Celebrating Volunteer Appreciation Month

For not-for-profit groups like ours, the help we get from volunteers makes a huge difference. At Center for Independent Futures, volunteers help us run a variety of activities, keep the office looking nice, and make our technology run smoothly. April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, so we want to take the time to honor a few of our excellent helpers.

Volunteer Appreciation Month Highlights

One activity we offer, heARTwords, is run by volunteer Paul Fields. During heARTwords, participants partake in a writing workshop where they can share their experiences and feelings through writing. Paul encourages participants to explore their creativity in these safe spaces, showing off the talent in this community. We showcase the work of participants, like Sandy and Jake, on our blog. Thanks so much to Paul and all the volunteers who support the work of heARTwords!

K.C. & Shamim Esmail contribute behind-the-scenes assistance at the Evanston office. K.C. helps us keep the office organized — which is very appreciated in this busy office. Shamim keeps us operating efficiently by helping us with technology around the office. Because of K.C. and Shamim, we have more resources available to support individuals.

Members of Art Club working with a great volunteer honored during Volunteer Appreciation Month
Art Club creating beautiful masterpieces.

Amy Wojtas Koetz volunteers her time to help at Art Club. Several of our community members participate in Art Club, using the time to express themselves and their experiences. Thanks to Amy, we are able to see beautiful pieces of art from our community at this creative outlet on Mondays.

Join the Volunteer Club

Finally, we would love to shout out our very own Volunteer Club. Led by staff member Joe Jackson, our community comes together to build community here in Evanston. Each month, the group decides to support a different cause or group, enriching the lives of those around us.

Volunteer at Center for Independent Futures

Do you have a fun activity or helpful skill you would like to contribute to Center for Independent Futures? Reach out to center@independentfutures.com to find out about volunteer opportunities today.

October heARTwords Feature: Jake and Jenna

This month’s heARTwords spotlight features writers Jake Joehl and Jenna Hardacre. HeARTwords writing workshop is a creative, supportive community of writers and volunteers who support each other to express thoughts and feelings while practicing communication and self-advocacy skills.

Jake and Jenna responded to two different prompts, both sharing how they get around their community. Read on below to find out more.

Jake Joehl

What most often gets in your way of accomplishing your goals?

heARTwords participant Jake poses for professional photoNot all of my goals have been hard to accomplish, but some of them have been a bit difficult. For instance, I have a goal to be more independent with transportation. This goal has been a bit difficult for me but not impossible. Several years ago I applied for ADA paratransit certification, and at the time this service was rather disastrous. To reserve a single ride, I or my mother had to get up at the crack of dawn on the day prior to my scheduled trip. So for example, if my trip was on a Saturday I or my mother would’ve had to phone in on a Friday morning. At the time there was only one reservation line, and it was only open for a half hour each morning. Often times the carrier would call back at suppertime, and inform us they were going to have to bump my ride times back or ahead of schedule. The drivers at the time would often get lost, and they had to ask for directions from the passengers. I felt uncomfortable doing this, primarily due to the fact that I cannot see anything but light and dark, but also because these drivers were the ones supposedly getting us where we needed to go.

But there have since been several improvements made to our ADA paratransit service, and it is now so much better than before. As a matter of fact, I took a paratransit bus here to the heARTwords workshop. Today’s trip went very well. However, there is still the thought in the back of my mind that one of my drivers will get lost and ask me for directions to my destination. This would be “Destination Unknown!” When I took paratransit to my parents’ house a couple weeks ago, my mother was kind enough to email me directions to get there. Keep in mind that I had not previously traveled to this place by myself. But as it turned out, I didn’t need her directions because these drivers now have GPS devices in their vehicles.

Jenna Hardacre

Do you tend to follow the crowd or walk to the beat of your own drum?

HeARTwords participant Jenna poses for phtooI like walking. Definitely, I like walking. I walked three miles today. See this shirt? 5K run and 3K walk. I can walk; I cannot run. I don’t know why. Do you know why? Some people with disabilities don’t run. Some people run by themselves. I like to walk.

I stopped for water. I was so thirsty. I should have brought my water bottle. It was so hot. There’s the thing–I don’t like people giving me hugs when I’m hot and sweaty. If people try to give me a hug when they’re hot and sweaty, I give fist bumps.

