Auxiliary Board and Advisory Council Build Friendships

This week, Center for Independent Futures’ Auxiliary Board and Advisory Council held a joint meeting to get to know each other better and build friendships. The Auxiliary Board, made up of young professionals with and without disabilities, plans fundraisers and events like SPARK. Participants join the Advisory Council to help with events and plan their own fundraisers, like the upcoming Backyard BBQ.

Members of the Auxiliary Board & Advisory Council pose after playing charades to build friendships and community
Members of the Auxiliary Board & Advisory Council pose after playing charades

To start a great night, the groups introduced themselves and what brings them to Center for Independent Futures. Over the last few months, several new members have joined the Auxiliary Board. This meeting offered the opportunity to get to know the Center for Independent Futures community better in a fun and exciting way.

Build Friendships With a Game

At this meeting, the two groups decided they would play charades as a fun community building activity. Anu Rajendran, Auxiliary Board chair, chose a game, and the group divided into two teams, mixing the groups together. The group shared lots of laughter and joy through this game. But this carefree fun wasn’t the only way these groups celebrated.

Niki Moe, the liaison between the two groups, picked up a couple of extra-large pizzas from Gigio’s Pizzeria. The board and council greatly appreciated the pizzas, and purchasing the pizzas supports Center for Independent Futures too. Throughout the month of June, you can contribute to building independent futures too. Just order any kind of extra large pizza from Gigio’s, either by walking in or over the phone, and Gigio’s will donate $2.00 to Center for Independent Futures.

Growing Friendships to Build Community

After playing charades and enjoying pizza together, the Auxiliary Board and Advisory Council members went their separate ways – but that won’t be the end of these relationships. As we move forward, the two groups look forward to building deeper friendships. With plans to have more joint meetings, expect friendships to grow and communities to expand.

Welcome Back Families CCAN

Families CCAN logoWhen families of individuals with disabilities consider the future, one question looms large: Where will my loved one live, and who will support them to live the fullest life possible?

With the present housing crisis for individuals with disabilities growing, that is the question that Center for Independent Futures supports families to answer with the New Futures Initiative™. We help families of individuals with disabilities discover housing models that fit their needs, working with agencies like Families Creating Communities for Adults with Special Needs (Families CCAN).

Families CCAN is designing innovative housing models with families in Pennsylvania, using the knowledge and tools they learn from participating in our New Futures Initiative™ training. In 2016, Families CCAN brought their first family group to Evanston, where they toured our Community Living Options. They began to create a picture for their loved ones’ futures and went back to Philadelphia with the tools they need to bring their vision to life.

On May 19th and 20th, Center for Independent Futures is welcoming a second family group from Families CCAN to our office where they will begin the training to develop their own housing model. We are excited to continue building our relationship with this organization whose mission aligns so closely with our own. Two members of the Families CCAN team who observed the last family group training will co-lead this training as part of the process to become certified New Futures Initiative facilitators.

Throughout the weekend, the family group will have the chance to meet with our participants, staff, board, and other community members, as well as see our Community Living Options firsthand. After exploring different options, this group will determine their own vision and criteria before embarking on creating their own community living opportunities. Dr. Paul Arntson, Northwestern Professor Emeritus and Asset Based Community Development Emeritus Faculty Member, will join the training to share his expertise on community organizing and building, critical approaches that groups must apply in order to successfully reach their goals.

We can’t wait to meet this new family group. Our community is looking forward to this special visit!

SPARK 2018 Awesome Awards

At SPARK, staff and Board members presented the fourth annual Awesome Awards to a staff member, a community partner, and a participant. This year’s winners exemplify Center for Independent Futures’ values of innovation, community partnerships, and diversity that have been the backbone of our organization for the last 16 years.

Staff Awesome Award

Features Cynthia, winner of staff Awesome AwardCommunity Life Coordinator Cynthia Witherspoon was the recipient of our staff award. Throughout her eleven years of dedication to Center for Independent Futures, Cynthia has demonstrated high-quality performance in each of the many areas she works, all while maintaining a positive attitude. Cynthia creates strong community connections and honors individual’s capabilities with kindness and creative perspectives. Cynthia’s hard work, consistency, and knowledge contribute to her ability to live the Center for Independent Futures philosophy.

Community Partner Awesome Award

Next, we honored community partner Northwestern University. Northwestern’s faculty and administrative staff have walked with us since we opened our doors, supporting us in a variety of ways, and assisting us to spread awareness of the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities living full lives in Evanston. As our partner, Northwestern University has created kind, caring, and respectful relationships with our organization and our participants.

