Here in Evanston, Center for Independent Futures supports many individuals with disabilities who work, live, and give back to our community. A place to call home is more than just an apartment or a room. It’s a place where you can be yourself and make your own decisions. If you or someone you know is looking for a new place to call home, we would love to share the opportunities we have for individuals with disabilities to live independently in our community.
Harrison Street Community
The Harrison Street Community is located in northwest Evanston on a comfortable tree-lined street within walking distance to many shops, hip restaurants, Metra, and bus lines. Currently, one bedroom is available on the first floor. The room is located in a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment shared by two men who have lived independently for many years. This apartment includes an elliptical machine, shared TV, and internet access with free laundry in the basement.
An Independent Futures staff member called a Community Builder lives on the third floor and provides overnight support, daily check-ins, weekly meetings, and social events planned with the residents. Together, the residents and the Community Builder work to make this a safe place to grow, learn, play, relax, and live independently with support.
Chicago Avenue Community
In more urban southeast Evanston, the Chicago Avenue Community has two apartments available on July 1st, 2021. This building is close to restaurants, grocery shopping, Lake Michigan, Metra, CTA, and bus lines. The first availability is a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment. The second is a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment that provides an excellent opportunity for up to three friends to move in together.
Chicago Avenue contains six individual residences, including one for the Community Builder, who provides overnight support, daily check-ins, weekly hangouts, and social events planned with the residents. A community gathering space called “The Hub” on the first floor includes a full kitchen, dining area, shared TV, WiFi, and free laundry. The Hub is also a multi-use space for the wider Independent Futures community to host workshops, tutoring sessions, and celebrations.
Community Builder Nick Connell observes, “I think the Independent Futures Communities offer a unique blend of interdependence and independence. That’s why I chose this role, to have mutually beneficial relationships and a community life that supports full independence with just the right amount of togetherness. It creates aliveness, wholehearted connection, opportunities for mutual support.”
Find Support in Community
Center for Independent Futures provides personalized supports for each resident in our communities. In addition to Community Builder support, each resident works one-on-one with a Skills Tutor and Community Life Coordinator to strengthen independent living skills. Residents and Center for Independent Futures staff work together, exploring choices and options using our person-centered approach to create a full life.
Long-time resident Jake Joehl explains, “I think people should choose to move into this community because we are a vibrant and active community. I’ve learned a lot from my time in this building, and all staff here really know what they’re doing. I feel welcome here, and I’ve met great people. I’ve also learned a thing or two about living independently!”
If these community residences sound like a good fit for you or someone you know, call us at (847) 328-2044. For more information about our Community Living Options, click here.
“I had never heard of Independent Futures before, nor was I aware of any type of supported living model like their Community Living Option (CLO). So when the opportunity to apply for the Community Builder opening came across my desk nearly a decade ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. However, it was clear to me that Independent Futures was something incredibly unique and quite special. From the moment the opportunity presented itself to the day I moved in, it was only a span of two weeks. Needless to say, I was sold. Over eight years later, I’m still a believer.” – Aby Karottu, Community Builder
Over the past 20 years, Independent Futures’ work has centered the best ways to bolster opportunities to be independent for adults with disabilities. Out of this work, we created the New Futures Initiative™, a training program to help families create housing options for their loved ones.
Our training is based on our own experience creating Community Living Options™. Our CLOs are creative solutions to support adults with disabilities who want to live in a community of their choice.
A key piece of our Community Living Options is our Community Builders. A Community Builder lives in their own apartment in the CLO. They provide support for their building’s other residents as needed. For this blog, we asked a couple of our Community Builders to share what it’s like to navigate their supportive role.
Daily Community Builder Routines
Before the stay-at-home policies, Aby Karottu, Community Builder for Harrison Street, started his mornings early. By 5:00 am, he would start a HIIT workout at Evanston Athletic Club. Then he went to work in Skokie as a special education teacher. When he came home, Aby checked in with the other CLO residents. Every day, he stopped by to say hello to his neighbors. After that, Aby played with his dog, hung out with friends, went on dates, rock climbed, or practiced a number of other hobbies.
For Nick Connell, Community Builder at the Chicago Ave. House, the routine is similar. He and the other residents meet for a daily “hello and chat,” and then he would spend time with his family, play soccer, or practice one of his hobbies.
