Working For A Just & Equitable Future

At Independent Futures, our mission is to help craft a world where every individual has access to all opportunities of a full life. Our mission is to support people with disabilities, but we must condemn racism in all its forms. We are committed to expanding access to our supports and programs as much as we possibly can. 

Rather than release a statement talking about what we have done as an organization, we want to highlight the voices of our staff. At least ¾ of our staff have attended the Beyond Diversity workshops sponsored by Evanston Cradle to Career, and those staff members created a DEI working group that finds new ways to expand access to our programs. Our staff members are conscious of how the personal is political, so we asked them to share how race affects their life and work. These are their responses: 

Ann Sickon, Executive Director

I believe that societal change only comes when each person recognizes they have a role to play in making needed changes in our reality. Policies, regulations, and federal and state laws, though perhaps well intentioned, can be subverted and destructive when our citizens do not demand equal protection under the law for everyone.

Still, these demands alone are not enough. We must expand our awareness of current policies and rules, and then we must root out discriminatory racial practices. We each have the responsibility to identify ways to create fair and equitable employment opportunities and opportunities for every voice and persuasion to be heard. Everyone must have the opportunity to live their fullest life.

Kathy Lyons, Director of New Futures Initiative Training & Consultation

I believe that there are no spectators in the fight against racism. Either we are actively working to dismantle racism, or we are perpetuating it. In our work, we can make systemic change – eradicating racism in our educational institutions, health care systems, economic systems, housing systems, and justice system.  Taking action means:

  • Learning, listening, and leveling what has never been an even playing field  
  • Thinking about who’s at the table, in the room, and who never got into the building
  • Sharing, or giving up, your seat at the table
  • Filling the room with voices different from yours and then doing what those different voices demand
  • Recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of those who actually built the buildings
  • Seeing our common humanity and standing up when others do not

Rob Larson, Community Life Coordinator & Life Skills Tutor

I’m inspired to work at Independent Futures because it’s a visionary model where people with disabilities and their families have the opportunity to explore life in the context of dignity and community.  Even visionary models need to face very real obstacles when building community and systemic racism is one of those.

I learned about Evanston’s history with systemic racism.  I also learned that it was hard for some Evanston families to afford our services due to the lack of funding in Illinois and many of these families were people of color. I felt like we were missing out on the vibrant gifts of many Black, Asian and Hispanic families. I’m refreshed when I remember that we belong to one another. Independent Futures has created some free activities and a scholarship fund to remove some barriers. We still have a long way to go, but as other states have embrace funding community inclusion, why should Illinois families be robbed of that opportunity?

Regarding race, gender and sexual orientation, I’m a straight white male. By outward markers it is clear that I benefit from a confluence of power, especially white patriarchal privilege. I held some toxic views and didn’t even realize it.  It’s been life giving to struggle toward love and liberation together, with all sorts of people from all walks of life. In the process, I made surprising friendships and was freed from the toxic views which were robbing me of joy.

I look forward to being with you and learning from you. I am eager to dismantle oppressive systems and create opportunities for families to thrive.  I have faith that people will flourish wherever love is planted and justice is watered. I’m looking forward to walking in that garden with y’all.

Connor Larsen, Communications & Marketing Manager

My relationship with race and social justice issues is constant and it is personal. At work and at home, I continue to educate myself on others’ experiences while participating in active & progressive citizenship. Some of the ways I practice active citizenship include: 

  • signing petitions,
  • contacting my government representatives,
  • reading policy proposals,
  • supporting candidates I believe in through donations and volunteering,
  • voting in every election, even local primaries.

In each of these actions, I am using my power and often my privileges to move the people around me – and those who represent me – toward a more just and equitable future. In doing this work, I offer an open invitation to anyone who would like to learn more and join in! 

Sharon Purdy, School & Agency Consultant

My hope is that Independent Futures can someday provide equal opportunities for inclusion for all people with disabilities in Evanston. Unfortunately, Independent Futures’ supportive and effective programming is not affordable to many in our community. 

