Center For Independent Futures – Helping Individuals with Disabilities Realize Dreams

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Last week, the staff of M&L Special Needs Planning were very fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Jane Doyle, co-founder and Executive Director of the Center For Independent Futures (CIF). It was an absolute pleasure to talk to Jane, and we are very excited to share with you everything we learned from her about the organization, the services it provides, and the exciting plans for the future of the CIF.

Center for Independent Futures – What they do, and Where They Came From

The Center for Independent Futures (CIF) is a non-profit organization located in Evanston, Illinois, that “helps individuals with disabilities realize full lives, according to their hopes and dreams.[i]” The CIF operates independently of state and federal funding, and provides services such as public benefits consultations, full life future planning, independent living skills tutoring and support services, network and family coaching, and weekly activities for individuals with disabilities. The organization also provides housing supports and services for individuals under their Community Living Option (CLO) Residences and their Community Living Option (CLO) Family Partnership programs. As if that roster of services wasn’t impressive enough, the story of the creation of the organization is fascinating, engaging, and inspiring.

The idea for the CIF was born from discussions that took place “over the kitchen table” between two women, Jane Doyle and Kay Branz. These two women, who bonded and became friends as a result of shared experiences raising children with developmental disabilities[ii], were united in a vision of finding or creating a way for their children with developmental disabilities to live and participate in the community in a meaningful way after leaving the school system. As Jane says, “it was clear to me that whatever the challenges facing [her daughter] were in the school system, there was a place for her to go, and connect, and be a part of the community. The after school part was the challenge.”  Jane questioned how her daughter would fit into a post-school community; where would it be? What would it look like?

Both Jane and Kay decided to try to create something for their children and other individuals with disabilities that wasn’t just an embodiment of what other people thought was best for them, but something that accurately reflected the hopes and dreams of these individuals themselves. They wanted to devise a program or arrive at a solution that would enable adults with disabilities to integrate and connect with a community as a result of their own personal goals and choices.

In attempt to turn that vision into reality, the two women put forth a call to action to the community – they gathered together families in similar situations in an attempt to identify and work through the biggest challenges and issues facing individuals with disabilities. The goal was to put forth and discuss solutions to help families deal with those issues, and in turn, help families support family members with disabilities in realizing their dreams. Jane, who has been trained as an Educator, and also holds a degree in Special Education and a doctorate in Transitioning Planning, initially thought the biggest challenge would revolve around work and vocational opportunities. In actuality, many families were most concerned with finding and accessing housing opportunities outside of what the state of Illinois offered.

In order to realize the goals identified in the call to action, the organization had to explore a number of issues and questions. They first had to decide if, and how, they could come together and work as a community; i.e. was there was enough of a shared vision for everyone to work together? They also had to explore the financial feasibility of the program, and whether it could operate independently of state and federal funding. Lastly, they had to explore the housing opportunities available in the area, and whether there were opportunities for these individuals with disabilities to live in their communities and neighborhoods. After these explorations came back with positive results, a set of core values was put in place and a shared mission was identified. As a result of this early groundwork, when a family member approached the organization with a housing unit for individuals with disabilities to rent, the organization was ready to provide the services necessary to support these individuals. Thus, the Community Living Option (CLO) Residences and Community Living Option (CLO) Family Partnership programs were created.

From that point on, the CIF grew and developed into the entity that it is today – an organization which supports four CLO residences, and serves more than 100 individuals annually.

CLO Residences and Family Partnership

In light of M&L Special Needs Planning’s own Independent Living Program and Housing Project, (which is due to launch late summer/early fall) we were very interested in the nuts and bolts of the CIF housing supports and services; we wanted to learn how the CLO programs are organized, how they operate, and how the CIF provides housing supports and services to residents. Luckily for us, Jane was happy to indulge our curiosity.

As Jane explained, the individual looking for housing enters into a rental agreement with the landlord, and that individual is responsible for paying monthly bills and expenses, (i.e. rent, utilities, internet, etc.) through private resources, earned income, individual government benefits, scholarships, and/or various combinations of all of the above. The CIF develops a memorandum of understanding with the landlord (if one is not already in place), and then enters into a service agreement with the individual.

As a result of this memorandum with the landlord, the CIF controls which individuals live in the housing unit and is responsible for managing the housing unit – for example, they choose and are familiar with the different vendors that service the building, among other things. As a part of the service agreement with the resident, a CIF Community Builder lives in each residence and is responsible for providing overnight support, checking in daily with the residents, and holding weekly “house” meetings. Each resident also has a one-on-one Independent Living Skills tutor, and receives tutoring hours that are based on the individual’s Independent Living Readiness Inventory (this is an assessment of a young adult’s living skills and experience – all residents undergo this inventory prior to moving in). In addition, each resident also has a Community Life Coordinator, who acts as a liaison between the staff, the resident, and the resident’s family. All of these people come together and communicate with each other, forming a network of support for the individual.

The CLO residences are all located in residential areas, close to modern amenities such as public transit services and shopping areas. It is important to note that all housing supports and services the CIF provide are based on their philosophy of support, and “each residence is grounded in community building while fostering individual choice and exploration.[iii]

CIF’s Plans for the Future, and the New Futures Initiative Training

After 10 years of providing housing services and supports to individuals with disabilities, the CIF is looking towards the future. They have recently been awarded a planning grant from the Coleman Foundation to support the New Futures Initiative, “a process that provides family groups and agencies with financial, legal and support models for creating new community based housing options for individuals with disabilities in their own neighborhoods”[iv]; this grant enables the CIF to venture out into four communities and explore assumptions regarding housing as a government issue versus housing as a community issue. According to the Coleman Foundation website, “through this process, the CIF will establish and document a process for using community based partnership to develop housing alternatives for individuals with developmental disabilities, resulting in four community partnerships in Illinois to create a replicable process for families and communities, resulting in sustainable community-based alternative housing model.[v]” The CIF is currently six months into the 18-month grant.

In addition to this exciting new project, the CIF also offers New Futures Initiative Training. Individuals who take part in the New Futures initiative Training “learn from professionals about topics such as organizational structure, real estate, public benefits, building community, housing, and support for individuals with disabilities[vi]”. This training is geared toward helping family groups, schools, agencies and others recreate CIF housing models in their community of choice. For more information about this training program, or to learn about how to register a group for the New Futures Initiative Training, please click here.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read our blog today. We were so happy to have the opportunity to speak with Jane about this amazing organization, and we hope that you all found it as fascinating as we did! For further information on the CIF and the services it provides, please visit their website. You can also contact us with questions on this, or any other special needs planning topic.

Wishing you all an excellent weekend, and hopefully we will see you again next week!


[i]http://www.independentfutures.com/
[ii]http://www.independentfutures.com/Default.aspx?tabid=142
[iii]http://www.independentfutures.com/Default.aspx?tabid=172
[iv]http://www.colemanfoundation.org/
[v]http://colemanfoundation.typepad.com/cfi_blog/page/2/
[vi]http://www.independentfutures.com/Default.aspx?tabid=263

 

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