How to Live With the Fear of Risk

When we first meet with a new family seeking services, we begin with a skills inventory of their loved one. The questions we ask can range from “Does your loved one know how to do their own laundry?” to “Do they know to lock the door when they leave?”

One individual’s parent told us, “We’ve never let our daughter walk in front of us.”

“They have never gone to 7/11 alone,” one mother explained. “What if someone took advantage of them?”

Another parent tells the story of when they were afraid their child shouldn’t take public transportation. “I worried they would get lost. Then their teacher told me they were already successfully riding the bus with other students.”

Educators can teach self-advocacy skills to students in a variety of ways. This image shows an individual in a wheelchair with two others on a grassy lawn.In each of these every day activities, these parents realized that their own fear was holding their child with disabilities back. Fearing the risks that come with everyday life, parents become overprotective and try to remove obstacles for their child. However, parents understand they can’t protect their child forever. They realize that they need to let some risk in, no matter how small.

Learning How To Live with Risk

Part of parenting is learning how to live with the fear of risk for your children and letting go. But for many parents of individuals with disabilities, this fear rises among surmounting challenges including funding for services, navigating benefits and life, building skill capacity, and more.

Black and white photo ofWith increasingly integrated classrooms and the rise of the independent living movement, adults with disabilities have greater access to community inclusion than ever before. As parents realize this, they wonder, “My child needs more support than other adults. How can they live on their own?”

Like with all children, parents of individuals with disabilities should begin by accepting that daily life is associated with risks. Affording your child the right to take reasonable risks benefits their self-esteem, skill development, and basic dignity.

In 1972, disability rights champion Robert Perske first wrote about the risk taking that all adults require to live a full, independent life. He wrote, “Overprotection can keep people from becoming all they could become. Many of our best achievements came the hard way: We took risks, fell flat, suffered, picked ourselves up, and tried again. Sometimes we made it and sometimes we did not. Even so, we were given the chance to try.”

Living Independently, Leading By Example

At Independent Futures, we encourage all family members to consider how they accomplished their greatest achievements. Could you have achieved your goals without help? The answer is most likely no.

Individuals with disabilities often need support in activities like budgeting, cooking, or planning. However, support professionals – and parents – can promote risk taking by teaching these crucial life skills through lessons designed to encourage independence and letting individuals experience adversity.

Jenny, in pink, poses with her mom who is wearing a gray shirt with red neck line.Supported by life skills tutoring, individuals with disabilities can choose their goals, based on their hopes and dreams. With the support of their community – which can include family, neighbors, employers, as well as direct service professionals – people with disabilities’ quality of life can be improved immeasurably.

Our life skills tutors challenge family members of individuals with disabilities to accept risks as a necessity to living a full life. This is a marathon of a challenge that all parents have to acknowledge.

Armed with goals and action plans, adults with disabilities can take advantage of the opportunities of a full life. By teaching life skills and asking your loved one to take on new responsibilities, they can live, work, and give back in the communities of their choosing.

Teaching Life Skills: Our Partnership with Lake Zurich Schools

To reach more individuals with disabilities and help them lead full lives, we work to get our tools for teaching life skills into the hands of creative transition teachers. After seeing a presentation by our school and agency experts, teachers at Lake Zurich High School knew that our My Full Life™ curriculum was the resource they needed.

Visualizing a Full Life

Lake Zurich School District logo with teal background and blue globe surrounded by four differently colored icons of people.Using our Full Life Model™, transition teachers at Lake Zurich help their students set goals and identify obstacles. “I love the visual representation of all of the areas of a full life,” said Annamarie Bader, special education teacher. “I feel like this gives us the structure to help students identify the goals they will need to work on to have a full life. It helps us concentrate on each student’s hopes and dreams.”

Annamarie taught in a self-contained classroom in California for 15 years before returning to work in Lake Zurich’s transition program. In the Lake Zurich transition program for students with disabilities, students spend half of their day in the classroom learning life skills like cooking and goal setting. The remaining half of the day is typically spent out in the community, instead of in the classroom.