Currently, many of the students and families whose transition planning we support through Evanston Township High School do not have access to person-centered programs such as ours upon graduation. I hope that we will continue to expand the after school activities that we have been able to provide through generous grants and professional commitment. I also hope we will continue to develop an environment where everyone can flourish. 

Our participation in Courageous Conversations has opened important dialogue among our staff. I’m proud that we have been intentional about learning from each other. Let’s share these conversations with our whole community. I read this on a yard sign yesterday: I pledge to speak out against actions and systems of oppression that have an unjust racial impact.  I also pledge to continue to learn from the young adults in our community with an open heart and action. 

Amy Fox, Director of My Full Life Training & Consultation

At a most basic level, if we assume that we all have a social responsibility to one another, then our job as a society is to help one another. We must honor our social contract to access this greater good and it may require surrendering something for the greater good. 

This implicit bias training came up in a news piece yesterday. It is broken out into a variety of categories on implicit bias including race, sexuality, and disability. It is our duty to know where our own biases are and work to consciously correct them.

Finally, this poem by Langston Hughes gives me pause for reflection on a dream deferred.

“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Vote in Illinois’ 2020 Election

The next chance to vote in Illinois is on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020. During this election, Illinois citizens will vote for a new president, choose our senators, and answer important questions all through their powerful ballots.

A photo of the Capitol building at night against a clear blue evening sky.There are several steps to preparing for an election, like we outlined in our primary voting blog back in February featuring information about primaries, registering to vote, and how to vote. While our primary voting guide has important information, a few things have changed since then!

Steps To Vote In Illinois

First, make sure you are registered to vote. You can check your registration at this link. If you have moved or changed your name recently, you will need to re-register. You can register to vote online until October 18th.

Next, you can decide whether you want to vote in-person during early voting, in-person on Election Day, or by mail. Early voting information can be found on this State of Illinois website.

However, due to COVID-19, the safest way to vote this year is by mail. In order to vote by mail in Illinois, you will need to visit this website to request your ballot. When you fill out this form, you will be asked if you need a military/overseas ballot or a standard vote by mail application. If you choose the standard application, you will then choose your “jurisdiction,” meaning where you live.

Next, you may be directed to another website that is specific to your location. Read and follow all of the directions on the website pages, and write down any important dates on a calendar. If you submit your vote by mail application by September 24th, you will receive your ballot by October 5th. Remember: If you vote by mail, your ballot must be returned in the mail on or before November 3rd.

This image contains information about voting by mail for Chicago. To vote in Illinois, visit the Board of Elections website for more information.

Once you have submitted your information, like your address, the site will redirect you to a confirmation page. This page is important because the page will tell you if your application was successfully submitted!

 

Being A Smart and Prepared Voter

Now that you have checked your voter registration and requested your vote by mail ballot, it’s time to learn about the candidates.

BallotReady logoOne of our favorite tools is BallotReady.org. On this website you can enter your voting address, and the site will break your ballot into each race. It will then give you the opportunity to click on a candidate’s name to learn more about them and their positions. When you make a decision about a race, you select the candidate you want, and BallotReady will save your choice. When you’re ready to cast your ballot, you can use this site to pick the candidates you believe in most.

Don’t forget about the AAPD’s Voter Resource Center! These resources are helpful to people with disabilities because they collect information about candidates specific to disability issues.

Are You Ready To Vote In Illinois?

Does it feel early to get ready for an election in November? We understand that it might. Before COVID-19, many of us could wait until the week before Election Day to start preparing to vote.

To guarantee that you are able to vote this year, start getting ready today. Check your voter registration status and request your vote by mail ballot by August, and then use the time between then and late October to make educated decisions about who represents your interests the best.

