Staying Connected Through COVID-19

For many of us, our plans for 2020 have been upended by COVID-19 and stay at home policies enacted by state and local governments. Whether our plans were big vacations or little everyday meetings, we can feel a sense of dissonance. You might not feel connected to people or places the same way you felt before COVID-19 influenced our daily lives.

That’s okay. We’re feeling it too. 

A sign hung from trees reads "Heroes Work Here" outside an Evanston hospital.At Independent Futures, we have made tough decisions to cancel our activities through the end of April. We have also postponed SPARK, our annual benefit, until November 7th. These are big disappointments for our community, but they were important for all of our health and safety. 

However, all of these changes don’t mean we have to feel disconnected. Thanks to the technology most of us have at home, we can still feel close to friends and family through digital tools.

Tools For Staying Connected Through COVID-19

Our staff has been working away from the office since March 16th. We will continue to do so until the governor and mayor lift our stay-at-home policies. In the meantime, we have been staying connected to each other using a number of tools. We’ve even been exploring ways to move some activities online!

Tools To Maintain Relationships

Some of Independent Futures team in a GoToMeeting video callFor Apple users, Facetime is a great option that is reliable. For non-Apple users, log into a Google account and find Google Duo. This is a free and pretty trusty solution for when you want to see your friends, family, or coworkers. Finally, Zoom is another option that is easy to use and dependable. None of these options requires downloading and installing new software. Give one a try! 

Social apps are also a great way to stay connected to your friends during social isolation. Our staff uses some cool ones to connect. Netflix Party is an app that allows you and your friends to watch something at the same time and talk via a chat box on the screen. Marco Polo allows you to send video snippets to friends and respond to the stories they tell you. Finally, House Party is a video chat app that has fun games like Heads Up and trivia. 

Each of these 6 tools can help you and your friends or family with staying connected through COVID-19. Though they can’t replace face-to-face interaction, they can help us get through the next few weeks at home – together.

Access Living Resources for the Disability Community

A sign outside Jewel Osco reads "Thanks Jewel team, you guys are the best"Our friends at Access Living created a list of resources that the disability community may find helpful. These comprehensive resources range from accurate news sites and grocery store hours to caregiving resources and self-care tips.

Use these resources to help yourself or your friends. During this time, we can all come together to make our time at home easier. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to reach out to old friends. By staying home and staying healthy, we will make it through this together.

Until We See You Again

Our current stay-at-home policy is in effect until April 30th in Illinois. In the meantime, reach out to Independent Futures if you need support. 

We are checking the office email and phone every day. Our tutors and Community Life Coordinators continue to support participants via virtual check-ins. Our community is strong. We will see each other again soon.

A Message From Our Executive Director on COVID-19

This message was updated Monday, March 30th to reflect an extension of our remote working hours through at least April 30th and a new date for SPARK 2020. 

 

Dear community members,

Over the past 2 weeks, our staff at Independent Futures has considered several options to meet the challenges posed by effects of the Covid-19 virus. Ultimately, our office staff has decided to work remotely until at least April 30th. 

Thankfully, we are prepared for this type of remote work, and we are prepared to continue moving forward on crucial projects that can be done remotely. Additionally, our Direct Service team is looking into how much of our life skills tutoring programs can be done through technology like FaceTime and Google Hangouts. However, all of our non-essential activities, such as Walking Club and Art Club, have been cancelled through April. 

At this time, the Direct Service team will provide the same comprehensive support to participants that they always have. However, we will also take necessary precautions to keep participants and staff healthy. 

If anything changes, tutors will reach out to participants and family members to coordinate details about tutoring sessions. This will include answering questions like “Are we still meeting?” or “Where will we meet?”

Right now, we are working on coordinating a Plan B for SPARK, which was scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 18th. We will no longer meet in April. Instead, we hope you will join us on the new date of Saturday, November 7th. If you have purchased tickets already and are unable to attend on November 7th, please reach out. We will work with you to find the solution that best suits you.  

To make things easier for our community, we will keep our communications as clear as possible and centralized. You may receive some more emails than usual from us in the next few weeks, and you should keep an eye on our social media for important updates. But as information becomes available, we will update this blog to reflect the most current information at all times.  

We are 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 with more information by March 31st.

If you have any questions, please email center@independentfutures.com. Your question will then be forwarded to the appropriate staff member. In the meantime, stay healthy and take care! 

Sincerely,

Ann Sickon, Executive Director

Jonathan’s Double Dutch Trip to The Netherlands and Belgium

Jonathan Shuman is a man who loves to travel the world, viewing the world in a positive and friendly way. He wants to share how he uses our philosophy of “create your journey” to live out his dreams. These are his thoughts from his trip to The Netherlands and Belgium.

