Exploring Evanston: Travel the Town

In Illinois, students with disabilities can stay in school until age 22. From ages 18-22, this group of students typically participates in a transition program where they learn life skills. 

At Independent Futures, we partner with Evanston Township High School’s Transition House every summer. Our school team works with transition professionals to create a weeklong program that teaches critical skills for navigating the community. This program is called Travel the Town (formerly Life Tools Camp). 

This year, we hosted Travel the Town at Hub 930, a community space housed in one of our Community Living Options on Chicago Avenue. A group of 7 young men from the Transition House discovered all that Evanston has to offer them.

What Are Critical Life Skills? 

Let’s begin with an understanding of what Independent Futures considers ‘critical life skills.’ These are the skills that we need to live independently, like cooking, cleaning, and being safe. 

For example, as part of Travel the Town, students begin each day by discussing the day’s plan. They cover questions like: Where will we go? Is that north or south? How will we get there? What is the best behavior in context? 

Each of these questions help the students build safety habits, like not wandering and understanding public transportation. Building from these questions, the group voted on what they wanted to do and then left for their activities.

Where Did Travel the Town Explore? 

Two students prepare lunch at Hub 930.The Transition House travelers explored a lot of Evanston, including the Evanston Public Library  South Branch, parks, Andy’s Custard, Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop, Evanston Police Department, and more.

To visit all of these fun local favorites, the group took either the CTA bus or the ‘El’ trains. Led by Sharon Purdy and Cynthia Witherspoon, the students would determine which direction they needed to go and which train would take them there, plus which stop to get off. Each day, they navigated Evanston together, enjoying the freedom to go where they decided. 

Sharon’s favorite part of Travel the Town is the chance to spend “unstructured” time with the students. “The students don’t often get the chance to be out together outside the classroom,” Sharon says. “They enjoyed hanging out with their friends, having lunch in the backyard, and being together with nothing to do.” 

The Possibilities of an Independent Future

Travel the Town students exploring on the 'El' trainWhile exploring Evanston, the students were able to see what their own futures could hold. One of our community members, Lindsay, spoke with the group about what her life is like. Living independently in an apartment, Lindsay volunteers, has a job, goes out with close friends, and is engaged. Lindsay’s life is the type of full life that many of our community members have, and it’s a positive example of the life the Travel the Town students could have.

Like for people without disabilities, living independently has learning curves, and this program is a step toward futures where these students live independently. By focusing on life skills, our partnership with Evanston Township High School prepares students with disabilities for the future they choose.

5 Tips for School Success This Year

An apple on top of books with blackboard in background, indicating school successThe school year is almost here, and our Resource Partners at Oak Wealth Advisors, LLC, offers their advice for having school success. Take a look at our favorite tips below, and read the full list at this link.

  1. Seek knowledge. Children with well-informed families tend to have more success in school than those who don’t educate themselves about available resources. You can check out Center for Independent Futures’ resources page, ask the school’s guidance counselor, or check out tips from special education teachers’ blogs.
  2. Share praise frequently. School staff members who know their efforts are appreciated are going to be more receptive to new ideas and be more positively predisposed toward your child. Your whole family will benefit from a positive relationship with school administrators and educators.
  3. Request IEP drafts before meetings. Knowing in advance what the school has seen in your child’s development before your IEP meeting is beneficial in many ways. You will have time to absorb any bad news and to generate ideas for alternative approaches to challenges. (For more information on creating inclusive person-centered IEPs, check out our newest back-to-school blog.)
  4. Keep good records. Detailed records of your child’s past goals and achievements are very important. These documents can remind you of school success and act as a reference when issues arise. Your good records will have great value.
  5. Plan for transition before your school initiates the discussion. Thinking ahead about adult goals and life skills as early as middle school will allow for a more productive transition process and increased clarity in goals at the start of high school so that the final years of school can be as productive as possible.

Oak Wealth Advisors logoTo read the rest of the list and to see other resources from Oak Wealth Advisors, click here. Oak Wealth Advisors was founded to provide families with members with disabilities experienced financial advice and investment management services. To learn more about the services Oak Wealth Advisors provide, visit www.oakwealth.com.

