Reflecting on Recent Events

When our staff gathered virtually this week for our Monday morning meeting, we reflected on the extraordinary events of the previous weeks. Together, we talked about how staff and participants are dealing with these trying times. Our thoughts and reactions included shock, disbelief, and fear of the future. 

Why is this happening in our country? 

Why are people so angry? 

What will happen next?

Many feel saddened and fearful hearing daily reports of deaths due to COVID-19 and the recent violence and hatred attacking the foundations of our democracy. The news has overwhelmed many people’s hopes for the fresh starts and new beginnings that often accompany the New Year. Instead more worries and concerns are added to our already strained lives. 

At Independent Futures, we are mindful of participants, their families, and our staff as we all try to navigate these chaotic times. Our feelings of disbelief and fear are real and valid. 

But how do we pivot from fear to courage? Can we choose to be hopeful?

Our Next Steps Forward

While the times we live in are stressful, we can choose to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Individually, we can reach out to family, focus on self-care by listening to what our bodies need, and make choices that will keep us safe from the virus and violence. 

As a community, we can have conversations and be open to new ideas. We can choose to be tolerant of different views, and choose to be brave and open. We can chart new courses with new perspectives. We can continue to create opportunities for individuals with disabilities to live full lives in their communities.

Together, we have strength. Together, we can choose hope. Together, we can work towards a more strong, equitable, and collaborative community. 

5 Reasons to Give

Looking back on 2020, it is clear that this year has brought many unexpected challenges. However, 2020 prompted us to be better, more creative problem solvers. Each unprecedented moment of this year showed us that when our communities support each other, nothing is impossible. 

While we reflect on the past year, it is also time to look forward to 2021. The next year holds many exciting challenges and opportunities for Independent Futures. To keep Independent Futures moving forward, check out these 5 reasons to give, helping us create momentum into 2021.

Activities Like Never Before

Screenshot of Zoom screen from bingo night with many faces.When the pandemic began, we quickly moved our activities into virtual spaces. Since then, these virtual activities have been a bright spot for individuals who are used to exploring their community. Being required to stay inside has meant there is an increased need for the supports that Independent Futures offers to adults with disabilities. 

In 2021, we will continue offering virtual activities for any individuals who want to sign up. Your support makes it possible to continue offering ways to lessen feelings of loneliness and isolation during the rest of the pandemic.

New Ways To Learn Life Skills

My Full LifeOur My Full Life™ team is working on ways to get skill development support to more individuals than ever before. Even before the pandemic began, many agencies had waiting lists for supports that would last months. With the changes we are making to My Full Life, Independent Futures hopes to help reduce those waiting times. Keep watching for more news soon, but your support is key to making opportunities accessible for adults with disabilities nationwide. 

Creating Housing Options Online

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.

The New Futures Initiative™ team is creating new ways to expand access to our housing training too. The team is testing online training with our partners at Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin. For family groups across the country, this online option could make a big difference. In 2021, our consultation teams will focus on growing access to our unique programs.

Continuing Incredible Supports

Sarah smiles in foreground of photo with two women standing behind her, one in green and the other in blue.Independent Futures’ Direct Support team never stopped providing supports to our community. By creatively problem-solving with participants, life skills tutors have used Zoom, social distancing, and mask guidelines to keep our community safe while continuing to provide support. The need for support couldn’t be paused, and the need will continue in 2021. 

Sustaining This Community

Ann & Niki hold a sign saying "Thank You Independent Futures Drive-Thru" while wearing masksWith virtual events and online activities, sustaining our community has taken a village. By working together, our staff was able to provide supports and fun through even the hardest moments of 2020.

Together, we have all experienced things differently than ever before. But it is clear that the work of building and sustaining community is never done. With your support, our community can reach more folks than ever in the new year. Make a gift online today at our online giving page

A SPARK Like Never Before

On Saturday, November 7th, Independent Futures hosted our first ever virtual SPARK! This community has grown so much over the past year. It was time to celebrate! Whether you were able to join us or not, you can watch the video on YouTube. Until then, check out the recap of a night we will never forget. 

Wonderful Performances At SPARK

A young man sits with face illuminated as he reads poetry. Purple intro banner reads "Adrian Drower, poetry reading"

Did you know that the Independent Futures community is fortunate to have artists of all types? At SPARK, three individuals treated us to performances of their talents. Sheila Serota sang an original song for us. Adrian Drower performed an original poetry reading. Finally, Carlos Coleman played a lovely piano duet. Check out the performances and learn more about these artists in the clip below.

 Our Awesome Community

Like always, we announced the recipients of the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards at SPARK. First, our outstanding Community Partner has always offered their support during our events. Dennis Clarkson and Gigio’s Pizzeria are like a family, and they have always helped out whenever they could.