Visiting Brussels, Belgium

Three adults stand in the middle of a street in front of intricate European-style buildingsToday, my Search Beyond Adventures group went to Brussels in Belgium. We had to wake up at around 6 am in the morning, and we ate breakfast at around 7 am in the morning. Then, a shuttle van arrived in front of our Amsterdam hotel. We got in the shuttle van, and it took about 2-3 hours to drive in the shuttle from Hoofddorp, Netherlands, to Brussels, Belgium. 

When we arrived in Brussels, the first thing we did was go to a chocolate factory called the Belgian Chocolate Village. We toured the chocolate factory and we learned how to make chocolate from cocoa beans which in turn originate from carob trees. Then, the cocoa beans are harvested. They are dried to prevent moisture, and they have to go through several different processes including a quality check. The cocoa beans are then shipped around the world to factories and are then crushed and formed into chocolate and milk is optionally added to the chocolate. We also saw models made out of chocolate such as the Atomium and Les Arcades de la Cinquantenaire. 

For lunch, we went to a Mediterranean restaurant called Snack Simonis. I ate a chicken wrap sandwich with French fries on the side. After that, our group went into the city of Belgium and we saw the murals of famous Belgian comic strip characters such as Tintin and Asterix and Obelix. I also got my photo taken in front of the iconic Manneken Pis which is the statue of a boy with water coming out of his genitals but it’s a fountain. We also did lots of shopping in Brussels. I bought a pack of stroopwafels that I’m going to give to my mother as a present and souvenir. 

An octagonal sculpture stands tall against the blue sky on a green strip of parklandIn the street, we danced to music by street musicians who did cover versions of songs such as “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. We also went to a cathedral and took photos inside and outside of the cathedral. Later, I ate a Belgian waffle with chocolate syrup on top. It tasted creamy and sweet and tender. 

For dinner, we went to a Belgian restaurant called La Rose Blanche. I ate meatballs in tomato sauce with French fries. It tasted tender and fresh. After our trip was over, we got back into the shuttle van and we drove for 2-3 more hours and we arrived back in Hoofddorp Netherlands. I had such a great time in Brussels, Belgium. It was pleasant visiting Brussels and speaking both French and Dutch.

Tomorrow our group will go to Delft to see a pottery store where the Dutch make blue and white colored pottery items such as plates and tablets, etc.

So for now, Au revoir and Tot ziens and have a goede vakantie.

Learning About Dutch Pottery

Today, we woke up at 7:00 in the morning and went downstairs to eat breakfast at 8:00. Then, we took the train to go to this little Dutch city called Delft. 

When we were in Delft, we went to this pottery factory where the Dutch make pottery that is colored blue and white. A guide gave us a tour of the Dutch pottery factory by a potter who showed us how pottery was made. Pottery can be made by molding a form out of clay, then it is kept in the refrigerator overnight. Then the artist paints the piece white. Next, the artist draws designs in black ink on the piece. After that, the piece is dipped into glaze which conceals the design. Finally, the piece is put into an oven where the glaze is removed and the potter paints the design blue and white. Voilà, there is a piece of pottery that’s completed.

A large building in Amsterdam against a cloudy blue skyAfter we took a tour of the pottery factory in Delft, we ate lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant. I ordered a chicken wrap sandwich with lettuce ketchup and mayonnaise and French fries on the side. After lunch, we strolled through Delft, Netherlands viewing the canals, cathedrals, and even a horse drawn carriage.

Then later, around 3-4 pm, we went back to the Hampton by Hilton hotel and we relaxed for a bit. We tried to eat dinner downstairs but unfortunately the bar that only serves dinner on 5 days – not Sundays. Instead we ordered dinner from a Hawaiian poke restaurant, which is located near Amsterdam Netherlands.

Tomorrow we might do one last thing before we head back to Chicago, Illinois, the next day. Until then, Goodbye or Tot ziens as in Dutch and have a goede vakantie.

Last Day in Amsterdam

Jonathan stands to the right of a green windmill in AmsterdamToday, we woke up at around 5 am and ate breakfast. Then, we went into the city of Amsterdam. Our first stop was to visit the Anne Frank House. This is the same house that Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. 

When Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany during the 1930s, the Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam where they hid in an apartment’s secret room concealed by a bookcase. They couldn’t make noises and they couldn’t run water or flush the toilet or they would be found by the Nazis. Miep Gies was one of the people who helped Anne Frank and her family hide from the Nazis. 

In 1944, one of the neighbors eventually found the Frank family and Nazis imprisoned the family. The Nazis deported Anne Frank’s family to Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp. Anne Frank died in August of 1945. Her diary that she kept with her when she was hiding with her family still survives even to this day. 

