns have gone digital. You will need someone who knows how to reach and engage voters through targeted emails. Thankfully, there are online job boards where you can find email marketing specialists with the experience and expertise to handle such a critical function of your campaign.

Put Yourself Through Boot Camp

A screenshot from Senator Warren's plan to address the needs of people with disabilities. It reads "Protecting the rights and equality of people with disabilities"As a political candidate, you undoubtedly have a lot riding on your shoulders. In fact, you are essentially seeking to represent people who, like you, are constantly facing challenges because of complex policies surrounding disabilities. Running for office is a huge responsibility, which is why you also want to make sure that you are the best possible candidate for the job.

Thankfully, there are various organizations that recognize the need for more disability representation in politics. For this reason, they are encouraging more people with disabilities to run for office by providing valuable training in politically-crucial skills like public speaking, policy-making, fundraising, and so much more. It’s a good idea to consider going through such training — not only so you can be the best representative you can be, but also so you’re better equipped to handle the many challenges you will face as you run for office.

Gear Up for a Good Fight

Sarah smiles in foreground of photo with two women standing behind her, one in green and the other in blue.And speaking of challenges, it’s wise to also have a clear idea of what you will be up against as a person with a disability running for public office. Many of these challenges will be related to the stigma of disability, which you certainly aren’t new to. Sad to say, there is still the stereotype of disabilities being weaknesses, which political opponents are likely to exploit and use to their advantage. However, as long as you are well-prepared, know your policies inside and out, and are truly passionate about what you’re representing, then you’re better able to stand your ground.

Indeed, politics is not for the faint of heart, and giving it a shot as a person with a disability can be double the challenge. But with adequate preparation, sufficient support, and your heart in the right place, there’s no reason why you won’t triumph. You can contribute to making the world better for people with disabilities.

Discover Our Slate of Fall Events

By now, it goes without saying that 2020 will be a year of new experiences and unlimited changes. Like every other nonprofit, Independent Futures needed to pivot in March. Together, we needed to create ways to meet our goals while maintaining the friendly, inclusive community atmosphere we are known for. Today we are announcing our upcoming slate of fall events!

Drive Thru For Full Lives

Participants check in and receive their meals at the drive-thru at Nissan AutobarnOn Sunday, July 26th, we hosted our 1st ever drive-thru! We were unsure we would be allowed to hold SPARK in person due to gathering restrictions. For that reason, Independent Futures needed to use the $21,000 in event rental deposits that we placed for SPARK. 

Thanks to this generous community & our partnership with The Autobarn Nissan of Evanston, we have used half of those deposits already! On a beautifully sunny day, about 100 members of our community participated in our drive-thru. With a delicious picnic feast, Independent Futures’ community could celebrate each other in a safe, socially distant manner! 

Bingo With Alexis Bevels

Person in orange wig and pink shirt with suspenders and underneath reads Alexis BevelsOn Sunday, August 30th, our Young Professionals Board is hosting online bingo with local Chicago drag queen Alexis Bevels! In a normal year, we host an evening of raunchy fun in partnership with Hamburger Mary’s, and we did not want to miss an opportunity for fun these days.

Take a chance on our raffles and win prizes when you complete your bingo card! A way to purchase bingo cards will be available soon. In the meantime, go pencil “Independent Futures Bingo” on your calendar from 6:30-8:00 on August 30th. 

Drive-In Movie at Temperance Beer Co.

Cases of Temperance Beer stacked on top of each other with a beautiful summer sky in the background.Next, we will be hosting a drive-in movie with our friends at Temperance Beer Co. on Saturday, September 26th. We haven’t picked out our movie yet, but you’ll know as soon as we do! 

We are still filling in details on our fall events like the drive-in. For now, we know that there will be delicious food, Evanston’s favorite beer, and some of your favorite movie candies! Tickets will be available for purchase in mid-August. You know what to do now: save the date! 