Participant Awesome Award

Lindsay, participant Awesome Award winnerFinally, our participant awardee is Lindsay Tonyan. Lindsay is a perfect example of someone who is living a full life, taking appropriate risks to pursue new experiences and opportunities. A kind, welcoming, and encouraging person, Lindsay perseveres through obstacles to find a solution. She often volunteers to help out, and she is a role model for all as a positive representative of Center for Independent Futures.

We are grateful for the contributions from Cynthia, Northwestern University, and Lindsay. Our community is stronger because of these members. Congratulations to each of these winners on a well-deserved honor at SPARK!

Creating Inclusive Communities for All

Last month, the ARC of Illinois hosted their 68th annual ARC Conference. From April 25-26, service professionals, educators, and many others came together to discuss how we can “Unite, Empower, Act” to create an inclusive society with all opportunities available to individuals with disabilities. Coming together united, attendees were able to share new tools, new ideas, and best practices for supporting individuals.

Additionally, the conference offers individuals with disabilities the opportunity to share their stories, complete with struggles, successes, and dreams.

Center for Independent Futures staff pose after attending and presenting at ARC ConferenceCenter for Independent Futures staff made two presentations at this year’s conference. The first panel, titled “Creating Housing Solutions Through Community Partnerships,”shared information about our New Futures Initiative™ training. This program highlights our current work with family groups supported by a grant from the Coleman Foundation. The panel presentation featured families, service providers, developers, and supportive technology providers who shared how this collaborative approach can help families create new community housing solutions.

The second panel, led by Change Champions Project Director Kathy Lyons, focused on creating inclusive communities. Members of four diverse communities shared how they are creating inclusive communities for all, including individuals with disabilities. The Change Champions project, funded by a grant from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, illustrates what happens when we make inclusion a priority.

We would like to thank the ARC of Illinois for the opportunity to present our innovative solutions to problems facing the disability community today at the ARC Conference. If you would like more information about housing training or the Change Champions project, call us at (847) 328-2044.

7 Answers You Need About ABLE Accounts

A Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts are new savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. If you would like to be able to save more than $2,000 for rainy days in your future, ABLE accounts are probably something you have considered. On March 22nd, Center for Independent Futures proudly hosted JJ Hanley from the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office for a presentation on the new ABLE accounts.

If you are worried you aren’t eligible for or have other concerns about ABLE accounts, read this blog to learn from Director of IL ABLE, JJ Hanley, about the ins and outs of these new savings accounts.

1. What is an ABLE account?

Scrabble pieces spell out "savings account," which is what ABLE accounts are.ABLE accounts are new savings accounts, specifically for individuals with disabilities. This is a way for you to save money without losing any of your SSI or SSDI benefits — or any other federal, means-tested benefits. States created ABLE accounts with the hope they would help individuals have the opportunity for independence and self-reliance.

2. Do I qualify for an ABLE account?

Now that you know what an ABLE account is, you are probably asking if an ABLE account is right for you. There are very few qualifications to meet for ABLE accounts. First, you must have a disability. Second, the age of onset of your disability must be before age 26.  However, that does not mean that you had to be diagnosed before age 26. If your disability started at age 15, but you weren’t diagnosed until age 32, you can still qualify for an ABLE savings account.

3. Who should open an ABLE account?

An ABLE account is right for you if you’re someone with a disability, and you want to be able to save more than $2,000 at a time. This is particularly true if you are working a job. You can save $15,000 a year in an ABLE account without affecting your SSI benefits, and you can save up to $100,000 within an account.

4. When can I use an ABLE account?

You might have many questions about when you can use savings from an ABLE account. The quick answer is: any living expenses related to a disability. But as these accounts are new, you may need to experiment to find out what limits exist, if any. One goal in creating ABLE accounts is to end the isolation within the community, so there is a lot of wiggle room in what counts as disability related.

5. What options do I have with ABLE accounts?

There are several options to choose from when you decide to open an ABLE account. You can either open a checking account or one of six risk-targeted investment options. It is important to discuss these options with someone you trust before making a decision.

6. How do I open an ABLE account?

You should not go to a bank and try to open one of these accounts because most people won’t know what you’re referring to. You can open an ABLE account online through the ABLE IL website or by calling the Illinois ABLE office.

7. Whose name is a debit card in with an Authorized Individual?

A gold piggy bank against a dark backgroundFinally, if there is an Authorized Individual included on the ABLE account, the agency issues the debit card in the Authorized Individual’s name. This means that if an individual is unable to make financial decisions on their own, a parent or legal guardian is able to make sure the money is spent when necessary.