This reminded me about human rights and the negative effects of racism and intolerance inflicted by the Nazis. It also reminded me that human beings are the most destructive forces ever to roam the face of the earth. Humans are also responsible for the evils in this world such as they litter, they drive cars which emit carbon and they destroy the planet and human beings kill other people and animals for food as well. I still think fantasy is better than reality. Which do you think is better: humans or dragons? I honestly think dragons are better than humans.

A canal tour business in Amsterdam with turreted building to its leftAfter we took a tour of the Anne Frank house, we took a cruise ferry tour on an orange ferry along the Prinsengracht canal. We saw the architectural buildings and we learned about the history of the Netherlands and Amsterdam. During the 17th century, there was a Golden Age in the Netherlands when painters such as Jan Steen, Vincent Van Gogh, and Johannes Vermeer flourished.

After that, we took the Amsterdam tram from the city of Amsterdam back to Amsterdam Centraal and from there we took the train to Schiphol Airport. Finally, we took a shuttle bus back to the Hampton by Hilton hotel.

Tomorrow, Tuesday June 11, 2019, we have to wake up at around 4:30 am because our flight leaves at 9:05 am back to JFK airport. Then I will fly into Chicago from New York City.

I want to say Goodbye or Tot ziens to Amsterdam & Brussels. It has been a pleasure visiting. I’m going to miss you two. I hope to see you again someday in the future. Dank je wel.

Have a goede vakantie.

View Jonathan’s England and Ireland trip journals, starting with part 1. You can support participants to “create your journey,” this year’s theme for our spring event, by attending SPARK on Saturday, November 7th.

Vote In Illinois’ Primary Election!

On November 3, 2020, Americans will vote for their next President. The choice will come down to our incumbent President Trump and the Democratic challenger. 

Between now and then, there are a lot of other decisions to be made – like who the Democratic candidate will be. Throughout the primary process, Americans in every state get to vote for their choice to represent the Democratic party. In Illinois, our primary is on March 17. 

Many voters feel this election is the most important of our lifetimes, but that’s far from the only exciting aspect of Election Day 2020. In 2018, people with disabilities came out to vote in record numbers, surging by 8.5%. In 2020, many organizations hope to increase the turnout of voters with disabilities even more. 

Keep reading this blog to learn more about registering to vote & learning about the candidates in Illinois.

How To Register To Vote

An older man holds a sign that reads "Register to Vote"In Illinois, you can register to vote by mail until the February 18th deadline. If you are able to register online, the deadline is extended to February 29th. But first, there are several requirements. Illinois voters must: 

  – Be a U.S. citizen
  – Be 18 by November 3, 2020
  – Live in your voting precinct for 30 days before the election
  – Not be serving jail time as a result of a conviction
  – Not claim the right to vote anywhere else

If you meet these criteria, then congratulations! You can register to vote. The next step is to start Illinois’ online voter registration application. The application will ask you for some basic identifying information such as:

  – Your State ID/Driver’s License
  – Your name
  – The last 4 digits of your Social Security number
  – Your birth date
  – And your address

And that’s how you register to vote! If you are ever encountering problems or need support, you can contact the Board of Elections. Life skills tutors can also support you in registering to vote.

How To Be An Educated Voter

Now that you’re registered to vote, it’s time to make some educated decisions about who you cast your ballot for. To become an educated voter, it’s necessary to learn about the candidates to see who would represent you best and work hard for your interests.

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"Almost all of the major candidates for the Democratic nomination have drafted disability policies and plans – for the first time. As a voter with disabilities, you will want to research these plans, but make sure that you are also researching other issues & local ballot initiatives too. The following major candidates have plans for people with disabilities on their websites:

Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Andrew Yang

The League of Women Voters has general information about what will be on your ballot and some research about the candidates. Check out their site for important dates, including when early voting begins and what is on your ballot. 

Finally, the AAPD’s Voter Resource Center includes information specific to disability issues. They have also teamed up with National Council for Independent Living (NCIL) for candidate questionnaires regarding disability issues. Only Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren have completed it; read the candidates’ responses here.

How To Vote

Instructions on voting in Illinois in 5 steps, covering registering to vote, voter education, and getting out the vote! Illinois’ early voting period runs from March 2 – March 16. You can also vote on election day, March 17th from 6am – 7pm. Use the Board of Elections’ Voter Registration Lookup tool to find your polling location.

In Illinois, we have what are called “closed primaries.” This means that in order to vote, you need to pick a party ballot. You can choose between the Republican or Democratic ballots when you enter your voting location. 

Once the poll workers have found your registration information and verified you are at the correct location, you will choose your ballot. After choosing your ballot, you can begin making your choices. 