Teaching Life Skills to Adults During a Pandemic

Teaching life skills to adults with disabilities is the main responsibility of our life skills tutors. Before the COVID-19 pandemic led us to close our office doors temporarily, a tutor’s daily life varied widely. One day, a tutor would meet with one participant in the office to go over budgets, and the next day they might meet at the McGaw YMCA to support healthy living goals.

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills as a tutor is teaching life skills to adults.Because of our person-centered philosophy, our tutors’ experiences are different with each participant. Each individual determines their own goals based on their hopes and dreams. After that, tutors work with the individual to create action plans, which are the basis for tutoring sessions. These individualized plans mean that tutors are usually out in the community, supporting local cafes and shops while teaching life skills to our participants.

The pandemic disrupted much of the work we do at Independent Futures, but our Direct Support team pivoted quickly. With many local businesses closed and a stay-at-home order, our tutors needed to start teaching life skills remotely.

Teaching Life Skills To Adults During A Pandemic

Three months into our stay-at-home order, tutoring looks a lot different than it used to. “Tutoring during the pandemic has evolved,” reported life skills tutor Dee Dee Goldman. “Much of what I do is teaching and modeling, so the physical distance has changed that.”

Features Cynthia, winner of staff Awesome AwardAnother tutor, Cynthia Witherspoon, said, “During the first week Independent Futures instituted the work from home policy I met with the participants I tutor using texts, FaceTime, and phone calls.” However, as the governor modified the stay-at-home order, “I returned to meeting in person with most of my participants in their homes. We practice safe distancing and I always wear a mask. For those who have not felt comfortable returning to face to face meetings, I stay in touch with FaceTime or phone calls.”

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

Photo of two women smiling, one a direct service professional and one a participant.Working and tutoring remotely meant new challenges for tutors and participants. The first step was figuring out how sessions could continue. Dee Dee shared, “We have been very creative by using screen share, dictation, and new forms of learning to do daily tasks.”

Because tutors are teaching life skills to adults with disabilities using new tools, the topics individuals are learning have changed too. The challenges associated with teaching someone how to cook, combined with adapting to remote learning, meant tutoring topics changed too.

During Cynthia’s tutoring sessions, she and participants have gone for walks to change their scenery. She also used the pandemic as an opportunity to discuss, model, and practice safety through personal hygiene routines. But the need for distance learning with life skills led to new technology challenges. 

“One learning opportunity was understanding how to order groceries online,” Cynthia said. “It is surprising how many things need to be considered, like choosing which store you want, using a debit or credit card to pay for groceries, and scheduling time to have groceries delivered. It’s a complex process with a lot of steps to learn.” 

Adjusting To A New Normal

Many of our participants work in grocery stores and remained working as essential employees throughout the pandemic. Still, some participants felt their anxiety increase. For participants who were furloughed, the changes to their routines were difficult. These types of changes in day-to-day activities were difficult for many of us to grow accustomed to.

Some of Independent Futures team in a GoToMeeting video callAs we all adjusted slowly to the necessary COVID-19 precautions, our tutoring participants adjusted too. “At first, participants would tease me about wearing a mask and gloves, maintaining 6 feet of distance, and putting items on the ground,” Cynthia said. “Now everyone sees these as common practices, and they are respectful of the guidelines I follow. They know I am doing it to protect them.” 

Moving Our Supports Forward 

Throughout this time, individuals employed their independent living skills to face brand new challenges. However, only 3 of Dee Dee and Cynthia’s participants left their homes to live with family. Tutoring continued in a new format and adjusted to individuals’ changing needs.

We learned that teaching life skills to adults with disabilities during a pandemic required new tools and flexibility. Our tutors rose to meet this new challenge. By creatively using Zoom, screen sharing, and other tech solutions, the team continued supporting participants near and far. As we prepare for the rest of this year, we are deciding which tools we will continue using. Have thoughts you’d like to share? Email center@independentfutures.com to let us know what you think! 