How To Create Inclusive Person-Centered IEP Plans

At too many IEP meetings, educators focus on student deficits. They get stuck when it comes time to explore a student’s strengths. Educators and families alike wonder why these meetings are tense and difficult.

Families are constantly fighting to discover and create inclusive spaces for their loved ones. IEP meetings should already be inclusive and safe for students with disabilities but they’re traditionally difficult for teachers, families, and students. Hosting inclusive person-centered IEP meetings is crucial to a student’s long-term success. 

What Is a Person-Centered IEP?

Image of a blackboard with letters ABC on it with books and chalk in the foreground.IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans, are meant to be documents supporting the development of a student with disabilities. Required by law under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), an IEP should track students’ success in achieving learning goals. It also documents what services the student needs to succeed.

IDEA states that all children, with or without disabilities, have the right to an appropriate, free, and public education that meets the student’s needs. Because of the requirement of an appropriate education, parents and educators meet to discuss student performance and goals.

To make an IEP person-centered, it is important to include students. From there, educators can develop plans based on the students’ vision of their future. Read more for 3 ways families and teachers can put an inclusive person-centered IEP into practice.

  1. Support Each Other Through the Process

No IEP meeting is easy. Working together with understanding and compassion can make the process better though. 

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.Teachers can start by interviewing the family about how past meetings went. What could have been better? What conversations went well? This interview is all about how you can help increase positivity throughout the process. 

For families, supporting your child’s school team is important too. Try to spend some time reflecting on your past experiences. What do you need to feel secure about your student’s education? Be clear and upfront with the education team and have goals of your own as your enter the room.

  1. Advocate for Students and Schools

Remember why you are all at this meeting: to support and advocate for the student. Family members’ main goal is to advocate for their loved one. But don’t forget, as a family member, you can advocate for educators too. Schools, especially special education programs, need to be fully funded; teachers need to be paid living wages; and resources have to be allocated to support these goals.

Teachers can advocate for their students in the classroom, but don’t forget to continue advocating outside the classroom. Have conversations with adults who live with disabilities – what is their daily life like? Teachers can also support the development of self-advocacy skills in their students. Read more about 3 ways you can teach self-advocacy skills to your students.

  1. Practice Self-Determined Transition Planning

Young man taking a book off of a shelf at the library with many books surrounding him and glass windows in the background.For this tip, teachers and family members can work together. Focus on the student. This may sound simple, but it is actually a much more involved process. Educators can focus on teaching students how to create their own measurable goals. Once the student understands the concept of self-determination, move on to helping them map out their dreams with action plans. 

Families can help at home with these important skills. Bring your child along to their IEP meetings, and allow them to articulate their own future. 

None of these solutions are easy to implement. However, both teachers and family members will find that these 3 ways to create an inclusive person-centered IEP will lead to better futures for students with disabilities. 

Not an educator or family member? Forward this blog to someone who needs it! 

How to Reduce Costs of Care Without Sacrificing Quality

Families of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities face many difficult decisions. From choosing how to manage care to determining how an individual can live in the community, none of these decisions are easy. But it is possible to reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of care.

Determining What Supports Are Necessary

Man holds out microphone to young woman in front of small audience.Happiness is one factor in many families’ decisions. The costs associated with care are another concern. According to data from 2009, the average cost of a person with disabilities living in an institution was more than $180,000 a year. For someone living in a community-based setting with supports, the cost is closer to $42,000 per year. 

These home and community-based services costs are averages and don’t reflect how costs are distributed. When individuals need more support, it is possible that community-based care could cost more. But for many individuals, learning life skills reduces costs by decreasing the amount of support needed for everyday activities. 

For families who aren’t sure independent living is an option, a life skills assessment is a great place to start. An assessment can help you and your loved one understand where they need more support. This helps your family can decide what care costs your loved one truly needs.

How Learning Independent Living Skills Reduces Costs

Photo of two women smiling, one a direct service professional and one a participant.When direct service professionals focus on teaching life skills, such as cooking healthy meals and cleaning their home, an individual’s need for support in skill areas decreases. Learning life skills like these doesn’t only help individuals with disabilities maintain their spaces. It also helps them build community connections and employment skills.