“Our students prepare for their futures by going out to the grocery store, eating out at restaurants, and doing some recreational activities. Getting students out into the community, and having access to those resources is beneficial for their goals. Other times, students go out to job sites to gain work experience with a job coach. We’re pretty busy!”

Teaching Life Skills for Independence

A teacher in front of their classroom, photographed from the students' perspective.The Independent Futures’ curriculum, My Full Life, equips transition teachers with the resources they need to save time. With these lesson plans, learning is more targeted to students’ specific needs. “When you are teaching life skills, you are pulling material from everywhere,” Annamarie said. “My Full Life helps me keep track of my students’ accomplishments.”  

With our online application, Lake Zurich students may use computers or mobile devices to engage in the learning process, set specific goals, create action plans, and track progress. “Because the curriculum is online, they can easily access it on their iPads,” observed Annamarie. “It’s so great for everybody, but specifically for our students who are visual learners.” According to Center for Independent Futures’ School and Agency Consultant Marney Orchard, “It is great to see the young adults at Lake Zurich discovering new things about themselves and making plans for their futures.”

Impacting Students’ Futures

woman leaning over to help student at a computerAll of the components of My Full Life result in real improvements in students’ lives. Annamarie can use My Full Life to track IEP goals, conduct skill assessments, and see each component of full lives. And students can take this information with them into their future. “It’s helpful to have something for students to take with them after leaving the program at 22,” Annamarie explained.

Asked if she has seen its influence directly, Annamarie explained, “I absolutely have! It all starts with focusing on hopes and dreams. I am working with a student who wants to take college classes. Using the self-determination, goal setting, and action planning resources, he is advocating for his dreams.”

Through June: XL Pizza Supports Independent Futures

Photo of pizza. Support independent futures at Gigio's Pizzeria through June. This June, you can support Center for Independent Futures at your favorite neighborhood pizza place, Gigio’s Pizzeria! For every extra-large pizza ordered during the month, Gigio’s will donate two dollars to Center for Independent Futures.

Month-Long Fundraiser for Independent Futures

This year will be the 4th in a row that Gigo’s is supporting our community. Last year, their efforts raised over $500 for hopes and dreams. To order your extra-large pizza during the month of June to support Center for Independent Futures, call Gigio’s at (847) 328-0990 or visit them at 1001 Davis Street in downtown Evanston, just down the block from our office.

We offer special thanks to Frannie and Dennis Clarkson for their continued support of full, independent lives in the Evanston community!

Executive Director Ann receives 2018 fundraiser check from Dennis at Gigio's Pizzeria.Gigio’s Pizzeria has been serving the community since 1968, making it the oldest pizza place in Evanston. Gigio’s specializes in New York-style, thin-crust pizza, and the menu offers burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef and sausages, tacos and burritos, salads, homemade soups, and more. Plus, Gigio’s now offers gluten-free pizza crusts!

Your participation in this fundraiser supports our work toward a future where individuals with disabilities have access to all opportunities of a full life.

How We Prepare for Bike the Drive

For the last four years, participant Caleb Streeter has joined our Bike the Drive Dream Team biking up Lake Shore Drive. Over these four years, the event has become a family tradition for the Streeters. Caleb’s father, Bill, joins the Dream Team too, and together they typically bike from Buckingham Fountain to Sheridan. But this year Caleb and his dad are looking for a challenge.

Caleb and his father smile at the camera, both wearing purple shirts and blue helmets“We’re going to start from downtown and go all the way to Sheridan this year. That’s 15 miles,” Caleb explains. “Plus, me and my dad’s church friend wanted to accompany us this year. We’ve been talking to him about it, and he decided this is the year to do it!”

Biking with the team is part of what makes Bike the Drive so much fun for Caleb. “It’s more enjoyable than riding by myself. I like having a person to talk to, somebody watching me. My dad and me are used to it because back home we bike together too.” Biking Lake Shore Drive with a team also means that Caleb can look out for his friends and family, and they can help him too.