 

Creating Housing For People With Disabilities: How To Form A Family Group

At Independent Futures, we offer our New Futures Initiative training program to families who want to see their loved ones find a place to call home. Our training facilitators support families as they explore various housing options and decide which options meet their needs. Most importantly, these trainings allow families to work with others who share the same goal.

What Is A Family Group? 

Family members and staff gather around a group of sticky notes from a planning sessionFor our New Futures Initiative training, we ask that the initial families find others to go through the training with them. A New Futures Initiative training typically includes 5-10 families all seeking to create housing for a loved one with a disability. We call this a “family group.”

The most important aspect of family groups is that you can all work together. Our trainers can help you navigate challenges that arise. Throughout the training process, there will be opportunities to explore what housing options are best for your loved ones.

How Do I Form A Family Group? 

Forming a family group is easiest if you can start with your existing relationships. Existing friendships are a natural starting place to form a family group. However, sometimes it can be difficult to find other families who share your goal of creating a housing option in your community. The following are ideas that can help you find opportunities to connect with other families in your community.

Call to Action Meeting with Independent Futures
A square brown house with red door that is one example of housing options for people with disabilities.
Harrison House created by Independent Futures families, an example of housing options for people with disabilities.

Host a “call to action” meeting in your community. Our staff will explain the need for creative new housing solutions and the New Futures Initiative process. Our staff will work with you to publicize the event, and we will lead the presentation in your community.

Schools – Public and Private

Start by contacting special education professionals in your local schools. Connect with families whose students are in high school transition programs and even families with younger students.  Don’t forget about private schools – in your search, try including faith-based schools and schools specifically for students with disabilities.  

Post-Secondary Schools and Programs (Colleges, Universities, Job Training Programs)

Use ThinkCollege.net to learn about college programs for students with intellectual disabilities in your area. Get in touch with post-secondary programs and service providers focused on employment and job training.

Area Service Providers

Check with service providers in your area. Many may know of families who are also looking for supported independent living options. Some service providers cannot meet the demand for housing and have waiting lists of families looking for a housing option for a loved one.

Disability Advocacy Groups
A tan and beige apartment structure with green awnings over businesses
Integrated Living Opportunities (ILO) in Maryland/DC, created with the support of the New Futures Initiative training.

Engage local disability-focused advocacy groups such your chapters of The Arc and Center for Independent Living. If you’re able, attend conferences, meetings, and events sponsored by these organizations to meet other families.

Disability-Specific Advocacy Groups

Contact disability-specific advocacy groups such as Autism Speaks, National Association for Down Syndrome, and others. Join these organizations and attend their meetings to make connections with other families.

Faith Based Organizations

Faith-based organizations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and inter-faith organizations may have inclusion coordinators or inclusion services. They could help you get in touch with other families who have loved ones with disabilities.

Social Media

Meetup logoUse social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to publicize your efforts. You can set up a “Meetup” gathering for families in the area who are looking for housing options for their loved ones. Throughout these strange times, our staff can even work with you to organize a virtual meeting through a conference call app like Zoom.

Civic and Community Organizations

Contact your public library to use their space or services, and ask your librarians about other organizations. Your town or city’s Inclusion/ADA Coordinator and community foundations, Rotary Club, or other service organizations might help you connect to other families.

Social/Sports/Arts Organizations

Staff poses to welcome a family group attending New Futures Initiative training to create housing for people with disabilitiesEngage families through programs such as Best Buddies, Special Olympics, Special Recreation Departments, camps, arts and theatre programs, and other types of recreation. 

Taking The Next Step

The process of creating housing solutions for loved ones with disabilities is a journey. The Independent Futures staff who work on New Futures Initiative know this personally. We can help you and your loved ones craft the future they deserve – with a place to call home.

Remote Learning: 3 Ways to Adapt

In our work with the individuals we support, the tools we use also support the need for remote learning. For many people, thinking of teaching online right now leads them to think of the millions of school-age students, but remote teaching is just as crucial for agencies that support adults with disabilities right now. 