At Center for Independent Futures, we would like to extend another big thank you to JJ Hanley for sharing this information with us. Now you can watch the full video from JJ Hanley’s presentation at Center for Independent Futures right here on our website.

David’s Senior Bowl Dreams Come True!

Logo for Senior Bowl. David attended and made his Senior Bowl dreams come true. Center for Independent Futures participant David Kromelow has been dreaming for three years about attending the Senior Bowl, a post-season college football all-star game played each January in Mobile, Alabama. The event showcases the best NFL Draft prospects of those players who have completed their college eligibility. The game has consistently been played on a Saturday in January, and the week-long practice that precedes the game is attended by key NFL personnel (including coaches, general managers and scouts), who oversee the players as possible prospects for pro football. Last year, David just didn’t feel it. This year he achieved his Senior Bowl dreams.

How David Made It Happen

“I wanted to go because it would be a great experience to network and interact with people in the NFL and in the journalism business,” explains David. To get himself ready, David spent a lot of time over the course of the past year practicing his craft by hosting a weekly podcast and reaching out to guests via social media. He worked hard on his podcast and website to push out content and to stay on top of all the important NFL news, and to connect with others in the industry.

Feeling more comfortable, in tune with college football, and armed with information to interview journalists, prospects, NFL media relations, and PR teams, David headed for Mobile. “It is hard to describe because it was such an amazing experience,” relates David. “I flew in on Monday, checked into the hotel, and attended an introductory media hosted event. I was able to hit the ground running and interview many prominent reporters.”

The most powerful moment of the week came during the Senior Bowl2 football players in a tense moment introduction press conference. Shaquem Griffin, a University of Central Florida defensive player, and very unique player in the football world given the fact that he lost one of his hands due to a birth defect, was present. David posed this question: “What advice would you give kids with any kind of disability?” Griffin responded with a powerful statement…“It’s not a disability unless you make it one.”

“Hearing his answer made me think, this guy is wise beyond his years and it would be a shame if he didn’t get a shot in the NFL. He has the mental toughness to be successful and to defy the odds – because he has been doubted his whole life. It was an inspiring moment.”

Living Out His Senior Bowl Dreams

After the first day, David met two of the best NFL local beat reporters. He learned that conducting a brief 2-5 minute interview with notable guests is a great way to collect large amounts of quality content and information. “I had the chance to interview Albert Breer, an American football journalist and reporter for Sports Illustrated‘s MMQB, and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the latest buzz in the industry,” David shares about his Senior Bowl dreams experience. “It was awesome! Unfortunately, his phone went off and we weren’t able to finish the interview.” David muses, “I have improved a lot in the past few years in my understanding of social cues, and the experience with Albert demonstrated it.”

Senior Bowl field with logoCenter for Independent Futures Life Skills Tutor, Jake Rohde, has been impressed with David’s determination and drive. “It has been great to support David, and to watch him go after his Senior Bowl dreams. He’s an inspiration!” David hopes to attend future Senior Bowls and similar events to keep building contacts, making connections, and boosting his profile. His ultimate goal is to develop a career in sports reporting. “I am fortunate to have my parents, friends, and family supporting me at every turn,“ he says. “Their constant encouragement motivates me to keep the train rolling!”

So, what does it feel like to be living the dream? “The best way I can put it is that I felt like a kid in a candy store AND the candy there was even sweeter than expected.”

Help David Achieve His Dreams

Visit David’s website: http://www.sportskrunch.com

Listen to David’s podcasts: http://www.sportskrunch.com/episodes-page/

 You may also find David’s podcasts on iTunes, the Apple Podcast App, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Search “Sports Krunch” to find the entire podcast listing.

ARC of IL 16th Annual QIDP Conference

ARC Illinois logo, ARC Conference theme is "Unite, Empower, Act"The Arc of Illinois will be holding the 16th Annual Qualified Intellectual Disabilities Professional (QIDP) Leadership Conference on January 23 in Alsip, IL. This year’s conference will feature John Dickerson, a leader in the field whose key career milestones included the transformation of services in Indiana – the closure of all state hospitals by creating community supports for the people who lived in five state institutions; lowering the waiting list from 12 years to less than 1 year. As a lobbyist and community organizer, he has seen the power of both the individual and those who come together to create change – make incredible progress.