Community Builders play a crucial role in supporting the full lives that CLO residents develop. But as Aby shared, “I’ve come to recognize and embrace my role as a Community Builder most closely to that of an overly-concerned neighbor.”
Challenges for Community Builders
When families in our New Futures Initiative learn about Community Builders, they often wonder how they could find anyone who would accept the role. The family members sometimes ask how Community Builders can maneuver the challenges.
Nick and Aby each face different challenges. For Nick, scheduling and communication can be challenges, “especially in the beginning of forming our community.” These are two challenges that can only be overcome with practice.
As a special education teacher, Aby had trouble taking off his “teacher hat” in the beginning. Since then, he says he has grown into the role of Community Builder. “While I’ll always be an educator at heart, I also honor my very unique role, not as an authority figure, but rather as a role model who’s just here to lend a caring ear and a helping hand.”
Truthfully, the role of Community Builder can be demanding. But there are people who believe in community and are happy to support adults with disabilities in their daily lives.
Finding Joy in Community
Though Community Builders face many demands on their time, they find joy in the small interactions the community shares. They see each resident every day. Though the Community Builder may offer support and advice, they also receive support in their lives.
For Nick, his daily check-ins have brought unexpected connections. “Currently one of my neighbors and I share ingredients and recipes, and then we share whatever we bake or cook. I greatly appreciate the opportunities to give and receive.”
“I appreciate the intimate nature inherent in living amongst the residents I serve. As such, I greatly value the relationship aspects of what I do,” Aby says of the joys he finds as a Community Builder. “Because of the journeys I’ve experienced, I have a type of joy that’s been unparalleled in my life.”
Finding Community Builders
Though becoming a Community Builder is certainly not easy, “it’s a wonderful way of life,” according to Nick. When families ask how we find folks willing to do that work, we share that it’s not always easy.
Being a Community Builder is both challenging and joyous. It requires dedication and the willingness to support individuals with disabilities. Agreeing with Nick, Aby says, “It’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle. If you value service, compassion, and community, it will be worth it.”
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?
For 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
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
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.
Use 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.
Engage 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.
For parents of adults with disabilities, the path to an independent future is never without obstacles. Planning for the future requires dozens of extra steps that parents of adults without disabilities may never encounter. From developing trusts to drafting letters of intent, protecting the future leaves so many questions to answer. Yet one question stands above many others: When should families begin to consider independent housing for their loved one?
The answer? As soon as possible.
Reasons To Start Planning Today
Planning for the future is not a linear process with each step laid out for families to follow. As time passes, systems change alongside changes in perception. In the past, families expected their loved one would continue to live with them or maybe in a group home.
While many people with disabilities have lived with their family and may continue to, there are several reasons why this option is not as feasible as it once was.
Relying on Family
Unlike in the past, adults with disabilities are outliving their parents. For the first time, parents may pass at 80 years old, but their adult child with disabilities might be only 60 – and very ready to live a full life. But now, without their parents, the individual lives without parental support and without their family home to go to.
Families often plan for their disabled son or daughter to live with a sibling, but data tells us that sometimes this doesn’t work out. 50% of siblings say they plan to co-reside with their sibling. Only 10% actually do. These stats don’t tell us why this happens. However, they do tell us that we shouldn’t completely rely on siblings to become caretakers once parents have passed.
Relying on Government Support
Most families of individuals with disabilities know that relying on the government for support isn’t reliable. Few know just how unreliable this option is.
Only 25% of individuals with disabilities receive any financial government supports. Of that small percentage, 71% receive SSI/SSDI benefits, 44% receive Medicaid waivers, and only 15% receive vocational rehabilitation support. So what does this mean?
It means that your loved one cannot necessarily depend on receiving financial support from the government to live in the community when you’re gone.
It means that you may be leaving your loved one without options.
It means that the time to start looking at independent living options is now.
The Benefits of Community Independent Living
When individuals with disabilities have the chance to live in small community settings, their quality of life increases. Living in this type of setting increases an individual’s access to not only family & friends but also to medical care, preventive care, and employment opportunities.
With better access to community assets, we see increased life satisfaction in almost every individual we work with. They are able to utilize self-determination skills while gaining new independent living skills like cooking and cleaning.
These benefits of independent living are not simply nice to have. They are the difference between a full life with personal supports or segregated loneliness.
