Families Bring Their Voices to On the Table

On Tuesday, May 16, Center for Independent Futures returned to its origins by hosting a conversation of families around a table. For the fourth year, we participated in Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table initiative. This regionwide movement gathers individuals for important discussions about how to strengthen communities.

Our conversation over dinner focused on creating natural supports for individuals with disabilities and forming the relationships that help sustain full lives into the future. The group was made up of staff members and parents, including members of our Board of Directors.

Led by Northwestern professor emeritus Dr. Paul Arntson, group members brainstormed ways their loved ones with disabilities are involved with community. Themes in the conversation included the importance of both intra- and inter-community relationships, reciprocity, and the power of volunteerism as a basis for friendships.

The conversation will guide our work in future efforts like our Community Connectors and Bridge Builders Project, which grows individuals’ personal networks by connecting them with community members who share their interests. We’re grateful for the insights of our community and look forward to hosting another discussion next year. For more information about On the Table, visit www.onthetable.com.

Support Our Community With Gigio’s Pizzeria

Gigio's sign outside restaurantEvery day in June, you can support Center for Independent Futures at your favorite neighborhood pizza place, Gigio’s Pizzeria! For every extra-large pizza ordered during the month, Gigio’s will donate two dollars back to Center for Independent Futures.

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

Gigio’s Pizzeria has been serving the community since 1968, making it the oldest pizza place in Evanston. Gigio’s specializes in New York-style, thin-crust pizza, and the menu offers burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef and sausages, tacos and burritos, salads, and homemade soups. Your participation in this fundraiser supports our work toward a future where individuals with disabilities have access to all opportunities of a full life.

Highlights from SPARK 2017

Center for Independent Futures’ eleventh annual SPARK was a joyful celebration of fifteen years of supporting hopes and dreams. Thank you to all who attended, volunteered, and supported the event to help us commemorate this anniversary! View our full album of photos on Facebook here, and check out 6 of our favorite moments below:

  1. Participants sharing their stories: We heard from four individuals whose involvement spanned the length of our fifteen years about their full lives. Thank you to Paige, Avi, Jenny, and Adam for sharing!
  2. Photo loop of memories from the past fifteen years: During dinner, guests enjoyed a slideshow of images from Center for Independent Futures’ history. In case you missed it, check it out on our YouTube channel by clicking here.
  3. A matching challenge and your generosity: Thanks to an incredible donor, $30,000 raised by guests at SPARK was matched dollar-for-dollar to go twice as far to support hopes and dreams.
  4. The third annual Jane Doyle Awesome Awards: This year, we honored staff member Rob Larson, community partner First Bank & Trust, and participant Matthew LaChapelle. Read more about the award winners here.
  5. The live auction: After exciting bidding contests,, lucky winners went home with an original painting by staff member Rob Larson, tickets to U2/The Lumineers and Bruno Mars, an Evanston staycation, and a four-night getaway.
  6. Dancing the night away: The dance floor was packed and energy was high with music from Euphoria Band. Lady Gaga made a special guest appearance, thanks to the talented actors from Collaboraction Theater Company who brought the stars to SPARK.

Thank you to all who attended, volunteered, participated in the raffle or Heads or Tails game, bid in the silent or live auctions, and supported us through donations. We are especially grateful to our sponsors, including premium platinum sponsor Stone Heritage Properties, gold sponsor PSAV, silver sponsor First Bank & Trust, and bronze sponsors Inland BankMonahan Law Group, and Rubin Law. Dessert sponsors Bennison’s BakeryBeth’s Little Bake ShopEli’s CheesecakeFlat Top GrillLawrence Deans Bake ShopNothing Bundt CakesSweety Pies BakeryThree Tarts Bakery & Cafe, and Trader Joe’s filled our decadent dessert displays. Beverage sponsor Lagunitas Brewing Company helped us stock the bars with local beer.

Because of all of our supporters, old and new, SPARK 2017 was a shining success, allowing us to continue creating innovative solutions for individuals with disabilities and their families as they pursue their hopes and dreams.

Check out our full album of photos on Facebook here!

Third Annual Awesome Awards Presented

The Center for Independent Futures community is full of individuals and organizations that build connections, embrace differences, and support others. At SPARK every year, we present three with the Jane Doyle Awesome Award, honoring co-founder Jane Doyle’s legacy by selecting a staff member, community partner, and participant who show innovative leadership and personal integrity.

Staff award winner Rob Larson looking to his left in front of blue background.The 2017 Awesome Award in the staff category was presented to Community Life Coordinator Rob Larson. Rob is exceptional in strengthening connections and mentoring others. He is dedicated to enriching the lives of the individuals and families he supports through clear and respectful communication and a constant willingness to help. Rob’s thoughtful ideas, excellent listening, and creative problem-solving make him a gift to the Center for Independent Futures community.

The community partner honored was First Bank & Trust. First Bank & TrustFirst Bank & Trust of Evanston logo has walked beside Center for Independent Futures since we began our journey 15 years ago. Employees at the bank have formed caring relationships with members of our community, always going the extra mile. First Bank & Trust has been a long-time sponsor for SPARK and recently became an annual sponsor, partnering with us year-round to support hopes and dreams.