John’s presentation will focus on “Making a Difference” by providing John Dickerson, presenter at ARC QIDP Conferencespecific tools to bring people closer to the people they support, more engaged with the organization, and feeling more supported and better about themselves. Participants will leave with specific, easy to use ideas that they can begin implementing tomorrow. John is the founder and CEO of Quillo, a unique new approach to the workforce crisis facing organizations serving people with disabilities.

Break out sessions later in the afternoon feature topics around Government Benefits, Healthy Relationships and Healthy Sexuality for People with Developmental Disabilities, and Creating Trauma Informed Organizations. Speakers include Sherri Schneider, President of Family Benefit Solutions, Inc., Susan Kahan, a member of the clinical staff at the University of Illinois at Chicago Developmental Disability Family Clinics and Krescene Beck, program coordinator for the Illinois Self Advocacy Alliance.

Arc of Illinois Belief & Mission

The Arc of Illinois truly believes that we are all people first and because of that, regardless of any developmental or intellectual differences, everyone deserves the same rights and opportunities. The Arc regularly hosts events to gather family members, self advocates, and professionals in the field and educate them on the latest and best practices.

California, Here We Come!

Logo for Club 21 in red with blue and green people illustrations to the left.With the bitterly cold weather hovering over the Chicago Area, three of the Center for Independent Futures staff will cheerfully head off to sunny California to present at the Annual “Tools for the Journey” Conference sponsored by Club 21 Learning and Resource Center. Club 21’s mission is to provide the educational tools and resources that enable individuals with Down syndrome to be fully included. Founded in 2009, the organization offers a variety of services for individuals and their families designed to support, educate, advocate and celebrate.

Meeting with Club 21

In April 2017, a phone call from Nancy Litteken, Club 21’s Executive Photo of Club 21 ED Nancy LittekenDirector, began our relationship with this eight-year-old California non-profit. We discovered very quickly that our values are the same, and that this organization has made incredible strides to support individuals and families in their area. As our conversations continued, Nancy and her team immediately saw the value of our Full Life Process™, and they are piloting the online application in California.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to bring our work to the west coast,” remarks Ann Sickon. “Nancy and her team are creative and innovative, and we anticipate a long relationship that will benefit both of our organizations.” Presentations at the “Tools for the Journey” Conference will focus on Center for Independent Futures’ Full Life Process™ online application, the Bridge Builders & Community Connectors Project to foster Community Inclusion, and our New Futures Initiative Training to create community-based housing solutions.

For more Conference information and registration, visit Club 21’s website.

Founders Reflect on Fifteen Years

More than fifteen years ago, Kay Branz and Jane Doyle came to a realization about the opportunities their daughters, Elise and Paige, would have available to them after graduating from high school. The conclusion was stark: the options that their daughters desired and deserved simply did not exist.

“To discover that there was really nothing to transition to for young adults with disabilities once they left the school system was breathtakingly eye-opening,” Kay said. “The two of us realized that if there was going to be any opportunity, we’d have to do something.”

From gathering at their kitchen table to gathering families who shared similar visions for their loved ones, that “something” became Center for Independent Futures in 2002. Today, Center for Independent Futures has supported hundreds of individuals with disabilities and their families through our innovative product and service models. And every day, our community members learn new independent living skills, achieve goals, and work toward their dreams.

Kay and Jane’s daughters have been no exception. When Kay and her husband, Glen, moved to Seattle, they knew that Elise had enough support to stay in her own apartment in Evanston, and she frequently travels to visit them. “The support Center for Independent Futures provides has helped Elise have a positive relationship with her family,” Kay shared.

Jane has also seen her daughter fulfill dreams since Center for Independent Futures was founded. From achieving employment goals to planning her wedding, Paige has defied any limits. “Paige has been my greatest teacher because she’s always surprising me,” Jane said.

Like Elise and Paige, Center for Independent Futures has grown in many ways over the past fifteen years. But although the staff and office are larger, the vision has remained the same, and success can be measured by each goal accomplished and every dream fulfilled.

“The greatest joy and testament to Center for Independent Futures’ founding and continued existence are all the individuals with disabilities who have been given the opportunity and supports to contribute to our larger community,” Kay said. “We are all the richer for their participation and contributions.”

Success Stories

tue28sep3:00 pm4:00 pmWalking Club - In Person

tue28sep5:15 pm6:00 pmMeditation - Zoom

tue28sep6:30 pm8:00 pmArt Club - In Person

wed29sep1:00 pm2:00 pmBingo - Wednesdays - Zoom

wed29sep4:00 pm5:00 pmYoga - Wednesday - Zoom

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