How Caleb Is Getting Ready

Caleb wears green, the same as Lindsay on the left. Caleb is preparing for his 15-mile bike ride with longer rides, especially since the weather is finally getting warmer. But first, he needed to get his bike checked out at Wheel & Sprocket after the long winter. This year it was time for some upgrades for Caleb’s light gray Giant Revel bike. “I had to install new wheels because my old fat tires were getting hard to lock up outside my apartment, so I got thinner ones.” Caleb continued, “My bike seat was old and it kept getting loose. The bicycle people said I should get a new seat. It would just slip out, and I couldn’t deal with that anymore!”

In preparing for Bike the Drive, Caleb demonstrates responsibility and enthusiasm, but he knows to ask for help when he needs it. His tutor, Ricky, supported Caleb in figuring out how much air should go in his tires and how to secure his bike better after his old bike was stolen. With Ricky’s help, Caleb is more confident and safer when he is biking.

Caleb is excited to continue participating in Bike the Drive and our Bike Club. The club meets on Wednesdays, and Caleb joins Activities Director Jeff Morthorst and several other participants in biking around Evanston. The group often bikes around Northwestern University or along the lakeshore.

How You Can Help Caleb & the Dream Team

Caleb and his dad prepared for Bike the Drive together and stand in front of colorful mosaic wallThe Dream Team fundraises every year to support activities Independent Futures provides like Bike Club. Every dollar donated helps to keep our activities calendar full of exciting events. If you donate today, the funds you contribute will support supplies for Art Club, snacks for Saturday Cinema, and bicyclists in getting to and from Bike the Drive.

Explaining his favorite part of Bike the Drive, Caleb shared, “Doing Bike the Drive, you have a different vantage point than what you would normally see. It’s fun! I’m getting excited about it! The more people the better!”

With the support of our generous community, we hope to continue providing participants like Caleb with opportunities like Bike the Drive for many years to come. Donate today to help the Dream Team achieve their goals!

SPARK 2019: Igniting Dreams

Did you miss out on igniting dreams at SPARK 2019 at the Hilton Orrington? Or maybe you were there and just want to relive the fun? This year was the FIRST year we sold out at SPARK! The Hilton’s ballroom was jam-packed, and we enjoyed seeing everyone there to celebrate independent, full lives with us!

Awards and Winners

As always, we awarded three very special honorees the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards! The Awesome Awards celebrate individuals and organizations that embody Independent Futures’ core values. Read our new blog on the Awesome Award winners to find out more.

Preparing for the Golden Ticket raffle drawing. A woman in green stands on the left, next to the golden raffle drum and a woman in red. A man in a gray suit speaks into a microphone as another man pulls the winning ticket.We want to offer congratulations to the winner of our annual Heads or Tails game, Linda Hauser! She won a gift card to Hotels.com plus tickets to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Finally, we want to say congratulations to Stephanie Olsen, the winner of our first ever Golden Ticket raffle! Stephanie purchased her Golden Ticket before SPARK and chose the live auction item Take Me Out to the Ball Game. She won four behind-home-plate tickets to a Cubs game this summer!

Silent and Live Auctions

People dance at SPARK after the end of the program.2019 was our biggest year yet in many ways! Though our silent auction had fewer items, our supporters still helped us raise more in this area than we could have hoped. Not to mention: this year’s live auction blew past years out of the water!

Independent Futures could not work toward the future we envision without the help of our supporters. As a small gift to all of you: Everyone can now find photos of the night on our Facebook page now!

Thank you to everyone who came to SPARK 2019, donated, or otherwise participated in igniting dreams at this year’s SPARK! We’ll see you next year!

 

2019 Awesome Award Winners

SPARK is an annual celebration of our community, but it is also a chance for us to celebrate the stellar individuals and organizations who support this work every day. Recipients of the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards represent Independent Futures through dedication, innovative leadership, personal integrity, and community-forward thinking.