(PRO TIP: You can download your ballot beforehand from BallotReady and make your choices ahead of time! Just print it out, research the options, and bring it with you to your polling location.)

Poll workers will be able to assist you as necessary, depending on the type of voting machines your location has. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Being an Active Citizen

Photo of a polling stationNow that you’re a registered, educated voter, what are the next steps you can take? This is the time to choose your candidates and then volunteer! You can call, text, or knock doors to spread the word about your favorite candidate. 

So, between now and March 17th, how will you use your rights to become a voter with disabilities and an active citizen?

This blog will be updated to reflect information about the general election in fall 2020.

Celebrating Romantic Relationships Among People With Disabilities

These stories are excerpts from a previous publication entitled “New Visions: The Power of Dreams.” New Visions was published in 2011 with the support of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. Featuring the stories of 20 individuals with disabilities, this anthology reflects the possibilities for individuals who have support from their communities. (These stories have been edited for length.)

Carrie Robb

Carrie has dreams typical of many people. She wants a better job, she wants to own her own home, and she wants to get better control over her diabetes by eating better and staying fit. But what she wanted most in the world was to get married.

Carrie & her partner smile together on a couch in black and white photoWhen she talked about her dreams with her Dream Team during her first Full Life Future Planning™ session, she talked a whole lot about the picture of the bride and groom that she included in her Dream collage (with her boyfriend’s name under the picture of the groom).

The dream of marriage was not news to her team, but they didn’t realize how important it was to her until then. After all, she had already been living with her boyfriend for several years. During that first session, Carrie’s mother told her, “Carrie, if this is that important to you, I think we can make this happen.”

Carrie and her boyfriend picked the most romantic day of the year, February 14, for their big event.

Carrie picked out a beautiful, lacy, Valentine-pink dress for her big day and looked absolutely stunning. But the most beautiful thing about her that day was not her dress or her hair or the makeup she wore. The most beautiful thing about Carrie was the smile on her face! Now, she wears that same beautiful smile whenever she shares the pictures of her cherished day with people when they visit.

Michele Armistead

Michele took part in a group Full Life Future Planning™ process with nine other people. Throughout the class, Michele identified many things that were important to her during the classes as time progressed. Many of the dreams she identified for herself were simple (like a new desk lamp), and many were more involved (like getting married and getting a job).  Most of Michele’s dreams involved family and friends that were closest to her.

A white woman in black & white photograph from about a decade ago.Michele was very quiet during the initial classes, but grew more open over time. She let her network know she was interested in nursing, and then she found a way to get involved. She discovered she wanted to work with animals; she started working at a pet shelter and loved it.

She and her boyfriend also dreamed of getting married. They talked with their families and had a commitment ceremony and a reception to celebrate their love for each other.

Now Michelle says, “If it wasn’t for this experience, I wouldn’t be doing all the cool things I am now. I used to be scared to ask people for what I wanted. Now I realize that I will never get what I want if I don’t ask. The class taught me that it’s okay to tell people what I want.”

Jonathan’s Big Fat Greek Birthday Vacation

Jonathan Shuman is a man who loves to travel the world, viewing the world in a positive and friendly way. He wants to share how he uses our philosophy of “create your journey.” These are his notes from his trip to Greece, exploring the ancient sites and gorgeous isles.

Day 1: Leaving Chicago

Jonathan stands in front of ancient ruins in Greece as part of his "Create Your Journey" tripMy parents picked me up from Harrison House in Evanston, and Howard drove me to Chicago O’Hare International Airport where I would board my flight from Chicago, Illinois to Minneapolis, Minnesota. At Minneapolis Saint Paul International Airport, I waited in the traveler’s assistance section. Then, I would board a Delta Airlines flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Newark, New Jersey. 

When I arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport, I met my travel guide named Kailash Dhaksinamurthi. Originally, a person named Harry was supposed to go on the trip to Athens, Greece with me and Kailash. Unfortunately, Harry couldn’t join us because Harry possibly got mugged and had all of his money stolen and he didn’t have enough travel insurance to travel to Athens, Greece with Kailash and me. So it’s me and Kailash, just the two of us. 

We went to baggage claim at Newark Liberty Airport and we got my big black suitcase and I had to check in again, this time with Emirates Airlines. Kailash and I boarded our Emirates Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey to Athens, Greece. On the airplane, I fell asleep.

Day 2: Arriving in Athens

Gia sou which, in Greek, means Hello. Today I just arrived in Athens, Greece, with the travel organization Search Beyond Adventures.

An ancient building in Athens, Greece.When I woke up on my flight, I was above the Atlantic Ocean. The flight from Newark to Athens took about 10 hours traveling east. On the airplane, I was served scrambled eggs and potatoes for breakfast, and I had a cup of coffee with cream and no sugar to drink with my breakfast. I also watched a movie on the airplane called Green Book starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. It was a fantastic film. I would rate the movie Green Book an 8.5/10 because it was dazzling.