Taking SPARK Online

Illustrated graphic that shows a red Alfa Romero car behind an orange construction sign reading "Detour Rescheduled Sat. Nov 7 2020"Finally, our biggest pivot this year. We are officially going to host SPARK as a virtual event this year. Our favorite part of SPARK is exactly what sets our events apart from others. As a fully inclusive event, SPARK is both a celebration of our community and for our community. The individuals we support look forward to SPARK like a prom night, and it is deeply saddening that we cannot gather in person this year. 

We don’t know exactly what format SPARK will take this year, but we will gather virtually on Saturday, November 7th. Stay tuned for more information about activities and our Awesome Awards!

Thank You!

Ann & Niki hold a sign saying "Thank You Independent Futures Drive-Thru" while wearing masksNone of our work would be possible without the generous support of community members like you. We want to express our deep gratitude for the Independent Futures community. No matter your connection – whether you are an activities or tutoring participant, a family member, a donor, or a Chicagoland resident – thank you. We hope to see you at one of our fall events soon! 

Working For A Just & Equitable Future

At Independent Futures, our mission is to help craft a world where every individual has access to all opportunities of a full life. Our mission is to support people with disabilities, but we must condemn racism in all its forms. We are committed to expanding access to our supports and programs as much as we possibly can. 

Rather than release a statement talking about what we have done as an organization, we want to highlight the voices of our staff. At least ¾ of our staff have attended the Beyond Diversity workshops sponsored by Evanston Cradle to Career, and those staff members created a DEI working group that finds new ways to expand access to our programs. Our staff members are conscious of how the personal is political, so we asked them to share how race affects their life and work. These are their responses: 

Ann Sickon, Executive Director

I believe that societal change only comes when each person recognizes they have a role to play in making needed changes in our reality. Policies, regulations, and federal and state laws, though perhaps well intentioned, can be subverted and destructive when our citizens do not demand equal protection under the law for everyone.

Still, these demands alone are not enough. We must expand our awareness of current policies and rules, and then we must root out discriminatory racial practices. We each have the responsibility to identify ways to create fair and equitable employment opportunities and opportunities for every voice and persuasion to be heard. Everyone must have the opportunity to live their fullest life.

Kathy Lyons, Director of New Futures Initiative Training & Consultation

I believe that there are no spectators in the fight against racism. Either we are actively working to dismantle racism, or we are perpetuating it. In our work, we can make systemic change – eradicating racism in our educational institutions, health care systems, economic systems, housing systems, and justice system.  Taking action means:

  • Learning, listening, and leveling what has never been an even playing field  
  • Thinking about who’s at the table, in the room, and who never got into the building
  • Sharing, or giving up, your seat at the table
  • Filling the room with voices different from yours and then doing what those different voices demand
  • Recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of those who actually built the buildings
  • Seeing our common humanity and standing up when others do not

Rob Larson, Community Life Coordinator & Life Skills Tutor

I’m inspired to work at Independent Futures because it’s a visionary model where people with disabilities and their families have the opportunity to explore life in the context of dignity and community.  Even visionary models need to face very real obstacles when building community and systemic racism is one of those.

I learned about Evanston’s history with systemic racism.  I also learned that it was hard for some Evanston families to afford our services due to the lack of funding in Illinois and many of these families were people of color. I felt like we were missing out on the vibrant gifts of many Black, Asian and Hispanic families. I’m refreshed when I remember that we belong to one another. Independent Futures has created some free activities and a scholarship fund to remove some barriers. We still have a long way to go, but as other states have embrace funding community inclusion, why should Illinois families be robbed of that opportunity?

Regarding race, gender and sexual orientation, I’m a straight white male. By outward markers it is clear that I benefit from a confluence of power, especially white patriarchal privilege. I held some toxic views and didn’t even realize it.  It’s been life giving to struggle toward love and liberation together, with all sorts of people from all walks of life. In the process, I made surprising friendships and was freed from the toxic views which were robbing me of joy.

I look forward to being with you and learning from you. I am eager to dismantle oppressive systems and create opportunities for families to thrive.  I have faith that people will flourish wherever love is planted and justice is watered. I’m looking forward to walking in that garden with y’all.