On April 26, we honored three community members who embody these qualities with the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards. These awards are given to a staff member, a participant, and a community partner. Read on to learn more about this year’s honorees!

Stellar Staff: Jackie Eddy

Jackie stands with Jane to accept the staff Awesome AwardWith more than 20 years of service, Jackie has been with Independent Futures since day 1. Really, she has been here since before day 1, meeting Jane at the bus stop where their children were picked up for school. The two bonded over the need for better access to future opportunities for people with disabilities.

Since then, Jackie created the “voice” of Independent Futures, mentored new staff, and developed the New Futures Initiative training program. Jackie’s work at Independent Futures means new opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be independent across the country. Jackie demonstrates passion and commitment to creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities to fully live, work, and give back in their communities.

Professional Participant: Nestor Gonzalez

Ann, Jane, and Nestor stand together with the framed Awesome Award certificate.Since joining Independent Futures’ community, Nestor has grown in a variety of ways. He is a hard worker, a leader, and an active community volunteer. Over the last few years, Nestor joined the Young Professionals Board where he acts as a liaison to the Advisory Council.

As a member of our community, Nestor seeks new and creative ways to maintain a productive relationship between our young professionals and participants. He enjoys his job and a healthy, loving relationship – all with grace and a professional demeanor!

Creative Community: Evanston Community Foundation

Marybeth of Evanston Community Foundation stands next to Jane and Ann with their new, gold Awesome Award statue.We awarded our final 2019 Awesome Award to Evanston Community Foundation. The foundation has walked alongside Independent Futures since the beginning. Evanston Community Foundation awarded Independent Futures our very first grant many years ago.

Since that first grant, the foundation has generously provided many new collaborative grants, funding opportunities like our Transportation Camp and Life Skills Camp. The support of Evanston Community Foundation helps us make Evanston a more just, vibrant, and inclusive place for individuals with disabilities.

Congratulations once again to each of this year’s winners! As one of our core values, community means everything here at Independent Futures. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for walking this path with us.

Building Deeper Relationships: Oak Wealth Advisors

For many years, we have worked with the planners at Oak Wealth Advisors. As trusted special needs financial advisors, the professionals at Oak Wealth Advisors demonstrate the work it takes to focus on an individual and plan with families.

A Night With the Experts

Oak Wealth Advisors logoAs a resource partner with Oak Wealth Advisors, we were proud to offer “A Night With the Experts,” a town hall event on Thursday, April 11th. Our Executive Director Ann Sickon, Dr. Meghan Burke of University of Illinois, and Mike Walther of Oak Wealth Advisors joined together to discuss the most challenging issues facing families with loved ones with disabilities.

Topics covered during the panel included transitioning through different phases of life, preparing your family for the future, communicating plans to others who will be involved, and building community relationships. Each of the three experts brought a unique perspective to offer on these topics, while answering in-depth and intriguing questions from the audience.

Oak Wealth Advisors Consultation Scholarship Opportunity  

Thanks to the generosity of Oak Wealth Advisors, we are excited to present an opportunity for one family to receive a scholarship for a 90 minute special needs financial planning consultation. During this consultation, Mike Walther and the Oak Wealth Advisors team will:

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the family’s current financial position
  • Provide recommendations on government benefits
  • Explain the benefits of ABLE accounts and Special Needs Trusts
  • Give advice related to titling assets
  • Recommend elements to include in a long-term care plan
  • Offer referrals to other special needs professionals

Oak Wealth Advisors has generously offered a second scholarship! Email clarsen@independentfutures.com to receive the second consultation scholarship.

Thank you again to our partners at Oak Wealth Advisors for allowing us the opportunity to offer this consultation.

“I Feel Valued Here”: Person-Centered Approach

Image features Jenny wearing a pink turtleneck, pink scrunchie in hair smiling at the cameraStrolling down the aisles of Jewel-Osco on Chicago Avenue in Evanston, it’s easy to bump into Center for Independent Futures’ participant Jenny Mottola. Whether she is working a shift or doing her own shopping with her life skills tutor DeeDee Block Goldman, Jenny brings vibrant energy and joy to her community.