Around 3 pm, me and Kailash arrived at Athens International Airport in Athens, Greece. We also went to baggage claim and we got my big black suitcase and I also converted my United States dollars into Euros, the official currency of Greece. 

Kailash and I  took a taxicab to the Philippos Hotel located on Mitseon Street in Athens Greece. Later, at around 5:35 pm Athens Greece time, me and Kailash went out to dinner at Regal Bar and Bistro and I had a turkey burger with house cut fries for dinner and Kailash had a margherita pizza for dinner. The turkey burger tasted velvety and crisp and tender and moist and also a little salty. 

After dinner, we walked around the neighborhood. We saw orange trees and a cat that was perched on top of a car. You know how there are so many squirrels in USA? Well, there are lots of feral cats in Greece and Israel as well.

Day 3: Exploring Ancient Times

Gia sous (Hello) again everyone. This is Jonathan Shuman writing his journal and blog for Day 3 of my trip to Athens Greece with Search Beyond Adventures. 

Today, my tour guide, Kailash, and I ate breakfast in the morning at the Philippos Hotel on Mitseon Street in Athens. Later, we went to see the Acropolis of Athens, and we took a tour of all the architectural sites of the Acropolis, such as the Old Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion where the contest between Poseidon and Athena was held, the Theatre of Dionysus where musical contests were held in Ancient Greece. We also went to the Parthenon which is still under construction. However, rumor has it that when I turn 40 years old in 2029, the Parthenon will be completed. How cool is that? 

Later, me and Kailash went to Monastiraki Square and we went shopping and I bought 3 shirts one for me and one for each of my roommates. I also bought a tiny snowglobe and 3 postcards that I will give to my Solomon Cordwell Buenz coworker who is an American of Greek descent. 

A photo of a boat in Athens with a background of multi-colored buildings in the background.Later, me and Kailash ate lunch at the Monastiraki Square. After that, we took a tour of the Athenian Agora where there was the Library of Hadrian. I learned how the Roman Empire conquered and defeated civilizations such as the Greek Empire or Egyptian Empire. When invading Greece and Egypt, the Roman Empire burnt and destroyed buildings, and then they constructed and built their own new buildings. That is called imperialism. Other examples include the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, the Egyptians, and the Chinese and also the British Empire and the Russian Empire and also American imperialism.

After a long day, Kailash and I went back to the Philippos Hotel where we relaxed and took naps. Now as I write, we are having dinner and for dessert. I’m going to get chocolate cake to celebrate my 30th birthday which is today. Tomorrow, me and Kailash are going to take a boat tour and visit 3 of the Saronic Islands: Hydra, Poros, and Aegina. 

Day 4: Grecian Islands

Opa! That’s what Greek people say when they celebrate an anniversary or a party or a birthday. This is Jonathan Shuman writing his Journal and Blog for Day 4 of my trip to Athens Greece. This part of my journal is about a tour of some Grecian islands. 

The first stop was in the island of Hydra, Greece, where two movies have been filmed: Boy on a Dolphin and Boat Trip. When we arrived at Hydra, we took a tour of the village of Hydra. Kailash fed the cats Edam cheese that he bought at a supermarket. On the island of Hydra, there are no cars. You have to either walk or ride on a donkey. 

After we left Hydra, our next stop was Poros. We climbed up a lot of stairs to see a clock tower on the promontory of Poros. 

The waffle Jonathan ate on his 2nd to last day in Athens, Greece.Our final stop was on the island of Aegina where I ate a waffle with chocolate ice cream and whipped cream and covered in chocolate syrup. It tasted rich and velvety and moist and creamy and crispy. On the boat cruise back to Athens, we listened and danced to authentic Greek music such as Zorba’s dance. 

What a day this has been.

Day 5: Going Home

Today, we went to Syntagma Square where we saw people run in the Athens Marathon. It was difficult to get to the other side to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We used the subway to cross, and we saw the Hellenic Parliament and the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

Next, we went for a stroll at the National Garden of Hellas where we saw animals, like goats and turtles. After that, me and Kailash went shopping in the Plaka. For another coworker, I bought a blue Athens short-sleeved shirt and a tiny statue of Leonidas of Sparta.

View of a hillside in GreeceFinally, we went back to the Philippos Hotel and we rested and relaxed there. Later at night, Kailash and I went to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant called Bel Paese. “Bel Paese” means “beautiful town” in Italian. For dessert, I had a slice of apple pie, and Kailash had coffee with baklava for dessert. 