Teaching life skills through distance learning can be tough sometimes. With the right tools, your learners can stay on track with their goals. 

However, there are some aspects of teaching that need to be adjusted in order to make remote learning successful for everyone involved. In this blog, we’ll explore 3 ways that you can adjust your classroom and teaching to make this transition easier for your learners.

1. Measure Progress 

How do you measure progress among your learners? Do you operate with a grade system, or do you award points for completing tasks? Whatever your methods, you may find that you need to adjust how you have assessed growth in the past. 

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.With My Full Life, the online learning management system we use, our tutors can track progress without assigning grades. Instead tutors can ask an individual some questions related to the skill they are learning.

In this way, our system of measuring progress is a little like a pass/fail system. Though we don’t use that exact system, learners can either demonstrate they have learned a skill or they can continue working on it. Could this method work for your learners? 

2. Utilize Accessibility Features

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.Historically, the term accessibility has referred to physical places. For example, one aspect of making a building accessible is including a ramp or there are no steps to enter. In digital spaces, however, accessibility means that anyone, regardless of ability, can access that website or resource.

To ensure all of your lessons are accessible, it can be necessary to provide multiple ways learners can engage with the material. That could mean recording a video and ensuring that all of the subtitles are accurate, or it could mean providing a reading lesson along with an audio recording of the material. 

Each lesson you have may be different. A good place to start during lesson development might be including a routine question to ask: How can this lesson be accessible to the greatest number of learners?

3. Allow Each Other Grace

One final key aspect to teaching remotely is to allow grace for both yourself and your learners. These are challenging times for all of us. From day to day, how we feel can seem unpredictable during these stay-at-home policies. 

All we can do in the meantime is be understanding of one another. A learner may have more trouble focusing than usual, or their internet connection may be down. By allowing each other to have space in these strange times, we can all get through this together.

Throughout these stay at home policies, we have all moved our lives online as much as possible. But we all know that this is not a perfect fit. Until we can start returning to a sense of normalcy, these 3 adjustments can help you and your learners through remote learning.

 

Vote In Illinois’ Primary Election!

On November 3, 2020, Americans will vote for their next President. The choice will come down to our incumbent President Trump and the Democratic challenger. 

Between now and then, there are a lot of other decisions to be made – like who the Democratic candidate will be. Throughout the primary process, Americans in every state get to vote for their choice to represent the Democratic party. In Illinois, our primary is on March 17. 

Many voters feel this election is the most important of our lifetimes, but that’s far from the only exciting aspect of Election Day 2020. In 2018, people with disabilities came out to vote in record numbers, surging by 8.5%. In 2020, many organizations hope to increase the turnout of voters with disabilities even more. 

Keep reading this blog to learn more about registering to vote & learning about the candidates in Illinois.

How To Register To Vote

An older man holds a sign that reads "Register to Vote"In Illinois, you can register to vote by mail until the February 18th deadline. If you are able to register online, the deadline is extended to February 29th. But first, there are several requirements. Illinois voters must: 

  – Be a U.S. citizen
  – Be 18 by November 3, 2020
  – Live in your voting precinct for 30 days before the election
  – Not be serving jail time as a result of a conviction
  – Not claim the right to vote anywhere else

If you meet these criteria, then congratulations! You can register to vote. The next step is to start Illinois’ online voter registration application. The application will ask you for some basic identifying information such as:

  – Your State ID/Driver’s License
  – Your name
  – The last 4 digits of your Social Security number
  – Your birth date
  – And your address

And that’s how you register to vote! If you are ever encountering problems or need support, you can contact the Board of Elections. Life skills tutors can also support you in registering to vote.

How To Be An Educated Voter

Now that you’re registered to vote, it’s time to make some educated decisions about who you cast your ballot for. To become an educated voter, it’s necessary to learn about the candidates to see who would represent you best and work hard for your interests.