Connor Larsen, Communications & Marketing Manager

My relationship with race and social justice issues is constant and it is personal. At work and at home, I continue to educate myself on others’ experiences while participating in active & progressive citizenship. Some of the ways I practice active citizenship include: 

  • signing petitions,
  • contacting my government representatives,
  • reading policy proposals,
  • supporting candidates I believe in through donations and volunteering,
  • voting in every election, even local primaries.

In each of these actions, I am using my power and often my privileges to move the people around me – and those who represent me – toward a more just and equitable future. In doing this work, I offer an open invitation to anyone who would like to learn more and join in! 

Sharon Purdy, School & Agency Consultant

My hope is that Independent Futures can someday provide equal opportunities for inclusion for all people with disabilities in Evanston. Unfortunately, Independent Futures’ supportive and effective programming is not affordable to many in our community. 

Currently, many of the students and families whose transition planning we support through Evanston Township High School do not have access to person-centered programs such as ours upon graduation. I hope that we will continue to expand the after school activities that we have been able to provide through generous grants and professional commitment. I also hope we will continue to develop an environment where everyone can flourish. 

Our participation in Courageous Conversations has opened important dialogue among our staff. I’m proud that we have been intentional about learning from each other. Let’s share these conversations with our whole community. I read this on a yard sign yesterday: I pledge to speak out against actions and systems of oppression that have an unjust racial impact.  I also pledge to continue to learn from the young adults in our community with an open heart and action. 

Amy Fox, Director of My Full Life Training & Consultation

At a most basic level, if we assume that we all have a social responsibility to one another, then our job as a society is to help one another. We must honor our social contract to access this greater good and it may require surrendering something for the greater good. 

This implicit bias training came up in a news piece yesterday. It is broken out into a variety of categories on implicit bias including race, sexuality, and disability. It is our duty to know where our own biases are and work to consciously correct them.

Finally, this poem by Langston Hughes gives me pause for reflection on a dream deferred.

“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Vote in Illinois’ 2020 Election

The next chance to vote in Illinois is on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020. During this election, Illinois citizens will vote for a new president, choose our senators, and answer important questions all through their powerful ballots.

A photo of the Capitol building at night against a clear blue evening sky.There are several steps to preparing for an election, like we outlined in our primary voting blog back in February featuring information about primaries, registering to vote, and how to vote. While our primary voting guide has important information, a few things have changed since then!

Steps To Vote In Illinois

First, make sure you are registered to vote. You can check your registration at this link. If you have moved or changed your name recently, you will need to re-register. You can register to vote online until October 18th.

Next, you can decide whether you want to vote in-person during early voting, in-person on Election Day, or by mail. Early voting information can be found on this State of Illinois website.

However, due to COVID-19, the safest way to vote this year is by mail. In order to vote by mail in Illinois, you will need to visit this website to request your ballot. When you fill out this form, you will be asked if you need a military/overseas ballot or a standard vote by mail application. If you choose the standard application, you will then choose your “jurisdiction,” meaning where you live.

Next, you may be directed to another website that is specific to your location. Read and follow all of the directions on the website pages, and write down any important dates on a calendar. If you submit your vote by mail application by September 24th, you will receive your ballot by October 5th. Remember: If you vote by mail, your ballot must be returned in the mail on or before November 3rd.

This image contains information about voting by mail for Chicago. To vote in Illinois, visit the Board of Elections website for more information.

Once you have submitted your information, like your address, the site will redirect you to a confirmation page. This page is important because the page will tell you if your application was successfully submitted!

 

Being A Smart and Prepared Voter

Now that you have checked your voter registration and requested your vote by mail ballot, it’s time to learn about the candidates.

BallotReady logoOne of our favorite tools is BallotReady.org. On this website you can enter your voting address, and the site will break your ballot into each race. It will then give you the opportunity to click on a candidate’s name to learn more about them and their positions. When you make a decision about a race, you select the candidate you want, and BallotReady will save your choice. When you’re ready to cast your ballot, you can use this site to pick the candidates you believe in most.

Don’t forget about the AAPD’s Voter Resource Center! These resources are helpful to people with disabilities because they collect information about candidates specific to disability issues.

