Training to Organize for Change

By Kathy Lyons, Project Director

Center for Independent Futures staff recently learned more about the power of organizing for social, economic, and political justice at the Midwest Academy’s “Organizing for Social Change” training.

At the week-long training, five staff members learned effective strategies to win the support of influential decision-makers and take a results-oriented approach to social action. Our participation in this training was funded by an investment by the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. The Council’s investment supports a two-year project to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities in several Chicagoland communities

During the training, we learned strategies to alter relationships of power between citizens and decision-makers. This change can come from building strong and sustainable organizations and changing laws and social systems. The tools we developed throughout the week will support our efforts to improve the structures and mindsets of organizations, leading to full participation from all individuals.

The Midwest Academy is a national training institute committed to advancing the struggle for social, economic, and racial justice. Founded in 1973, the Academy strives to give people a sense of their own power to improve society, providing training to groups ranging from neighborhood to national organizations. Our training cohort included individuals and organizations from across the country, such as Amnesty International, Working America, Open Communities, and Lo Que Puede Venir (“What May Come”).

Since 2002, Center for Independent Futures has advocated on a local, state, and national level for opportunities for individuals with disabilities. We know that when individuals with disabilities build happier, healthier lives, our entire community grows stronger.

The training deepened our commitment to creating a future in which individuals with disabilities are empowered to demand – and win – access to all of the opportunities of a full life. Stay tuned as we put into action what we learned as change champions for inclusive communities!

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.”

Partnering with Equip for Equality for Brighter Futures

When graduation appears on the horizon, most high schoolers are excited to transition to their next educational or employment opportunity. But for students with disabilities, the thought of leaving the support of school services often creates fear and uncertainty.

Center for Independent Futures believes that all individuals deserve bright futures after high school. Over the past year, we collaborated with Equip for Equality to support Chicago Public Schools students to create person-centered transition plans based on their hopes and dreams.

Center for Independent Futures School Coordinator Sharon Purdy worked with students identified by Equip for Equality to create plans and resources, meeting with students and their supporters in their neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Sharon used our Full Life ProcessTM to support individuals to identify resources, set goals, and make plans, starting by encouraging the student to articulate their goals.

“It makes a huge difference when the families know what their students want to do. We’re fortunate to be in a position where we can ask students what their dreams are,” Sharon explained.

With those dreams in mind, Sharon and the students created a portfolio of resources to support their transitions to community life after high school. They took inventory of each student’s assets and interests, identified any potential obstacles and support needs, created a map of the student’s personal network of supporters, and then set goals in all of the areas that make up a full life.

Throughout the process, the students had the opportunity to express their own hopes for the future. Margie Wakelin, a supervising attorney at Equip for Equality’s special education clinic, said that seeing students build these skills of self-expression was the most remarkable outcome of the collaboration.

“Center for Independent Futures empowers our students to direct their own transition planning and learn to self-advocate for the support they need,” Margie said. “Through using the tools Center for Independent Futures has developed, the student understands the importance of his or her voice.”

Whether a student is creating a transition plan or an individual is setting goals for the future, the voice of individuals with disabilities forms the core of our Full Life ProcessTM. Through our comprehensive, person-centered planning tools, individuals with disabilities and their families share their dreams and find the tools and resources they need to fulfill them. Our collaboration with Equip for Equality will lead to more students leading fuller lives in the community after graduation.

“Center for Independent Futures’ work has been instrumental in placing our students in a strong position to achieve their transition goals and enter adulthood with a solid foundation,” Margie said.

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