Participant award winner Matthew LaChapelle poses for portrait with hand on chin in front of teal background.Finally, the winner in the participant category was Matthew LaChapelle. Matthew takes risks to pursue new opportunities and is kind and encouraging to others. A strong advocate, Matthew readily shares his experiences as an individual with disabilities to challenge stereotypes and change perceptions. He serves as a mentor for younger campers at a camp in Colorado and works with Collaboraction Theater Company, a group committed to social change and diversity. As member of Center for Independent Futures’ Advisory Council, Matthew shares his voice and talents to make our community stronger.

We are grateful for the contributions that Rob, First Bank & Trust, and Matthew have made to the Center for Independent Futures community. Congratulations to these three individuals for this well-deserved honor!

Auxiliary Board Welcomes New Members

With four new members, our Auxiliary Board of young professionals is ready to support the Center for Independent Futures community by raising awareness, hosting fundraising and social events, and making connections with participants.

In the next few months, the board will be busy supporting SPARK, riding with the Dream Team at Bike the Drive, and hosting HamBingo at Hamburger Mary’s on June 4. Later this year, the board will hold social events with the Advisory Council and participate in Something’s Cooking, our fall fundraising event.

If you or a young professional you know is interested in supporting individuals with disabilities, making new connections, and having creative leadership opportunities, contact us at center@independentfutures.com or (847) 328-2044. In the meantime, meet our new board members below!

One of our new members, Anu Rajendran, has taken the leadership role of board chair. Anu, who earned her bachelor’s of science degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, works at GE Healthcare as an IT sales executive for ambulatory practices. Along with her experience in events, sales, and healthcare, Anu brings to the board her passion for giving back to the community.

David Jacob studied architecture at Southern Illinois University before going on to intern at an architecture firm, support medical research at Cook County Hospital, and served as a project manager at a start-up IT company. David now works in consulting, with particular interests in sustainability and alternative resources.

Monika Warnecka joined the board in part because of her experience volunteering with special education students while in school. Monika earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and works as a CPA on the state and local tax team at Grant Thornton.

David Suchite is already familiar with Center for Independent Futures community, having worked with our staff as a student at the Evanston Township High School’s Transition Program. David completed an internship at Center for Independent Futures and joined the staff as Office Administrator before accepting a full-time job at Prevent Blindness. David is excited to return to the community in a new role.

Collaboration with Lo Que Puede Venir Creates Connections

Every community, like every individual, has unique resources and needs. In 2016, Center for Independent Futures worked in communities in the Chicagoland area on our Community Connectors and Bridge Builders Project, an effort made possible by an investment by the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities.

In Chicago’s Little Village, Cicero, and Berywn neighborhoods, we worked with Lo Que Puede Venir, an organization that supports individuals with disabilities and their families in the Hispanic community. Through the Community Connectors and Bridge Builders Project, individuals with disabilities connected with other community members with shared interests to attend events, volunteer, and enjoy their hobbies.

To make these moment possible, Lo Que Puede Venir and Center for Independent Futures each contributed organizational assets and collaborated to overcome obstacles, explained Maria Castillo, Program Director of Lo Que Puede Venir.

“Center for Independent Futures said, we might not speak Spanish, but we’ll look for ways to make it work. Our office might not be located in the center of your community, but we’ll bring the program and our efforts to you,” Maria said. “This approach makes all the difference in the world.”

Building on the success of the Community Connectors and Bridge Builders Project, Center for Independent Futures will expand efforts to create community-wide changes, allowing more individuals to access the opportunities of full community participation. Through changing mindsets about what’s possible, this work has already begun, shared Consuelo Puente, Executive Director of Lo Que Puede Venir.

“Everyone had a story to share about how expectations changed through this project,” Consuelo said. “Families realized that there are possibilities for their child with a disability and that there are ways to engage in the community rather than being isolated.”

New Staff Member and a New Milestone

The first month of 2017 brought a new beginning and a long-term milestone to the Center for Independent Futures staff. Chrissy Lewis joined the staff as a Full Life Process Consultant. With our schools consultation team, Chrissy will support schools to use our innovative Full Life Process software to help students set goals, access resources and curriculum, and communicate with their entire support team.

“My vision is to continue the work that has been done and create new opportunities for students to engage with the software,” Chrissy shares. “The Full Life Process software will allow students to access a comprehensive life skills curriculum and support their individual growth through a student-centered approach.”

Chrissy began her career in sales and marketing before earning her master’s degree in education. She gained experience as a teacher, case manager, and guidance counselor in Chicago Public Schools while receiving a master’s degree in counseling. After transitioning into the non-profit sector, Chrissy joined Center for Independent Futures to advocate for educational access and resources for students with disabilities.

While welcoming a new member, the staff also commemorated a milestone as Cynthia Witherspoon celebrated ten years of working for Center for Independent Futures. Currently a Community Life Coordinator and Life Skills Tutor, Cynthia has also worked on the school consultation team and supported the administrative operations of the organization. We’re grateful to Cynthia for all of the effort, insight, compassion, and humor she has shared with us over the past decade.

Success Stories

sat20jul3:00 pm5:30 pmHeARTwords Workshop

sun21jul11:00 am12:45 pmBowling

mon22jul4:00 pm5:00 pmYoga

mon22jul5:00 pm6:00 pmBook Club

tue23jul1:30 pm2:30 pmWalking Club

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