“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.” 

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