Increased skill capacities have the potential to reduce staffing costs and limit the need for support. In fact, an Independent Futures direct service team member shares, “After learning life skills, the hope is that an individual is able to reduce tutoring hours. And most of our participants are able to do so, saving money and living independently as a result.”

While most individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities will always require support, their potential remains limitless. By using life skills tutoring and person-centered planning, new windows of opportunity are within reach.

Impact of Person-Centered Planning

Person-centered planning takes place when direct service professionals account for the individual’s existing skills, hopes, and dreams. This type of care results in individuals setting their own goals and learning the skills they need to achieve their dreams.

That is just one benefit of person-centered plans though. In addition to self-directed goals, individuals with disabilities seem to have fewer requests for specialized care. Part of the reason why could be related to what funds are used for when a person’s hopes and dreams are considered. 

Volunteer supports participant in volunteer activityHome and community-based services funds have the potential to be used for a number of non-medical needs. Supports like employment help, remote monitoring equipment, and peer services aren’t traditionally covered. But with home and community-based services, access grows. Each of these supports can help an individual with disabilities achieve their dream of living in a community.

Reduced Costs and Independent Futures

For most people, moving out of our family’s home is something we look forward to excitedly. Finding the perfect apartment or house, decorating it to fit our own style, and having new freedoms changes someone’s life. Many individuals with disabilities have this same dream. 

Knowing that loved ones are able to advocate for themselves will provide you with renewed peace of mind. Learning independent living skills and living in the community means families of adults with disabilities can reduce costs without sacrificing quality and rest easy. 

 

Running For Freedom and Independence: 2019 Chicago Marathon Team

During Matt Koss’ first marathon, the morning was wet and gray. As he stretched at the starting line, he had one goal in mind: finishing the Chicago Marathon in under four hours. Matt didn’t quite hit that mark last year, but he is back for the 2019 Chicago Marathon to try again, this time as part of Team CIF.

This year, Matt’s goals are a little different. While aiming to complete the 26.2 mile course in under four hours, Matt is also hoping to raise more than $1,500 to benefit Center for Independent Futures. 

Joining a Chicago Marathon Team

Matt became one of the first members of this year’s Chicago Marathon team, ready to hit the pavement training. However, he hasn’t always been a natural runner. Matt picked up running as motivation to quit smoking, registering for a 5K to help him remain focused. After finishing the 5K, Matt signed up for a half marathon and, finally, the 2018 Chicago Marathon.

Marathon runners at the start of the Bank of American Chicago Marathon race.

Training for the Chicago Marathon typically begins in June, and most runners follow strict training plans to hit their goals. With family and friends cheering him on throughout training and racing, Matt is ready to get started training and fundraising.  

Why Matt is Running for Independent Futures

Matt’s motivation in raising money for Independent Futures is personal. His uncle, Patrick Fox, was a participant at Independent Futures for 5 years. After Matt’s grandma died, Patrick moved and stayed with family until they finally found Independent Futures. After beginning to use our services, Patrick found stable housing and fulfilling employment at Jewel Osco. 

My uncle has always wanted the freedom to decide where he could go and when,” Matt explains. “After working with his tutors, Patrick’s quality of life improved. He was happy living on his own and becoming part of a community.” 

Image of Lee Street Beach, blue water and sky in background, tan sand in foreground.

Since passing away in 2016, Patrick has been greatly missed by the Independent Futures community. This summer, activities participants who sign up for the August session of Afternoon at the Beach will have the opportunity to honor Patrick’s memory at his favorite Lee Street Beach. 

How You Can Support Matt

You can help Matt honor his uncle’s memory by donating to Matt’s Chicago Marathon Crowdrise page. Every donation you make to the marathon team supports full lives for individuals with disabilities like Patrick. 

Thinking of Patrick’s experience, Matt says, “A lot of people with disabilities who want independence can’t have it in their current situations. I’m supporting Center for Independent Futures because it makes a big difference in the quality of life for people like my uncle.”

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.

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.

Success Stories

sun18aug11:00 am12:45 pmBowling

mon19aug4:00 pm5:00 pmYoga

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