Tomorrow, me and Kailash will go see the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Then we will pack up our stuff and say goodbye to Greece. We are going home to Chicago, Illinois, ending my Big Fat Greek Birthday Vacation. 

Until next time, OPA!!!!!

View Jonathan’s England and Ireland trip journals, starting with part 1. You can support participants to “create your journey,” this year’s theme for our spring event, by attending SPARK on Saturday, November 7th.

“Today Was A Good Day”: Finding Your Voice

Employed in a standard workshop, Linda* built small standardized tools. Throughout her days, Linda managed some behavioral challenges. She experienced occasional outbursts of emotion, causing disruptions in the workplace. To the supervisors and coaches at this agency, it wasn’t always clear what was causing Linda’s behavior. They knew something was getting in the way of her happiness and success. 

Over the course of the past two years, the agency that employs Linda invested in rethinking their organizational philosophy. Taking steps to become a “person-centered” agency, Linda’s support team has seen some remarkable changes in her behavior.

Stepping Toward Person-Centered Planning

Two years ago, Independent Futures partnered with an agency on the west side of Chicago. One of our tutors, Rob Larson, initially trained our new partner on what it meant to provide person-centered service. 

Exploring person-centered philosophy, Rob explained our Full Life Model and how we work alongside individuals with disabilities to achieve their hopes and dreams. For many years, the agency employed a majority of their participants in their on-site workshop but realized that job didn’t work for everybody. 

With the Full Life Model and My Full Life online software, this agency began the hard work of altering their organizational culture. Planting the seed for innovation and creative thinking, Rob’s training already leads to big changes. 

A New Kind of Support

Something's Cooking attendees smiling in front of barJake Rohde, a training consultant and tutor, visited the agency late this summer. Whereas Rob taught the organization about our philosophy, now Jake would work to help implement the My Full Life tool. 

We have been a small nonprofit agency since 2002, while our new partner serves more than 300 individuals with disabilities. Founded in the mid-twentieth century, this partner’s leaders saw the change to person-centered philosophy as a difficult step. Jake explained, “Older agencies wonder, ‘How do you go from a structure where everyone is involved in one activity to something so individualized?’”

To do this, our partner agency has taken on meeting with and interviewing every adult they support about their desires. Moving past the fear that these changes brought, staff meets with each participant and asks, “What do you want to do?”

Recognizing the Impact of This Support

When the agency’s staff met with Linda, they offered her the opportunity to take some Montessori-style classes. Either instead of or in addition to the workshop, Linda could explore her interests and take a chance. She chose to take a couple of classes.

two individuals preparing food at a soup kitchenSince then, Linda’s behavior has changed dramatically. Like everyone does, she still may have difficult days. But at the end of most days, Linda visits her coaches and fellow participants with a calendar, marks off the day, and she eagerly tells each of them, “Today was a good day.”

In moments like these, the agency’s staff realizes that our person-centered approach works. Being able to see the tangible, long-term results of person-centered planning demonstrates to them that the hard work of individualized plans is worth their time. 

Building On Person-Centered Philosophy

In 2022, new federal regulations will require that all agencies serving adults with disabilities employ person-centered approaches. For many large agencies like our partner, they have a fear that this approach will be too time-consuming and too difficult to implement on large scales. We know that this is not the easiest path and asks a lot of direct support workers, but the positive impact of person-centered philosophy is great.

heARTwords participant JonathanOur partner’s next step is to continue interviewing their participants, building plans for each individual they serve. Jake will return to train the agency on using My Full Life as a goal-tracking and skill development tool. 

When adults with disabilities are given opportunities to explore their interests and skills, they begin to feel more like themselves. Independent Futures is working to expand those opportunities so every individual with disabilities can say, “Today was a good day.” 

#GivingTuesday 2019 Makes Our Community Stronger

Sarah smiles in foreground of photo with two women standing behind her, one in green and the other in blue.On #GivingTuesday, December 3, the Center for Independent Futures community came together to see the difference one day could make in the lives of individuals with disabilities. The total is in: more than $26,000 raised in just 24 hours! Together, we’re creating opportunities for all individuals to contribute their gifts, making the entire community stronger.

Included in our total raised was a generous matching grant from The Coleman Foundation. The Coleman Foundation is a generous supporter of Center for Independent Futures, particularly behind our efforts to help families create community-based housing. Thank you to the Coleman Foundation for supporting us on #GivingTuesday again this year!

Center for Independent Futures is grateful for all who gave on #GivingTuesday efforts and helped to spread the word. All funds raised on December 3rd, and every day, directly support individuals with disabilities, their families, and their communities.

If you missed #GivingTuesday and would like to make your community stronger through an online, tax-deductible gift before the end of the year, click here. Contact us at (847) 328-2044 for more information.