Are You Ready To Vote In Illinois?

Does it feel early to get ready for an election in November? We understand that it might. Before COVID-19, many of us could wait until the week before Election Day to start preparing to vote.

To guarantee that you are able to vote this year, start getting ready today. Check your voter registration status and request your vote by mail ballot by August, and then use the time between then and late October to make educated decisions about who represents your interests the best.

SPARK 2020: Save the Date

A woman and young man next to each other at SPARK, an Evanston eventHave you heard about how much fun our Evanston events are from your friends? Do you want to experience an event that illustrates what it means to fully include people with disabilities? Join us at SPARK on Saturday, November 7th to join the movement.

For the first time ever, Independent Futures is partnering with The Autobarn of Evanston as a host for this year’s theme, Create Your Journey. At Independent Futures, we support adults with disabilities as they explore the paths open to them, crafting their own futures. When you join us at SPARK, you will become part of the journey to inclusion.

What To Expect At This Evanston Event

Two young adults with disabilities post for camera at SPARKWe view SPARK as an opportunity to celebrate our whole community, including Independent Futures’ participants, families, employees, donors, and community partners. That means there will be dancing, dinner, and a lot of chances for fun! 

The evening will begin with the chance to bid on some of Chicago and Evanston’s favorite stores, restaurants, and experiences. Past auction items include tickets to Cubs games, classic Chicago artwork, and handmade woodworking from local artisans. 

The reception will be followed by dinner and a live auction. At last year’s live auction, winners took home trips to Costa Rica, a golf outing with a pro, gorgeous artwork from a local artist, and more! Plus, you won’t want to miss our favorite game, Heads or Tails. We will finish the evening by dancing our hearts out to a favorite of ours, Euphoria Band

Getting Tickets to SPARK

A group of SPARK attendees smile around a table at SPARKLet all your friends know you’re busy on Saturday, November 7th now, and get your tickets online today. You’ll want to get your tickets fast because SPARK sold out 3 weeks early last year! 

In the meantime, RSVP to our Facebook event page and check out these great photos from SPARK 2019 to get ready. 

Teaching Life Skills to Adults During a Pandemic

Teaching life skills to adults with disabilities is the main responsibility of our life skills tutors. Before the COVID-19 pandemic led us to close our office doors temporarily, a tutor’s daily life varied widely. One day, a tutor would meet with one participant in the office to go over budgets, and the next day they might meet at the McGaw YMCA to support healthy living goals.

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills as a tutor is teaching life skills to adults.Because of our person-centered philosophy, our tutors’ experiences are different with each participant. Each individual determines their own goals based on their hopes and dreams. After that, tutors work with the individual to create action plans, which are the basis for tutoring sessions. These individualized plans mean that tutors are usually out in the community, supporting local cafes and shops while teaching life skills to our participants.

The pandemic disrupted much of the work we do at Independent Futures, but our Direct Support team pivoted quickly. With many local businesses closed and a stay-at-home order, our tutors needed to start teaching life skills remotely.

Teaching Life Skills To Adults During A Pandemic

Three months into our stay-at-home order, tutoring looks a lot different than it used to. “Tutoring during the pandemic has evolved,” reported life skills tutor Dee Dee Goldman. “Much of what I do is teaching and modeling, so the physical distance has changed that.”

Features Cynthia, winner of staff Awesome AwardAnother tutor, Cynthia Witherspoon, said, “During the first week Independent Futures instituted the work from home policy I met with the participants I tutor using texts, FaceTime, and phone calls.” However, as the governor modified the stay-at-home order, “I returned to meeting in person with most of my participants in their homes. We practice safe distancing and I always wear a mask. For those who have not felt comfortable returning to face to face meetings, I stay in touch with FaceTime or phone calls.”

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

Photo of two women smiling, one a direct service professional and one a participant.Working and tutoring remotely meant new challenges for tutors and participants. The first step was figuring out how sessions could continue. Dee Dee shared, “We have been very creative by using screen share, dictation, and new forms of learning to do daily tasks.”