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"Almost all of the major candidates for the Democratic nomination have drafted disability policies and plans – for the first time. As a voter with disabilities, you will want to research these plans, but make sure that you are also researching other issues & local ballot initiatives too. The following major candidates have plans for people with disabilities on their websites:

Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Andrew Yang

The League of Women Voters has general information about what will be on your ballot and some research about the candidates. Check out their site for important dates, including when early voting begins and what is on your ballot. 

Finally, the AAPD’s Voter Resource Center includes information specific to disability issues. They have also teamed up with National Council for Independent Living (NCIL) for candidate questionnaires regarding disability issues. Only Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren have completed it; read the candidates’ responses here.

How To Vote

Instructions on voting in Illinois in 5 steps, covering registering to vote, voter education, and getting out the vote! Illinois’ early voting period runs from March 2 – March 16. You can also vote on election day, March 17th from 6am – 7pm. Use the Board of Elections’ Voter Registration Lookup tool to find your polling location.

In Illinois, we have what are called “closed primaries.” This means that in order to vote, you need to pick a party ballot. You can choose between the Republican or Democratic ballots when you enter your voting location. 

Once the poll workers have found your registration information and verified you are at the correct location, you will choose your ballot. After choosing your ballot, you can begin making your choices. 

(PRO TIP: You can download your ballot beforehand from BallotReady and make your choices ahead of time! Just print it out, research the options, and bring it with you to your polling location.)

Poll workers will be able to assist you as necessary, depending on the type of voting machines your location has. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Being an Active Citizen

Photo of a polling stationNow that you’re a registered, educated voter, what are the next steps you can take? This is the time to choose your candidates and then volunteer! You can call, text, or knock doors to spread the word about your favorite candidate. 

So, between now and March 17th, how will you use your rights to become a voter with disabilities and an active citizen?

Looking for information about the 2020 General Election? This blog from July includes important information about voting by mail and how to research candidates.

“Today Was A Good Day”: Finding Your Voice

Employed in a standard workshop, Linda* built small standardized tools. Throughout her days, Linda managed some behavioral challenges. She experienced occasional outbursts of emotion, causing disruptions in the workplace. To the supervisors and coaches at this agency, it wasn’t always clear what was causing Linda’s behavior. They knew something was getting in the way of her happiness and success. 

Over the course of the past two years, the agency that employs Linda invested in rethinking their organizational philosophy. Taking steps to become a “person-centered” agency, Linda’s support team has seen some remarkable changes in her behavior.

Stepping Toward Person-Centered Planning

Two years ago, Independent Futures partnered with an agency on the west side of Chicago. One of our tutors, Rob Larson, initially trained our new partner on what it meant to provide person-centered service. 

Exploring person-centered philosophy, Rob explained our Full Life Model and how we work alongside individuals with disabilities to achieve their hopes and dreams. For many years, the agency employed a majority of their participants in their on-site workshop but realized that job didn’t work for everybody. 

With the Full Life Model and My Full Life online software, this agency began the hard work of altering their organizational culture. Planting the seed for innovation and creative thinking, Rob’s training already leads to big changes. 

A New Kind of Support

Something's Cooking attendees smiling in front of barJake Rohde, a training consultant and tutor, visited the agency late this summer. Whereas Rob taught the organization about our philosophy, now Jake would work to help implement the My Full Life tool. 

We have been a small nonprofit agency since 2002, while our new partner serves more than 300 individuals with disabilities. Founded in the mid-twentieth century, this partner’s leaders saw the change to person-centered philosophy as a difficult step. Jake explained, “Older agencies wonder, ‘How do you go from a structure where everyone is involved in one activity to something so individualized?’”

To do this, our partner agency has taken on meeting with and interviewing every adult they support about their desires. Moving past the fear that these changes brought, staff meets with each participant and asks, “What do you want to do?”