Developing Crucial Personal Support Networks
One more benefit of living in community settings is the chance to develop personal support networks. These networks consist of natural supports, such as family and friends, plus potential employers, local business owners, or even a school crossing guard.
A personal support network consists of anyone in an individual’s community. Part of living independently is community acceptance – and small settings, like an apartment or shared home, often lead to greater acceptance from neighbors.
Finally, living in this type of small, community setting often leads to increased community life participation. This can look like being part of a book club, belonging to a church, or volunteering at the local YWCA.
Each of these increases to quality of life means that an individual’s personal support network is growing. Developing support networks early, before parents pass, means an individual with disabilities can move into the next stage of their life with greater comfort and stability.
Your Next Steps To Independent Futures
By now, you may be convinced that it is time to start planning for your loved one’s next home. After a few frustrating late night sessions with Google, you realize that finding community housing options for people with disabilities isn’t easy. After you have begun applying for or securing funding, what do you do next?
1. Build Support Networks
Once your loved one knows what type of community they want to live in, it is time to develop relationships. Before anyone moves and before making any commitments, explore opportunities to get involved. The best way to nurture a relationship is to start with connections.
Is there somewhere your loved one would like to volunteer? Perhaps they want to explore the new library branch? There are many ways to get involved in a community. The hardest part is to start.
2. Focus on Life Skills Development
Our Life Skills Tutors are part of our participants’ key to success. At each session, a tutor will help someone with anything from creating a budget to getting their exercise in. Our Full Life Model illustrates that each aspect of a full life is equally important to another. For example, we know that developing friendships is just as important as creating good nutritional habits.
What skills will they need in order to achieve their dream?
What skills does this individual already possess?
What has this person had a chance to learn?
What can an individual learn?
What supports does an individual need?
After talking about these questions, start thinking about how you or a personal support worker can help. Some lesson plans exist to help individual with disabilities learn how to do, rather than how we can “do for” them.
3. Research Existing Options
Return to your original Google search. The options that exist may not be the perfect Cinderella fit for your loved one. However, the people or organizations that created them may be able to give you a road map to creating your own solution.
The first step to learning more about existing options is to visit several existing options. Begin talking to other families who have stood where you are standing today. There is strength in numbers, such as shared experiences and knowledge.
While you are visiting existing housing options for people with disabilities, you will see what an individual’s independent life can look like. Ask your loved one, “If we created our own option, what would you want?” Does that vision include a roommate? A communal space? These are the types of questions to answer before you start building.
The Perfect Storm Is Now
Today individuals with disabilities are included in more opportunities of a full life than ever before. From the time they enter school, there is typically some form of integrated classroom time. When leaving integrated school settings, families and individuals are beginning to demand inclusive options for the future. Whether in the form of community inclusion or employment, it is no longer optional to create inclusive spaces.
Yet, upon leaving school settings, many housing options are not integrated or independent. Though research argues that small community-integrated settings improve quality of life, many existing housing options for people with disabilities are large settings or removed from the community.
Ultimately, families seeking greater inclusion created a large number of the small community settings that exist. Those options have not been available without hard work, dedication, and commitment to independence. If your loved one hopes to live independently someday, the time to start looking at innovative housing options is as soon as possible.
Many barriers to independent living exist for people with disabilities, but new in-home technologies can help most families remove some obstacles. While these technology options won’t replace the development of all life skills, they can support individuals to live more independent lives and offer their families peace of mind. At our housing conference in October, we invited a panel of tech innovators to present their remote support solutions. Read more to learn about these tools.
Night Owl Support Systems
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Night Owl Support Systems specializes in home monitoring technology. They tailor equipment to each person’s need, so they are able to offer individualized support. Night Owl’s services consist of live remote monitoring. By providing care remotely, Night Owl offers clients independence, safety, and security.
With the use of person pagers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, temperature and moisture sensors, and movement sensors, remote monitor staff interacts when assistance is needed. This option serves as an alternative to paid overnight care. Prior to beginning services, Night Owl’s staff works with clients to develop support plans. To learn more about Night Owl Support Systems, visit their website today.
Since 2006, Rest Assured has been providing cost-effective care to individuals with disabilities. Rest Assured provides remote support for people with disabilities, whether living independently or with their families.
The support Rest Assured provides can be tailored to the needs of each individual. With varying levels of support, clients can choose from active support and check-ins or emergency watch as needed. Various supports are available, including two-way audio/visual communication, smoke and temperature detectors, electronic sensors, and more. To get in touch with Rest Assured, visit their website.
