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.”

“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.”

 

“You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”: Our Partnership with Club 21

Logo for Club 21 in red with blue and green people illustrations to the left.Center for Independent Futures partners with agencies that strive to create a society enriched by the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Club 21 Learning and Resource Center, located in Pasadena, California, is an educational learning center that provides tools and resources that enable individuals with Down Syndrome to be fully included. As her daughter approached the end of her high school career, Club 21 Executive Director Nancy Litteken was desperately searching for person-centered tools to support Molly’s independence.

Discovering My Full Life™

It wasn’t until well into the early hours of the morning when Nancy discovered our work through an exhaustive internet search. She spent time reading through the Center for Independent Futures website, including our My Full Life online application. An entirely person-centered approach, Nancy wondered if My Full Life might be exactly the tool she was looking for.

Nancy discovered our comprehensive person-centered tools and became excited. “I was blown away,” Nancy recalls. “Their process is hopeful. I think having tools that equip families, educators, and agencies gives freedom, hope, and choice. It helps you dream.”

Making Dreams Into Reality

Adam poses with friends he has made through Center for Independent FuturesTo turn hopes and dreams into reality, our My Full Life process provides structured tools such as the Skills Inventory to help families develop a roadmap to independence. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” reflects Nancy. This realization led Nancy to go a step further with My Full Life by seeking our Skills Inventory certification.

Two members of our staff, Cynthia Witherspoon and Chrissy Dale, have gotten to know Nancy and Club 21 very well. Cynthia has visited their offices several times throughout training Club 21’s three Skills Inventory Consultants. Each of these consultants is now certified to use our approach in working with families. By completing the Skills Inventory, Nancy says, “you realize what you don’t know, and then the tool helps you discover what you need to do about it. It’s pretty phenomenal.”

Our online application also allows greater freedom for agencies to tailor our tools to their specific population. Nancy explains, “I love that we can upload pictures to My Full Life. Our participants with Down Syndrome are very visual learners, and we can keep adding visuals and adapting the curriculum.” My Full Life Director Chrissy Dale says, “When we developed My Full Life into a learning management system using technology, we realized the potential to impact lives has no limit.”

As the demand for person-centered tools increases locally and nationally, we are ready to work with organizations like Club 21. Nancy observes, “I think we are reimagining what life with a disability looks like. I think it’s the job of Center for Independent Futures and Club 21 to redefine disability from the start.”

Get In Touch!

Learn more about My Full Life and how your agency can get started with person-centered approaches today! Fill out the form for more information on our School & Agency page to hear from a consultant soon.

A Jam-Packed Life

This story was featured in our 2017 Annual Report, which can be found on the Media Gallery page on our website. Check it out to learn more about our partnerships with families, schools, and agencies across the country.

Just Adam Being Adam

Living a full, independent life is something most people want as they grow up. Adam Wiser is no different. Over time, Adam knew he wanted to live on his own. He wanted to explore the world around him with a jam-packed life full of activities he loves.

Adam smiles at past Something's Cooking fundraiserA road trip offers a chance to experience new places, broaden horizons, and have fun. For Center for Independent Futures participant Adam Wiser, a road trip seemed like a great opportunity to bond with buddies. So last year, Adam and two of his friends went to Pittsburgh, singing along to Billy Joel and enjoying the “thrill of the open road.”

When Adam moved to the Chicagoland area, he left his family behind in Indiana. He fell in love with Evanston, and built a life filled with work at Nordstroms Café, cruising around on his Diamondback, and hanging out with friends. These days, Adam loves movies on the big screen and prefers comedy and action films. “You need to see the second Thor movie,” Adam advises. “It’ll really make you laugh!”  An avid sports follower and loyal Cubs fan, he enjoys an occasional chance to see them play. “It feels awesome to be at Wrigley Field,” he shares. “I am not really into the SOX.”

Following Adam’s Dreams

Adam poses with friends he has made through Center for Independent FuturesAdam’s parents, Tom and Gloria, encourage him to follow his dreams. “We want our son to grow as an individual, expand relationships, and have the support he needs to become who he is meant to be…his best self,” shares Tom. With Center for Independent Futures support, Adam is part of a genuine community and has a full life with authentic connections. “If anything comes up, serious or not, someone is there to support him through it,” says Tom. “For parents living away from their kids, that’s a lifesaver.”

“It’s an absolute joy to be part of Adam’s team and to watch his confidence and capabilities grow,” relates Community Builder, Aby Karottu. “He brings so much humor, positive energy, and liveliness to the community, and he always lends a helping hand.” Aby adds, “I consider myself lucky to support such a caring, charismatic, and kind young man.”

Adam’s Pittsburgh adventure included the symphony, a Pirates game, and the Heinz Museum, where he learned all about the city’s transportation history…and ketchup. When Adam thinks about his goals, more road trips and see new things are at the top of his list. Adam’s next destination: The Mall of America in Minneapolis. Anybody ready to hit the road?

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