Jenny’s Full Life

Jenny, in pink, stands with her boyfriend Nestor, who wears a black and white flannel shirt.Originally from California, Jenny has called Evanston home for more than 25 years. In addition to supporting Jenny in traditional ways, DeeDee helps Jenny pursue new, healthy interests. “Both me and my boyfriend Nestor have to be on a Mediterranean diet, so we cooked shrimp scampi. It was delicious!” Jenny said. “But, we have only cooked once. We need to cook more!” To help them stay on track and be healthy, Nestor even got Jenny a new Mediterranean cookbook.

Jenny’s mother Jackie Mottola observes, “Jenny needs support about how to advocate for herself and how to be safe living on her own. I think those are things that Center for Independent Futures has really helped her with.” Beyond safety, Jackie explains how Jenny’s involvement enriches her life. “One of the most wonderful things about Center for Independent Futures is that all of the team members know her relationships, good and bad. They support her in relationships with young adults, even those who are not in the program. There is no hesitancy to help Jenny and her roommate, who is not a regular participant, in making their relationship as good as it can be.”

Jenny poses with a friend, who is wearing a lighter blush shade of pink.Every Thursday morning for the past 7 years, I am given the great gift of spending time with Jenny,” said her tutor DeeDee. “She is living a fabulous independent life in her own apartment in Evanston. She has a rich social life, successful work history, and she is constantly growing as she creates her unique dreams and follows them.”  DeeDee adds, “I am honored to be able to support her in continuing her journey and growth.”

Impacting the Community

By living her full life, Jenny improves the community around her. Her mother observed, “I will be with Jenny miles away from Evanston, and somebody will run up to give her a hug because they know her from the grocery store. There isn’t a trip that goes by that we don’t run into somebody who wants to tell me how Jenny brightens their day.”

“I love the philosophy that you have to try things, you’re not going to shelter people, and you have to learn from experience.” Jenny’s mother continued, “You have to teach them how to be safe in their lives, and then let them go out and do it, make mistakes and learn from them.”

Jenny, in pink, poses with her mom who is wearing a gray shirt with red neck line.When asked if she would recommend Center for Independent Futures to a potential future participant, Jenny answered quickly. “Yes! Because it’s a great thing to do, and because you’ll learn a lot of things that should be learned. I think Center for Independent Futures gives a lot more support than other programs. It makes me feel happy. There are a lot of great people here who can really help. I feel valued here – more like home.”

 

Developing Inclusive Technology in Chicago

Stage at 1871 Chicago event with six blue chairs and purple lights highlighting 1871 logos behind stage.Last Thursday, Center for Independent Futures hosted an educational and engaging panel event at 1871 focusing on inclusive technology in Chicago. When developing our online learning management system, My Full Life, Independent Futures chose to focus on creating inclusive technology that would support adults with disabilities. In the last year, our consultants have met other technology professionals doing similar work. We were honored to bring these experts together for a conversation bringing accessibility and inclusion to the technology field.

Inclusive Technology in Chicago: What’s Next

Jake Joehl introduces our panel and moderator using assistive technology like braille and a screen reader.One of our community members, Jake, kickstarted the event by explaining how technology helps him in his daily life. Using screen readers, Jake is able to navigate the world and stay informed. His phone and computer both support him in living his full life. In fact, Jake used a screen reader to introduce our moderator, Roger Liew of Impact Engine.

Throughout the discussion, Liew asked important questions of our panelists about the future of technology and accessibility. Richard Brown (Infinitec/UCP Seguin), Cameron Kempson (SimplyHome), Chrissy Dale (My Full Life), and Marcelo Worsley (Northwestern University) broke down exactly why they think inclusion is the next forefront of technological innovation.

