The IC Provides the Opportunity to Learn from Multiple Sclerosis Ambassador

by Gabe Taylor

On October 26th, The Independence Center hosted a discussion on Multiple Sclerosis (MS) with Tom Falconer, Ambassador for the Colorado-Wyoming Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Falconer, whose wife has MS, has been the primary care giver for his wife for the last 27 years.

During Falconer’s presentation, he discussed the symptoms, diagnosis, challenges, and long-term prognosis for people with MS. He explained that MS is by no means the end of life as you know it, and in fact can present relatively mild symptoms for some. For Falconer’s wife, though, the disease was debilitating. Within three year of her diagnosis, she was completely dependent on a wheel-chair for mobility.

When discussing Falconer’s presentation, Carol Johnson, Independent Living Specialist at The Independence Center, who has Multiple Sclerosis herself tells me “It helped me out tremendously, and everybody that went said it was just awesome.” She goes on to tell me that based on something Falconer said in his presentation, she was able to talk to her doctor and figure out that one of her medications was not working correctly.

Though much about MS is still unknown, one factor that all MS patients have in common is the degeneration of the myelin sheathing surrounding the nerves that transmit signals throughout the body. Falconer explained this complex process by comparing it to an electrical wire with worn out insulation. As the insulation becomes thinner and is eventually missing, the electricity is diverted from its intended location and terminates in the wrong place along the way. With MS, this results in mental degradation and the inability to effectively control the muscles. If you or a loved one has Multiple Sclerosis, or you would like to know more about this complex disease, The IC can help. To learn about our MS support group go to or contact Carol Johnson at 719-471-8181 x116.

The IC Receives National Recognition from FEMA

by Gabe Taylor

On September 16th, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representative Carrie Roberts presented The Independence Center with the Outstanding Inclusive Initiative in Emergency Management Award. FEMA, a U.S. government agency best known for its disaster recovery efforts, also focuses on emergency preparedness training. The award was given to The IC for building eighteen Emergency Preparedness Kits to help people with disabilities during emergencies. The effort was led by The IC’s Emergency Preparedness department. Contractor John Monteith and Board Member Pat Going accepted the award for their part in helping to pull this effort together.

The kits were developed with the help of a grant from the Daniels Fund. Each kit contains mobility and communication devices, personal heating and cooling equipment, eating and drinking products, and other items needed to address a range of disability needs. After completion, the kits were donated to the American Red Cross and other local groups.

When disaster strikes, each of these kits will make a huge difference for individuals in need. So congratulations to The IC’s Emergency Preparedness Department and to everyone who made this award possible.

For more information, visit The Independence Center’s Emergency Preparedness webpage.


The IC Wins OIB Grant to Help People Experiencing Blindness

by Gabe Taylor

The Independence Center is pleased to announce that we’ve been awarded a three-year Older Individuals with Blindness (OIB) grant from the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The OIB grant will enable us to continue helping older individuals experiencing low vision or blindness to remain independently in their homes, and to continue their hobbies or activities. As of 2016, The Independence Center had 110 consumers actively participating in the OIB program.

As we age, the occurrence of vision loss becomes increasingly likely for everyone. For some, this experience can be isolating and extremely difficult, often times resulting in the loss of independence. Imagine going through your daily routine with limited sight, or the loss of sight altogether. For many, this transition makes it hard to maintain a job or live at home, and can lead to feelings of loneliness and separation from friends and family.

When discussing the importance of the OIB program with Jeanette Fortin, an OIB Specialist at The Independence Center who is blind herself, she tells a story about a consumer who she worked with a few years ago. After losing the ability to drive and read, the woman thought that she was going to end up in an assisted living facility. A friend referred her to The Independence Center where she attended one of the peer support groups. While there, she was able to meet other people, who like her, had lost part or all of their vision. By talking to these people and working with The Independence Center, she was able to learn ways to cope with her vision loss and gain knowledge about resources and programs available to help people experiencing blindness and vision loss. Also, with help from the Pikes Peak Area Council of Government (PPACG) grant, The IC was able to purchase a magnifier for the woman, which assisted her with reading. Now in her eighties, the woman is still independent.

When talking about the people that she has helped through the OIB program, Jeanette proudly says, “The whole point in what we do is to help seniors to continue to live independently, rather than feeling like they have to be put in assisted living.”

The OIB program at The Independence Center provides people age 55 or older with peer support groups, home visits, public outreach and education activities, assistive technologies, Braille instruction, as well as independent living and self-advocacy training. For so many, the OIB program is an important lifeline, and we are grateful to the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for potentially renewing funding through September of 2019. If you or a loved one is experiencing blindness or loss of vision and feel that The OIB program might be right for you, visit or call Jeanette Fortin at 719-471-8181 x126 for more information.

Life Skills Class Gives Students a Taste for Cooking

by Gabe Taylor

As a group of students in The Independence Center’s Wednesday cooking class prepare for their lesson, instructor Edgar Morales asks them what the first step is when preparing food. In unison, the class enthusiastically responds with “wash your hands.” Then the fun begins. On the menu is baked ham, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. Most of the students have been in Edgar’s cooking classes before, so there is a real sense of community. As you would expect, the students joke around with each other when not cooking, and overall really seem to enjoy learning how to cook.