Committed to innovation, Simply Home’s founders dreamed of creating a way for seniors and individuals with disabilities to live at home. With more choice and control, Simply Home’s clients are able to develop their independent living skills.
Beginning with a person-centered assessment, Simply Home then designs a custom system. After activating the new system, individuals with disabilities can often live independently, relying on real-time alerts and insights alongside ongoing customer service. Click here to watch a full demo. Find out if Simply Home is right for you by contacting them.
New In-Home Technologies Make a Difference
Do you or someone you know need assistance living independently? Find out if one of these new in-home technologies is the right choice. Reach out to these passionate, innovative companies to discover what remote supports could mean for you and your loved ones.
As the holiday season approaches, we are reflecting on a year of growth at Center for Independent Futures. Looking back on the year, we want to thank each of you for your support and suggest five reasons to add us to your year-end giving. We have come up with five reasons for you to give for independent futures. Thanks to community members like you, the lives of more individuals with disabilities have been enriched and the reach of our community has expanded.
#1: We Combat Isolation & Exclusion
Individuals with disabilities face social isolation at a much higher rate than others. Through our Change Champions project, we partner with public and private organizations like public libraries and YMCAs to create cultures of inclusion. Over the last year, this program has introduced several community institutions to the strengths that individuals with disabilities bring to the table.
#2: We Bring Innovation into Classrooms through My Full Life™
We dream of a future where all individuals can share their gifts with the community of their choice. My Full Life™ is our innovative online solution to help teachers identify how students can reach their goals. With your continued commitment, educators access our innovative online curriculum to train life skills and identify the strengths individuals can bring into their communities.
#3: Our New Futures Initiative™ Brings Hope to Hundreds
Challenges concerning housing and independent living support persist for individuals with disabilities everywhere. Our family-guided New Futures Initiative™ housing approach gives hope to groups across the country. From California to Canada, you help us make a difference in hundreds of lives.
#4: We Strive to Fill the Gap
In the state of Illinois, opportunities for people with disabilities continue to be underfunded year after year. The need for community-based solutions is greater than ever. With your help, we hope to help fill the gap that is created by diminishing state funding. Our robust activities and events calendar provides support for individuals with a variety of interests, including our whole community.
#5: We Are Committed to Person-Centered Solutions
Since our founding in 2002, Center for Independent Futures has been focused on the individual. We have always started at square one by asking each participant, “What are your hopes & dreams?” Thanks to supporters like you, we continue to be leaders in person-centered approaches today.
We have a lot to look forward to in 2019, including welcoming more family groups to New Futures Initiative training and sharing My Full Life™ with more schools and agencies throughout the country. We are dedicated to helping families live with greater peace of mind and sharing our resources with community leaders. With such a big year coming up, we know we will need your help. Can you give for independent futures today? Please consider making a year-end contribution to Center for Independent Futures today.
For our loved ones with disabilities, the future is full of uncertainties around independent living. Center for Independent Futures has made it our mission to help families combat these uncertainties by helping you take the matter into your own hands through our New Futures Initiative™ Training. And, that’s why we host housing conferences featuring disability housing thought leaders from across the country.
What We Learned About Housing for People with Disabilities
Keynote speaker Micaela Connery came from the Bay Area to tell us about her organization, The Kelsey. Micaela highlighted how she and her colleagues are collaborating with local partners to develop apartments suited for inclusive communities. It is not Micaela’s goal to create housing that is for people with disabilities. Her goal is to create housing options that are inclusive of people with disabilities, where they can become part of the local community.
Other developers in attendance, like Three Oaks Communities from Michigan, are creating similar communities. Three Oaks Communities is creating inclusive developments where people with disabilities can own their home along with other home owners who share a vision for a neighborhood that welcomes people with a variety of capabilities.
Technology Supports Increase Independence
Technology innovators joined the conference this year too. Rest Assured, SimplyHome, and Night Owl Support Systems each gave a brief presentation on how their remote supports work. Each of these systems offers varying levels of independence and oversight. To learn more about these programs, visit their websites.
What to Watch For Next
We offered a live stream of this conference for the first time ever! That footage will become available publicly in early 2019. Keep an eye out for the videos on our Facebook and YouTube accounts! And if you want to be the first to know when it’s available, subscribe to our monthly newsletter today!