Because tutors are teaching life skills to adults with disabilities using new tools, the topics individuals are learning have changed too. The challenges associated with teaching someone how to cook, combined with adapting to remote learning, meant tutoring topics changed too.

During Cynthia’s tutoring sessions, she and participants have gone for walks to change their scenery. She also used the pandemic as an opportunity to discuss, model, and practice safety through personal hygiene routines. But the need for distance learning with life skills led to new technology challenges. 

“One learning opportunity was understanding how to order groceries online,” Cynthia said. “It is surprising how many things need to be considered, like choosing which store you want, using a debit or credit card to pay for groceries, and scheduling time to have groceries delivered. It’s a complex process with a lot of steps to learn.” 

Adjusting To A New Normal

Many of our participants work in grocery stores and remained working as essential employees throughout the pandemic. Still, some participants felt their anxiety increase. For participants who were furloughed, the changes to their routines were difficult. These types of changes in day-to-day activities were difficult for many of us to grow accustomed to.

Some of Independent Futures team in a GoToMeeting video callAs we all adjusted slowly to the necessary COVID-19 precautions, our tutoring participants adjusted too. “At first, participants would tease me about wearing a mask and gloves, maintaining 6 feet of distance, and putting items on the ground,” Cynthia said. “Now everyone sees these as common practices, and they are respectful of the guidelines I follow. They know I am doing it to protect them.” 

Moving Our Supports Forward 

Throughout this time, individuals employed their independent living skills to face brand new challenges. However, only 3 of Dee Dee and Cynthia’s participants left their homes to live with family. Tutoring continued in a new format and adjusted to individuals’ changing needs.

We learned that teaching life skills to adults with disabilities during a pandemic required new tools and flexibility. Our tutors rose to meet this new challenge. By creatively using Zoom, screen sharing, and other tech solutions, the team continued supporting participants near and far. As we prepare for the rest of this year, we are deciding which tools we will continue using. Have thoughts you’d like to share? Email center@independentfutures.com to let us know what you think! 

 

Reopening Update for Independent Futures

June 19th Update: For the foreseeable future, our office will be open from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. We are open to visitors only by appointment, so please call ahead. The rest of the information in this blog still applies, including requirements regarding face coverings and taking temperatures. 

Dear community members,

On March 16th, Independent Futures closed our office, and our staff started working remotely. As Illinois moves into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan, we can begin informing you about our reopening update. 

Beginning June 8th, our office will be open from 11:00 am-2:00 pm. In following weeks, we will increase our open hours gradually. To limit risk, all office visitors must call (847) 328-2044 to make an appointment. Along with these limited hours, we have installed a sneeze guard at our front desk and marked 6 foot areas throughout the office. The following policies will apply to everyone entering our office.

  • Everyone must wear masks during any and all in-office meetings. We ask that you bring your own, but if you do not have a face covering, one will be provided for you.
  • We will take your temperature when you arrive at the office. Our staff are also asked to follow this procedure to protect our whole community.
  • Safety practices such as frequently washing our hands for at least 20 seconds and maintaining social distance will be required of all staff and guests.
  • There will be hand sanitizer available in the office. We recommend that anyone entering or leaving the office use hand sanitizer to reduce the chance of transmitting the virus to others.
  • Out of respect for everyone’s health, please stay home if you feel unwell or have a temperature.

While our office has been closed, our Activities Director has continued to provide activities services online. Moving forward, we will be exploring blended activities options. To make our activities as accessible as possible, we will continue providing as many options as possible for the community. Please keep an eye out for our upcoming Summer Activities schedule

We remain thankful for everyone’s patience and support as we make these transitions, and we look forward to seeing you all in person as soon as we can. We will update this blog periodically when we receive new information.

If you have any questions about our reopening update, please email center@independentfutures.com. We will forward your question to the appropriate staff member. In the meantime, stay healthy and take care! 