A woman stands in front of a gray/green background with a gray shirt and  light blue scarf on. The purple intro banner reads "Sharon Purdy, Awesome Award Recipient"

The Staff recipient puts equity and access at the forefront of all that she does. In her work with the Evanston Township High School Transition House, students develop important life skills before leaving school. Sharon Purdy truly embodies what it means to be community focused. 

 

Finally, the Participant recipient is someone who has a vibrant social life and is always willing to lend a hand. Jenny Mottola serves on the Advisory Council and has been part of our community for many years. 

Aiming For The Stars

At the end of the evening, we were joined by our favorite Chicagoland band, Euphoria! With a 45 minute set, Euphoria helped us make SPARK 2020 an evening to remember. Audience members got out of their seats and danced through every song Euphoria played! 

Illustrated graphic that shows a red Alfa Romero car behind an orange construction sign reading "Detour Rescheduled Sat. Nov 7 2020"And to make the evening even better, we met our fundraising goal thanks to all of your support! Not only did we reach our goal, but we were also able to fulfill the match offered by generous donors. Now we are ready to take on 2021 and everything the new year will bring. 

We don’t have all of the information about SPARK 2021 yet, but we expect to hold the event in the fall. We hope to see you all there! 

Discover How to Celebrate Giving Tuesday!

Two light-skinned hands holding a red heart against a dark grain wood backgroundThanksgiving week is packed with great opportunities to treat yourself these days. Starting with great meals and lots of family time, Thanksgiving kicks off a week of fun. Next, many of us enjoy Black Friday for the deals, and local shoppers celebrate Small Business Saturday. On Monday, we search the web for more deals, and then we can finally turn our attention to community on #GivingTuesday.

Two years ago, Independent Futures hit our $20,000 #GivingTuesday donations goal for the first time! Thanks to your support, we are hoping to raise $20,000 on Tuesday, December 1st this year. 

Wondering how to celebrate Giving Tuesday with all the holiday bustle around you? RSVP to our #GivingTuesday calendar event to receive a reminder to donate on December 1st! 

Independent Futures Needs Your Support

2 pictures of people under the words "Essential workers keep us safe." Below it reads "Your support keeps essential workers safe too, from direct support professionals to grocery store employees. #GivingTuesday • December 1, 2020"When our office was closed, Independent Futures in-person activities were placed on hold. Our activities director quickly learned how to move activities into virtual spaces, and we have been able to have a full calendar of virtual activities that participants say ease the loneliness of staying home.

Our tutors and Community Life Coordinators have continued support services while complying with pandemic related guidelines. With masks, social distancing, and some Zoom meetings, the Direct Service team has risen to meet these vast challenges in supports. 

Our adaptations have not ended. Independent Futures has creative  plans and is continuing to adjust to our ever-changing world. The New Futures Initiative consultation team is creating an online training program to make our housing creation expertise more widely accessible to families and organizations across the country. This month we will start a virtual training with a family group in Wisconsin, and will continue to support  more groups throughout the coming year.

Photo includes testimony from a Young Professionals Board member about how Independent Futures positively impacted her life.So far, each of you has helped Independent Futures transform a difficult year into an inspiring story of communities coming together to support each other. That is exactly who Independent Futures is: united, creative, and resilient. 

When you contribute to our work, you are an advocate for a better future: a world where all individuals have access to the opportunities of a full life, whether that is building friendships, getting a new job, or simply choosing where to live. 

By supporting Independent Futures’ work, you make a difference in this community every day. We hope you will support us in continuing this momentum on #GivingTuesday.

How to Celebrate Giving Tuesday

3 women smiling together underneath the words "Independent Lives Full Friendships" and a green and purple cross-hatch heart. The bottom says "Support independence & friendships during #GivingTuesday on 12/1."On Tuesday, December 1st, we are participating in #GivingTuesday. Donate to Independent Futures on December 1st to show your support for Illinois nonprofits! With your support, we know we can meet our goal of $20,000 on #GivingTuesday.

 

Every dollar donated in honor of independent futures means we can continue to support individuals with disabilities and their full lives. Through #GivingTuesday, you help us create a future where individuals with disabilities have equitable access to the opportunities of a full life.

Future Planning For Successful Families: Oak Wealth Advisors

Oak Wealth Advisors logo This blog was written by our community partner Michael Walther of Oak Wealth Advisors. As experts in special needs planning, the people at Oak Wealth Advisors can provide your family with the support you need to put your future in order.

 

Families of loved ones with special needs face greater challenges with future planning than other families do. In Oak Wealth Advisors’ experience working with families of loved ones with special needs, we have been able to identify a number of traits that separate those who are more successful than the others.