Recognizing the Impact of This Support

When the agency’s staff met with Linda, they offered her the opportunity to take some Montessori-style classes. Either instead of or in addition to the workshop, Linda could explore her interests and take a chance. She chose to take a couple of classes.

two individuals preparing food at a soup kitchenSince then, Linda’s behavior has changed dramatically. Like everyone does, she still may have difficult days. But at the end of most days, Linda visits her coaches and fellow participants with a calendar, marks off the day, and she eagerly tells each of them, “Today was a good day.”

In moments like these, the agency’s staff realizes that our person-centered approach works. Being able to see the tangible, long-term results of person-centered planning demonstrates to them that the hard work of individualized plans is worth their time. 

Building On Person-Centered Philosophy

In 2022, new federal regulations will require that all agencies serving adults with disabilities employ person-centered approaches. For many large agencies like our partner, they have a fear that this approach will be too time-consuming and too difficult to implement on large scales. We know that this is not the easiest path and asks a lot of direct support workers, but the positive impact of person-centered philosophy is great.

heARTwords participant JonathanOur partner’s next step is to continue interviewing their participants, building plans for each individual they serve. Jake will return to train the agency on using My Full Life as a goal-tracking and skill development tool. 

When adults with disabilities are given opportunities to explore their interests and skills, they begin to feel more like themselves. Independent Futures is working to expand those opportunities so every individual with disabilities can say, “Today was a good day.” 

Failure To Plan Is Planning To Fail: Oak Wealth Advisors

Oak Wealth Advisors logoThis 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.

Planning For The Future

Having a loved one in your family who has special needs can be a blessing, but it comes with the responsibility to complete additional planning. While the planning includes covering the financial needs of the individual with special needs, planning extends well beyond dollars and cents. Failure to address the individual’s various planning needs can have disastrous results.

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.When most young adults finish school, they will make decisions about where they want to live, with whom they want to live, and what career they want to pursue. When the individual has special needs, the decisions are more complicated and usually require significant input from parents and others. Typically, the development of life skills and the focus on a future lifestyle are also developed during high school years. Many times, individuals with special needs age out of the school system without their independent life skills fully developed and some of their lifestyle questions unanswered.

Families with loved ones who face significant challenges must focus their planning on their loved ones’ current and future needs. The issues of where they will live, with whom they will live, and what they will do cannot be ignored. While underemployment and living at home are the most common outcomes for individuals, they are usually not the ones desired by them or their families. Even for families who are satisfied with these arrangements, there needs to be planning for the day when both parents have passed away.  

How Planning For The Future Leads To Success

Almost every family wishes they had more resources with which to support their loved one with special needs. Fortunately, a lack of family financial resources does not mean a situation is doomed. It is important to become knowledgeable about government resources at the local, state, and federal levels. It is imperative to create a network of trusted advisors, both professional and social, who will assist your family during you loved one’s journey. You must also try to stay current with regards to new legislation and planning opportunities. New developments will impact your family’s planning. 

Young student working hard.There are two primary obstacles to successful special needs planning. Time and money. You have to accept that you cannot do everything or buy everything you would like for your loved one. However, successful planning will help you achieve more of your planning goals by making more effective use of your time and helping you stretch your dollars. In addition, the planning will supplement what the family can provide with as many government resources as possible. Effective special needs planning results in greater peace of mind for all family members.

Learn More About Special Needs Planning

If you would like more information about successful special needs financial planning, please visit our website at https://oakwealth.com, email us at info@oakwealth.com, or call us at 847-945-8888.

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.

Success Stories

thu16jul2:15 pm2:45 pmDance Party with Suzy Crawford

thu16jul4:30 pm5:00 pmAfternoon Exercise with Niki Moe

fri17jul11:00 am11:30 amMorning Exercise with Niki Moe

fri17jul1:00 pm2:00 pmSocial Hour

fri17jul5:00 pm6:00 pmBook Club

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