Independent Futures’ 2019 Highlights

2019 was full of transitions for us at Independent Futures. From updated events to exciting new partnerships, it’s been a big year. Here are 5 highlights to keep you updated on where we have been and where we are planning to go in the future. 

Empowering Through Technology at 1871

Panelists pose for a photo on stage after a successful and engaging event!In April, Independent Futures hosted a panel at Merchandise Mart’s 1871 in downtown Chicago. One of our participants, Jake Joehl, introduced the panel by explaining how technology supports his independent, full life. 

Chrissy Dale spoke about My Full Life, our online life skills development software, explaining how the technology helps organizations track successes. Alongside panelists from SimplyHome, Northwestern University, Infinitec/UCP Seguin with moderating from Impact Engine, the panel and audience explored how to support individuals with disabilities through technology.

This successful panel helped Independent Futures introduce updates to My Full Life to the public and helped set up a year of exciting events.

Big Changes to Old Favorites

Since 2002, we have grown a lot as an organization, though some of our events seemed to stay the same. This year we wanted to shake things up! Starting with SPARK, we introduced new elements to the evening like the Golden Ticket raffle and a new theme: Igniting Dreams.

Jackie stands with Jane to accept the staff Awesome AwardFor Something’s Cooking, we changed the whole name! Inviting local breweries to participate in the first ever Independent Futures Best Brew Award, we introduced our community to Brews & Bites. Featuring our favorite local restaurants, the event became a fun & lively event featuring the best Evanston has to offer.

Young Professionals Boards Moves Forward

Formerly known as the Auxiliary Board, the Young Professionals Board is a group of young adults committed to serving community. Throughout 2019, the board hosted several new events. We have enjoyed getting to know the Young Professionals Board through these new events.

The Summer Social was a ton of fun at Southport Lanes & Billiards. More than 30 members of our community joined with the board for an afternoon of bowling at these old-fashioned lanes. Then in September, the Young Professionals Board hosted a tailgate before a Northwestern Wildcat game. 

New Faces at Independent Futures

This year we said goodbye to our finance coordinator, Constance, and welcomed in two new faces to our HR/Finance department. 

Erika Wade joins us from Union Leagues Boys & Girls Club as our new Director of Operations. Erika has been overseeing our new budget for 2020, executing behind-the-scenes changes to our processes, and brightening up our days with lots of laughter! 

Christina Gatechair is a local Evanstonian who has worked in HR for more than 15 years. She joins Independent Futures from the healthcare industry and has been busy supporting Erika through organization changes and accounting.

Distinguished Service Award Recipient

2019 marked the second time that Independent Futures has received The Arc of Illinois’ Distinguished Service Award. For the second time this decade, Illinois’ chapter of The Arc presented the award to our Executive Director. We were deeply honored to receive this award, and we are excited and ready to continue providing excellent service in 2020!

We want to thank our whole community from the bottom of our hearts for your support in 2019. If you would like to be part of our next big year, sign up for our newsletter or donate today!

Nothing we do would be possible without your help. In 2020, we are looking forward to new collaborations and exciting events!

 

The Perfect Storm: Housing Options for People With Disabilities

For parents of adults with disabilities, the path to an independent future is never without obstacles. Planning for the future requires dozens of extra steps that parents of adults without disabilities may never encounter. From developing trusts to drafting letters of intent, protecting the future leaves so many questions to answer. Yet one question stands above many others: When should families begin to consider independent housing for their loved one? 

The answer? As soon as possible. 

Reasons To Start Planning Today 

A square brown house with red door that is one example of housing options for people with disabilities.
Harrison House created by Independent Futures families, an example of housing options for people with disabilities.

Planning for the future is not a linear process with each step laid out for families to follow. As time passes, systems change alongside changes in perception. In the past, families expected their loved one would continue to live with them or maybe in a group home. 

While many people with disabilities have lived with their family and may continue to, there are several reasons why this option is not as feasible as it once was. 

Relying on Family

Unlike in the past, adults with disabilities are outliving their parents. For the first time, parents may pass at 80 years old, but their adult child with disabilities might be only 60 – and very ready to live a full life. But now, without their parents, the individual lives without parental support and without their family home to go to. 

Families often plan for their disabled son or daughter to live with a sibling, but data tells us that sometimes this doesn’t work out. 50% of siblings say they plan to co-reside with their sibling. Only 10% actually do. These stats don’t tell us why this happens. However, they do tell us that we shouldn’t completely rely on siblings to become caretakers once parents have passed.

Relying on Government Support

Most families of individuals with disabilities know that relying on the government for support isn’t reliable. Few know just how unreliable this option is. 

Current residents smile outside their Community Living Option.