5 Keys To Future Planning Success

Families who have been the most successful with their future planning have the following things in common:

1. They are always working on their planning. It is a journey, not an event. Planning must be an ongoing active process.

Know Your Network

A person in a wheelchair moves down a hallway in action2. They have fiduciary advisors assisting them. Fiduciary advisors are required by law to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own. Insurance agents, stock brokers and others who may call themselves financial advisors, but who will not put their status as a fiduciary advisor in writing, should be approached with caution. These non-fiduciaries get compensated for selling products like insurance policies and annuities and have conflicts of interest that will likely harm your planning.

3. Successful families cast a wide net. Having a trusted network and being actively engaged in the special needs community allows them to learn of opportunities before others. It also enables them to find answers to new issues more easily when they arise.

Documentation and Communication

4. They document their planning. Estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney are essential written documents. Care guides and letters of intent are not legal documents but are nonetheless also valuable documents due to the information they contain.

Family members and staff gather around a group of sticky notes from a planning session5. They communicate their future planning. There are two benefits to letting other family members know what planning is in place and what is contemplated for the future. This allows people to learn that they have been named to serve in some capacity in the future. This allows them to ask questions and understand what is expected and also to decline to serve if they do not believe they will be able to meet the expectations of the family.

Sarah smiles in foreground of photo with two women standing behind her, one in green and the other in blue.By learning that a future member of the planning team for a loved one is not interested in the role, the family has time to identify and implement other people for the needed roles. Communication also avoids unexpected generosity that negatively impacts the planning that is done. In summary, the more your extended family knows, the smoother the implementation of your planning will be.

Tools For Success

As you likely noticed, these actions have no financial cost, but they do require timing and thought. We hope all families will focus on these things to improve their long-term planning success.

Check out past blogs from Michael Walther on planning for the future and school year tips for success

RSVP To Virtual SPARK!

Independent Futures hosted SPARK every April for more than a decade. Like many other organizations, this year has presented us with opportunities to try new things, like moving to a virtual SPARK! We are working hard to make our virtual celebration as much fun as our typical annual celebration.

How To Attend SPARK

Illustrated graphic that shows a red Alfa Romero car behind an orange construction sign reading "Detour Rescheduled Sat. Nov 7 2020"Head over to our SPARK event page to RSVP. Because SPARK will be online, Independent Futures will not sell tickets. For the first time, SPARK is free to attend for all – even our post-celebration dance party.

When you RSVP for SPARK, you will receive a confirmation email that includes a Zoom link. Save this email or add it to your calendar to make sure you don’t lose the link. We will also send reminder emails starting the week before November 7th. Those emails will also include the Zoom link in case your original email goes missing! 

What To Expect At Virtual SPARK

While SPARK usually entails dancing, dinner, auctions, and games, our program will be shorter this year. The program will also be driven by individuals in our community who want to share their talents. 

When you tune in, you can expect to hear from Ann Sickon, our Executive Director, and watch performances arranged and filmed by participants or tutors. In between these accomplished artists, we will announce our 2020 Awesome Award honorees! 

Our Exclusive After Party

People dance at SPARK after the end of the program.After we end our virtual SPARK program, Independent Futures is thrilled to announce that we will be hosting an after party! 

Join us and our favorite band, Euphoria, for a 45 minute dance party! All you need to do is stay on the Zoom call during a 5 minute intermission. After intermission, we will return with Euphoria ready to play some of your favorite songs. 

You Can Help Independent Futures

A woman and young man next to each other at SPARK, an Evanston eventIf you are able, the best way to help Independent Futures right now is by donating to SPARK. No gift is too small – or too great. You can donate online or via text by texting SPARK20 to 44-321. 

Don’t forget: RSVP today to be part of this unique celebration. We hope to see you online on November 7th!

sat07nov7:00 pmEvent OverVirtual EventSPARK

Bingo Night From Home

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

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

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

Bingo Night From Home In The Time of COVID

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

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

Playing To Win

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

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

Join Us Next Time!

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

Help Create A Citizens Agenda

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

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

Why A Citizens Agenda?

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

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

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

Advocacy Resources for Illinois Residents

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

WBEZ Survey

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

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

Illinois Housing Blueprint

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

National Advocacy Resources

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

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

Using Your Power

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

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

By Ed Carter, ablefutures.org

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

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

Choose to Have the Best People in Your Camp

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

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

Put Yourself Through Boot Camp

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

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

Gear Up for a Good Fight

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

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

Discover Our Slate of Fall Events

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

Drive Thru For Full Lives

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

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

Bingo With Alexis Bevels

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

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

Drive-In Movie at Temperance Beer Co.

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

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

Taking SPARK Online

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

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

Thank You!

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

Success Stories

mon18jan1:00 pm2:00 pmSocial Hour

mon18jan2:15 pm2:45 pmDance Party with Suzy Crawford

mon18jan4:00 pm5:00 pmYoga

mon18jan5:00 pm5:45 pmMeditation

mon18jan5:00 pm6:00 pmBook Club

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