I was dancing all day. I just want to take it easy tonight. Do you think I should take it easy tonight? My feet are really hurting. I’m gonna be sore. I took a nap on a chair, and I forgot what time it was. I was like “Wake up!” I can’t believe I would wake up early for the race–4:30. I usually sleep in! Someone said, “Huh! Waking up at 4:30 in the morning?” I said, “I have to. I’m doing this for Susan. That’s why I’m doing this.”

We all miss Susan. I talked to Dr. M. at the Down Syndrome Center, they know me and Susan pretty well. They asked me how I was doing living alone. I miss Susan. Susan has two brothers, and I talked to one of them recently on Facebook. Susan’s mom thinks I’m avoiding her. I’m just so busy. I’m not avoiding her. I’m just worried about my family. That’s all I’m worried about. I can give her a call. I still have that number on my phone. I’m not erasing it. I’m not erasing it at all.

When I was at walking, I was wearing Capri pants. And then I did Zumba. We did songs by your favorite instructors. I don’t do Thursdays. I just do Wednesdays. Kristen missed me a lot. She’d never seen me for a while. I’ve been working a lot. You know that. I saw her and she was pregnant. Nobody told me at all. They should have told me that. I think she’s gonna be a good mom. I’m not sure if it’s going to be a boy or a girl.

September heARTwords Feature: Jonathan and Sandy

This month’s heARTwords spotlight features writers Jonathan Shuman and Sandy Clymo. HeARTwords writing workshop is a creative, supportive community of writers and volunteers who support each other to express thoughts and feelings while practicing communication and self-advocacy skills.

In a workshop focused on friendship, Jonathan and Sandy responded to the question, “What is the nicest thing anyone has done for you AND what is the nicest thing you have done for someone else?” Read on below to find out how these writers support and are supported by friends and family.

Jonathan Shuman

heARTwords participant JonathanThe nicest thing that anyone has done for me was when my mom, Joelle, allowed me to travel to Alaska for the first time during the summer of 2012. It was a great experience visiting Alaska for the first time. I was taken on a breathtaking journey across Alaska visiting Anchorage while learning about many things such as the Iditarod and the Good Friday earthquake of 1964. I also visited Denali National Park and I saw animals such as moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and grizzly bears from afar.

The nicest thing I have ever done for someone else was when Adam Wiser, my roommate, was going grocery shopping at Jewel Osco in Wilmette and he brought home lots of groceries in paper bags. When Adam was going home with lots of groceries, the paper bags broke open and all of the groceries fell out into the sidewalk. Luckily, Adam still had his iPhone and Adam called me on my iPhone and I rushed to the rescue with my big shopping cart and I helped Adam carry his groceries back to my apartment in Evanston safe and sound. Adam thanked me and I recommended to Adam that the next time Adam goes grocery shopping, Adam should use his white shopping cart.

Sandy Clymo

This person is not a friend anymore, but breaking up with me was the nicest heARTwords participant Sandything he’s ever done for me, because then I could be myself. The way that he didn’t let me be myself is that he was discriminatory towards people that are LGBTQ, and as you know that is a passion of mine. 

One of the nicest things I do is respect doctors and treat them like human beings. I think that’s one of the best things you can give them to remind them that they’re only human and some people expect them to be perfect all the time. I especially treat them like human beings when they don’t treat me like a number.

I think listening is a good skill to have to help people out. Even the kind of work I do is being there for other people. I’m in self-advocacy for people with disabilities and who are LGBTQ, where I teach people how to stand up for themselves. I touch all groups of people, not just friends. I think another way to be good to people is to read poetry with them, because poetry is medicine for the soul. Love can be the best medicine to provide to a person.

August heARTwords: Jorie and John

This month’s heARTwords spotlight features writers Jorie Lesk and John Doetsch. HeARTwords writing workshop is a creative, supportive community of writers and volunteers who support each other to express thoughts and feelings while practicing communication and self-advocacy skills.

Jorie Lesk

Would you rather have invented the telephone, the movie camera, or the television? And why?