Only 25% of individuals with disabilities receive any financial government supports. Of that small percentage, 71% receive SSI/SSDI benefits, 44% receive Medicaid waivers, and only 15% receive vocational rehabilitation support. So what does this mean? 

It means that your loved one cannot necessarily depend on receiving financial support from the government to live in the community when you’re gone. 

It means that you may be leaving your loved one without options. 

It means that the time to start looking at independent living options is now. 

The Benefits of Community Independent Living

When individuals with disabilities have the chance to live in small community settings, their quality of life increases. Living in this type of setting increases an individual’s access to not only family & friends but also to medical care, preventive care, and employment opportunities.

With better access to community assets, we see increased life satisfaction in almost every individual we work with. They are able to utilize self-determination skills while gaining new independent living skills like cooking and cleaning. 

These benefits of independent living are not simply nice to have. They are the difference between a full life with personal supports or segregated loneliness. 

Developing Crucial Personal Support Networks

One more benefit of living in community settings is the chance to develop personal support networks. These networks consist of natural supports, such as family and friends, plus potential employers, local business owners, or even a school crossing guard. 

A large brown and white community housing option for individuals with disabilities.
Intentional Communities of Washtenaw in Michigan, created with help from our New Futures Initiative training.

A personal support network consists of anyone in an individual’s community. Part of living independently is community acceptance – and small settings, like an apartment or shared home, often lead to greater acceptance from neighbors.

Finally, living in this type of small, community setting often leads to increased community life participation. This can look like being part of a book club, belonging to a church, or volunteering at the local YWCA. 

Each of these increases to quality of life means that an individual’s personal support network is growing. Developing support networks early, before parents pass, means an individual with disabilities can move into the next stage of their life with greater comfort and stability.

Your Next Steps To Independent Futures

Aerial view of Backyard BBQ attendees chatting outside near a tree.By now, you may be convinced that it is time to start planning for your loved one’s next home. After a few frustrating late night sessions with Google, you realize that finding community housing options for people with disabilities isn’t easy. After you have begun applying for or securing funding, what do you do next? 

1. Build Support Networks

Once your loved one knows what type of community they want to live in, it is time to develop relationships. Before anyone moves and before making any commitments, explore opportunities to get involved. The best way to nurture a relationship is to start with connections. 

Is there somewhere your loved one would like to volunteer? Perhaps they want to explore the new library branch? There are many ways to get involved in a community. The hardest part is to start.

2. Focus on Life Skills Development
Tall apartment building where several individuals with disabilities live in an integrated setting.
Sienna communities, an apartment building where several Center for Independent Futures participants reside in an integrated setting.

Our Life Skills Tutors are part of our participants’ key to success. At each session, a tutor will help someone with anything from creating a budget to getting their exercise in. Our Full Life Model illustrates that each aspect of a full life is equally important to another. For example, we know that developing friendships is just as important as creating good nutritional habits. 

To start working on life skills development, begin by asking some big questions. 

  • What does the individual dream of doing?
  • What skills will they need in order to achieve their dream?
  • What skills does this individual already possess? 
  • What has this person had a chance to learn? 
  • What can an individual learn? 
  • What supports does an individual need? 

After talking about these questions, start thinking about how you or a personal support worker can help. Some lesson plans exist to help individual with disabilities learn how to do, rather than how we can “do for” them. 

3. Research Existing Options

Return to your original Google search. The options that exist may not be the perfect Cinderella fit for your loved one. However, the people or organizations that created them may be able to give you a road map to creating your own solution. 

The first step to learning more about existing options is to visit several existing options. Begin talking to other families who have stood where you are standing today. There is strength in numbers, such as shared experiences and knowledge. 

A tan and beige apartment structure with green awnings over businesses
Integrated Living Opportunities (ILO) in Maryland/DC, created with the support of the New Futures Initiative training.

While you are visiting existing housing options for people with disabilities, you will see what an individual’s independent life can look like. Ask your loved one, “If we created our own option, what would you want?” Does that vision include a roommate? A communal space? These are the types of questions to answer before you start building.

The Perfect Storm Is Now

Today individuals with disabilities are included in more opportunities of a full life than ever before. From the time they enter school, there is typically some form of integrated classroom time. When leaving integrated school settings, families and individuals are beginning to demand inclusive options for the future. Whether in the form of community inclusion or employment, it is no longer optional to create inclusive spaces. 

Yet, upon leaving school settings, many housing options are not integrated or independent. Though research argues that small community-integrated settings improve quality of life, many existing housing options for people with disabilities are large settings or removed from the community.

Ultimately, families seeking greater inclusion created a large number of the small community settings that exist. Those options have not been available without hard work, dedication, and commitment to independence. If your loved one hopes to live independently someday, the time to start looking at innovative housing options is as soon as possible. 

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