We are proud to announce our 2018 housing conference Community Partnerships: Creating Housing and Support Options for Individuals with Disabilities.
Join us at National Louis University’s Northshore campus on Friday, October 12th from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm, and hear from a variety of professionals working to create and support housing options for individuals with disabilities. Purchase tickets on the event page.
We are pleased to offer Human Service Professionals and Educators a certificate for 6 CEU/CPDUs for the day.
Options in Inclusive Community Housing
Our keynote speaker, Micaela Connery, is the founder and CEO of The Kelsey. Inspired by her cousin Kelsey, Micaela has been working on inclusion in communities her entire life. She has seen firsthand the housing crisis facing adults with disabilities and their families. She spent a year studying this issue in detail at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. The Kelsey exists to turn the challenge of disability housing into the opportunity of an inclusive community.
Hear from families working to create community-based alternative housing options using our New Futures Initiative. With funding from The Coleman Foundation, we have partnered with agencies like Clearbrook and the families they serve to work toward creating alternative housing options.
Engage Civic Leaders for Support
Our endnote speaker, former Mayor David Pope, will share how you can effectively engage elected leaders and city administrators in your community. David now works with Oak Park Residence Corporation to create diverse communities in Oak Park.
Clark McCain (The Coleman Foundation) will provide closing statements on building community partnerships within our own communities.
Interested in learning about community-based housing alternatives? Don’t wait! Get your tickets for this conference today!
For more information and questions about registration, email our office or call (847) 328-2044.
When families of individuals with disabilities consider the future, one question looms large: Where will my loved one live, and who will support them to live the fullest life possible?
With the present housing crisis for individuals with disabilities growing, that is the question that Center for Independent Futures supports families to answer with the New Futures Initiative™. We help families of individuals with disabilities discover housing models that fit their needs, working with agencies like Families Creating Communities for Adults with Special Needs (Families CCAN).
Families CCAN is designing innovative housing models with families in Pennsylvania, using the knowledge and tools they learn from participating in our New Futures Initiative™ training. In 2016, Families CCAN brought their first family group to Evanston, where they toured our Community Living Options. They began to create a picture for their loved ones’ futures and went back to Philadelphia with the tools they need to bring their vision to life.
On May 19th and 20th, Center for Independent Futures is welcoming a second family group from Families CCAN to our office where they will begin the training to develop their own housing model. We are excited to continue building our relationship with this organization whose mission aligns so closely with our own. Two members of the Families CCAN team who observed the last family group training will co-lead this training as part of the process to become certified New Futures Initiative facilitators.
Throughout the weekend, the family group will have the chance to meet with our participants, staff, board, and other community members, as well as see our Community Living Options firsthand. After exploring different options, this group will determine their own vision and criteria before embarking on creating their own community living opportunities. Dr. Paul Arntson, Northwestern Professor Emeritus and Asset Based Community Development Emeritus Faculty Member, will join the training to share his expertise on community organizing and building, critical approaches that groups must apply in order to successfully reach their goals.
We can’t wait to meet this new family group. Our community is looking forward to this special visit!
Last month, the ARC of Illinois hosted their 68th annual ARC Conference. From April 25-26, service professionals, educators, and many others came together to discuss how we can “Unite, Empower, Act” to create an inclusive society with all opportunities available to individuals with disabilities. Coming together united, attendees were able to share new tools, new ideas, and best practices for supporting individuals.
Additionally, the conference offers individuals with disabilities the opportunity to share their stories, complete with struggles, successes, and dreams.
Center for Independent Futures staff made two presentations at this year’s conference. The first panel, titled “Creating Housing Solutions Through Community Partnerships,”shared information about our New Futures Initiative™ training. This program highlights our current work with family groups supported by a grant from the Coleman Foundation. The panel presentation featured families, service providers, developers, and supportive technology providers who shared how this collaborative approach can help families create new community housing solutions.
The second panel, led by Change Champions Project Director Kathy Lyons, focused on creating inclusive communities. Members of four diverse communities shared how they are creating inclusive communities for all, including individuals with disabilities. The Change Champions project, funded by a grant from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, illustrates what happens when we make inclusion a priority.
We would like to thank the ARC of Illinois for the opportunity to present our innovative solutions to problems facing the disability community today at the ARC Conference. If you would like more information about housing training or the Change Champions project, call us at (847) 328-2044.