At Northwestern University, Marcelo researches how to build accessibility Panelists listen to each other speak on inclusive technology in Chicago on stage at 1871.into the design process for developers. He noted, “Accessibility at big companies tends to start with compliance, but it has to move forward.” Cameron agreed, but she says even that isn’t enough. “People should start to look beyond big tech to companies like these that are developing with accessibility and inclusion in mind.”

As businesses start to realize what a large market people with disabilities and their families are, they will figure out that accessible technology is just good business. Moving beyond compliance with the ADA is the next step for companies designing tech solutions.

Designing For All: Focusing on the Individual

Part of person-centered planning centers the concept “dignity of risk.” That means that each individual is afforded the ability to try new things and encounter the risks that comes along with new experiences. At 1871, Chrissy explained that legislative changes and technological advancements helped us spread My Full Life throughout the country. “Starting with asking someone about their hopes and dreams, My Full Life allows individuals with disabilities to learn independent living skills and branch out on their own.”

Panelists pose for a photo on stage after a successful and engaging event!Richard expanded on this idea, explaining the biggest barrier for some people with disabilities has simply been “the technology catching up to they want to do. With technology, they can live their best full life.”

Building Inclusive Technology, Designed For Everyone

Do you want to learn more about accessibility in tech? Reach out to us today to learn more about My Full Life and how it could benefit your community! Inclusive technology in Chicago is only a starting point. The need for technology solutions like these are widespread and growing each day.

Missed the 1871 event? We filmed the panel, so keep an eye out for the video, coming soon!

Ignite Dreams at SPARK With Us!

In just under a month, we will be dancing the night away and sharing the dreams of our community at SPARK. A night for our community to get together and celebrate all we have achieved this year, SPARK is a night out you don’t want to miss. This year we have some new and exciting features, plus we have been making changes to guarantee you will have the most fun possible!

Silent Auction Prizes

One part of the evening that won’t be changing is our silent auction! We have roughly 70 wonderful packages for guests to take home at the end of the evening.

Florida house view over the ocean with deck railing in frame

From wonderful dining experiences to enjoying excellent theatre performances, we hope that our guests will all find something to bid on! A few examples include a weeklong stay at a condo in Florida, two roundtrip tickets to anywhere in the U.S. from Southwest Airlines, an astounding package from SPACE, and so much more.

Watch for chances to start bidding early about a week before SPARK!

The New Golden Ticket Raffle

In past years, SPARK featured an awesome raffle where the winner was able to “split the pot” with us, but we are trying something new this year! We are happy to be introducing the Golden Ticket raffle!

Sunset in Costa Rica with palm trees in frame, the sky is painted different shades of blue, pink, orange, yellow, and purple.We are selling a limited 150 Golden Tickets, meaning you have a 1/150 chance of winning when you purchase a single ticket. Golden Ticket holders choose their prize selection at the time of purchase from our amazing live auction items. Whether you want to go to Costa Rica or see a Cubs game with stellar seats, we have an item for everyone’s needs.

Winners need not be present to win, but we hope you will stay the whole evening to dance and ignite the spark of our community’s dreams with us!

Changes to Our Program

This year, we are making exciting changes to our program! It is our hope these will allow us to better ignite dreams at SPARK. We will be shortening the program to allow for more of everyone’s favorite part of the night – dancing! We will still be honoring stellar supporters through the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards, but we will end earlier so your dancing shoes see some awesome moves!

Thank You Sponsors, Entertainment, and Guests!

Finally, we want to thank some amazing individuals and businesses who are supporting us at SPARK this year. First, our entertainment, Euphoria Band, will be putting on a great show for us again this year.

Crowd of guests dancing at SPARKNext, thank you to our sponsors because we could not put together such an amazing celebration without each of you. Thank you PSAV, Sidley Austin, Inland Bank, Byline Bank, Monahan Law Group, Rubin Law, Northwestern University, Oak Wealth Advisors, Simon Cordwell Buenz, and Nike Whitcomb & Associates for your support!

And last but never least, we thank our guests at SPARK who will join us in honoring this community. None of the hopes and dreams we help make reality could ever be possible without every one of you! Get your tickets today!

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