Warm regards,

Ann Sickon, Executive Director

Community Is A Lifestyle: Community Builders

“I had never heard of Independent Futures before, nor was I aware of any type of supported living model like their Community Living Option (CLO). So when the opportunity to apply for the Community Builder opening came across my desk nearly a decade ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. However, it was clear to me that Independent Futures was something incredibly unique and quite special. From the moment the opportunity presented itself to the day I moved in, it was only a span of two weeks. Needless to say, I was sold. Over eight years later, I’m still a believer.” – Aby Karottu, Community Builder 

Over the past 20 years, Independent Futures’ work has centered the best ways to bolster opportunities to be independent for adults with disabilities. Out of this work, we created the New Futures Initiative™, a training program to help families create housing options for their loved ones. 

Adam poses with friends he has made through Center for Independent FuturesOur training is based on our own experience creating Community Living Options™. Our CLOs are creative solutions to support adults with disabilities who want to live in a community of their choice. 

A key piece of our Community Living Options is our Community Builders. A Community Builder lives in their own apartment in the CLO. They provide support for their building’s other residents as needed. For this blog, we asked a couple of our Community Builders to share what it’s like to navigate their supportive role.

Daily Community Builder Routines

Before the stay-at-home policies, Aby Karottu, Community Builder for Harrison Street, started his mornings early. By 5:00 am, he would start a HIIT workout at Evanston Athletic Club. Then he went to work in Skokie as a special education teacher. When he came home, Aby checked in with the other CLO residents. Every day, he stopped by to say hello to his neighbors. After that, Aby played with his dog, hung out with friends, went on dates, rock climbed, or practiced a number of other hobbies. 

Chicago Marathon Team CIF runner in front of Chicago skylineFor Nick Connell, Community Builder at the Chicago Ave. House, the routine is similar. He and the other residents meet for a daily “hello and chat,” and then he would spend time with his family, play soccer, or practice one of his hobbies. 

Community Builders play a crucial role in supporting the full lives that CLO residents develop. But as Aby shared, “I’ve come to recognize and embrace my role as a Community Builder most closely to that of an overly-concerned neighbor.”

Challenges for Community Builders

When families in our New Futures Initiative learn about Community Builders, they often wonder how they could find anyone who would accept the role. The family members sometimes ask how Community Builders can maneuver the challenges.

Two Something's Cooking attendees poseNick and Aby each face different challenges. For Nick, scheduling and communication can be challenges, “especially in the beginning of forming our community.” These are two challenges that can only be overcome with practice.

As a special education teacher, Aby had trouble taking off his “teacher hat” in the beginning. Since then, he says he has grown into the role of Community Builder. “While I’ll always be an educator at heart, I also honor my very unique role, not as an authority figure, but rather as a role model who’s just here to lend a caring ear and a helping hand.”

Truthfully, the role of Community Builder can be demanding. But there are people who believe in community and are happy to support adults with disabilities in their daily lives. 

Finding Joy in Community

One of our Community Builders makes balloon animals at our annual benefit, SPARK.Though Community Builders face many demands on their time, they find joy in the small interactions the community shares. They see each resident every day. Though the Community Builder may offer support and advice, they also receive support in their lives. 

For Nick, his daily check-ins have brought unexpected connections. “Currently one of my neighbors and I share ingredients and recipes, and then we share whatever we bake or cook. I greatly appreciate the opportunities to give and receive.” 

“I appreciate the intimate nature inherent in living amongst the residents I serve. As such, I greatly value the relationship aspects of what I do,” Aby says of the joys he finds as a Community Builder. “Because of the journeys I’ve experienced, I have a type of joy that’s been unparalleled in my life.”

Finding Community Builders

Though becoming a Community Builder is certainly not easy, “it’s a wonderful way of life,” according to Nick. When families ask how we find folks willing to do that work, we share that it’s not always easy. 

Being a Community Builder is both challenging and joyous. It requires dedication and the willingness to support individuals with disabilities. Agreeing with Nick, Aby says, “It’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle. If you value service, compassion, and community, it will be worth it.”

Success Stories

sun27sep11:00 am12:00 pmBingo

mon28sep1:00 pm2:00 pmSocial Hour

mon28sep2:15 pm2:45 pmDance Party with Suzy Crawford

mon28sep4:00 pm5:00 pmYoga

mon28sep5:00 pm6:00 pmBook Club

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