Lights! Camera! Action! I would have liked to invent the movie camera because life to me is like a movie where you capture the good moments. I love acting, and when I went to theatre camp I would get excited to go on stage. Seeing all of the different spotlights was cool, and seeing the different color lights they would use for the shows I was in reminds me of the movie camera. I am my own star. Every time I would go backstage I would look for my writing on the theatre walls where I would write “Jorie was here.” It made me feel great because I would always remember my times at theatre camp. If I could reinvent the movie camera it would have different Disney movies on it, like “Snow White,” “Beauty and The Beast,” and “Peter Pan” and anything with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. The movie camera would also have different pictures of Disney rides and some of the songs. Some of the songs that would be featured in this movie camera would be “It’s a Small World” along with pictures from the Small World ride and also “When You Wish Upon A Star.” It would also have different Disney characters and their friends. Overall that is my reinvention of the movie camera.

John Doetsch

Would you rather write fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction is fake while non-fiction is truthful. Fiction will let you imagine and create a story or plot that can take you to a different place. In fact, you can make up ideas which you have never experienced. I could even swing on a star and carry moonbeams in a jar, leap tall buildings and scuba dive in the deepest sea, and because it’s fiction, hitch a ride on a huge whale. I could get a ride across the Pacific Ocean to reach Asia in five years (it’s a very slow whale!). During the five years, I ate more fish than I had eaten in my whole life, so I was so glad to see a McDonald’s and get a quarter-pounder with cheese. Being in Asia, I saw palm trees, lagoons, but because I had eaten so much fish, I didn’t go fishing. I was on a tropical island inhabited by Apes, which I learned were NOT friendly, but I wanted to be able to teach them not to be my enemy if they allowed me to be their teacher. I came upon the idea of offering them over-ripe bananas but I had to teach them how to peel bananas. As a result, these formerly wild apes became my friends. They wanted me to enjoy their culture and company. They gestured to me to join in a celebration because they wanted to show their friendship. They were so excited they offered their food, which was a banana. I had gone full circle and with that they gave me a strong vine and tied me to swing on the wine back over the Pacific and back to heARTwords today!

July heARTwords: Sarah and Brian

Starting this month, our blog will feature selections from the writers of the heARTwords writing workshop. At heARTwords, twenty to thirty writers gather to share themselves with the help of dedicated volunteers. HeARTwords is a community of emotions, courage, imagination, knowledge, experience, and heart.

Facilitators Barry Siegel, Paul Fields, and Joe Jackson lead the group to address topics ranging from current events to emotional issues, from humor to pathos, from magic and miracles to triumphs and tragedies. Writers contemplate love lost and love found, history, the future, and everything in between.

The facilitators encourage participants to share their communication skills and creative expressions outside of heARTwords, with family, friends, and other members of their community. This practice includes listening, questioning, and commenting. Self-advocacy is an integral part of living independently and being able to communicate with clarity, logic, passion, and focus are critical to its success.

Sarah Schechtman-Thale

You are a guest speaker at an elementary school and you’re there to address a class of first-graders. What will you talk to them about?

I would talk to the first-graders about my disability. Some first-graders think that you can catch cerebral palsy. I would tell them about the basics–what it is and how you get it, and that they don’t have to be afraid to approach me. I would first tell them how I was born with it and how it was a result of my brain cells not being developed. I would tell them that there was too much oxygen coming at them too fast, so some brain cells died. I think that you can actually see those brain cells on a scan. They would be gray, and the other cells would be healthy. Most importantly, I would tell them not to let things hold them back. If I can do it, they can do it. Hopefully, I won’t have kids timidly approaching me anymore after our talk.

Brian Reed

If your mirror could speak, what would it say?

When I look in the mirror, I see my dad’s face. He is saying “hi” to me. He says that he loves me and asks, “How is Vicki?” Vicki is my niece. He tells me that while he has been up in heaven, he has been thinking about me. He has been wondering how I am doing, and I tell him that I am doing OK. It is hard when people die, but I have been doing OK. I tell him that I wish he was still alive. I miss travelling with him, I miss birthday parties, and I miss talking to him on the phone. I miss visiting where he used to live as a kid. When I look in the mirror I also see Rosemary’s face. I say to her, “I miss you, Rosemary.” I miss going to breakfast. I also tell her that I am doing OK. Thank you for being part of my life, Rosemary. I wish that you, too, were still alive.

 

Success Stories

tue16jul1:30 pm2:30 pmWalking Club

wed17jul4:00 pm5:15 pmVolunteer Club

wed17jul6:30 pm7:30 pmBike Club

fri19jul6:00 pm8:00 pmLadies' Night

sat20jul3:00 pm5:30 pmHeARTwords Workshop

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