Melissa, a shy girl who tells me how much she likes football, seems especially involved in the class. She tells me how much she has learned in her time in the class and proudly explains that when she goes home now, she knows how to cook for her family. She seems especially proud of making a homemade lasagna recently for a potluck at her church.

When it’s time to start cooking, everyone plays a part. Edgar directs the show like the conductor of an orchestra. Everyone takes turns working together as the meal comes together. In the process of preparing the mashed potatoes, there is a minor problem. The boiled potatoes don’t seem to be mashing with the hand held potato masher. Quick thinking saves the day as the class decides the potatoes need to be chopped up and mixed with an electric mixer. In the end, everything turns out great and students are able to sit down and enjoy the meal that they worked so hard to prepare.

Though friendship and fun are one of the byproducts of the class, The IC’s cooking class was started for the purpose of giving people with disabilities the knowledge and skills they need to live independently. In the case of this class, most of the students are young adults transitioning into adulthood. When I ask Edgar Morales what the purpose of the class is, he says “If their parents are not in the house, or if they want to live independently, they can be able to cook and live, and to be able to do things without their parents doing it for them.” By teaching real-world skills, The Independence Center prepares these young adults for living on their own.

Aside from the cooking class, there are numerous other independent living skills classes taught at The Independence Center. Some of the classes include Full Life Ahead, Healthy Relationships, Living Well with a Disability, Positive Attitude and Overcoming Barriers, Art Expression, and Money Management. This is just few of the many classes that are available, and new classes are being added all the time. If you or a loved one is interested in taking classes at The Independence Center, call Edgar Morales at 719-471-8181 x168.

Colorado Commission for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Presents Susan J Elliott Award to The IC

Angie Tenorio and Billy Allen smile for the camera holding the Susan J Elliott Award for Outstanding Service
Angie Tenorio, Coordinator for our Deaf & Hard of Hearing Department and Billy Allen, Board Chair for The Independence Center, accepted the Susan J Elliott award for Outstanding Service from the Colorado Commission for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Thursday evening.
The Independence Center is humbled by this award and so proud that our CEO, Patricia Yeager, our Board of Directors, and our Deaf & Hard of Hearing Department have made services for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Community a priority at The Independence Center. As we know, our entire community benefits from this, not just those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Way to go and congratulations! ]]>

Grant Funds Facilitate Ongoing Accessibility in Recreation and Jobs

The IC Fund saw nearly $75,000 awarded to five organizations. Funds were given to support community projects in line with The IC Fund goal of increasing independence for people with disabilities.

Amblicab's new wheelchair accessible van

Amblicab’s new wheelchair accessible van purchased with funds granted from The IC Fund.

Community members will benefit from these projects through ongoing accessibility in recreation, transportation and jobs. Additionally, veterans with a disability who are living in a substance abuse treatment facility will now have the dignity of showering in nicely remodeled accessible showers.
A brief description of the impact of each award is described below.

Blue Star Recyclers hard disk drive shredding system

An employee at Blue Star Recyclers operates the new hard disk drive shredding system purchased with grant funds.

Amblicab received $25,000 towards funding their new “Engage and Explore” program. This program aims to regularly transport people with disabilities to fun, recreational activities. Specifically, a wheelchair accessible minivan was purchased and is being used to get people to birthday parties, karaoke, religious services, concerts, and more. Update: Amblicab has changed their name to Envida.

Blue Star Recyclers, an award winning social enterprise that employs staff almost entirely made up of people with disabilities, used their award of $20,200 to purchase a hard disk drive shredding system. The new system allowed for employment of two new staff members with disabilities. This hard disk drive shredding system is the only local solution for data destruction in the Pikes Peak region.

Bear Creek Nature Center Songbird Trail with a woman and three young children walking towards the camera on the trail

The repaired boardwalk of Songbird Trail, a popular trail located at Bear Creek Nature Center.

Friends of El Paso County Nature Centers was awarded $20,000 to repair the boardwalk of the popular Songbird Trail located at the Bear Creek Nature Center. The new Trex planks, railing and signage made the trail easily accessible to wheelchair users, seniors, and visually impaired visitors.

New concrete ramp leading to covered picnic pavilion with small portion of red and black picnic table showing.

Covered picnic pavilion with new wheelchair accessible ramp.

Lake George Community Association used their $3,875 award to install an ADA accessible family picnic pavilion, which has made Lake George Community Park picnic area now accessible to wheelchair users.

The newly remodeled bathroom with accessible shower stall.

Five showers in disrepair at The CVRC’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans and Substance Abuse Treatment Program were fixed and made more accessible for those with physical disabilities.

Colorado Veterans Resource Coalition utilized their $5,000 award, coupled with an additional $10,000 from The Independence Center home modification fund, to fix five showers in disrepair at The CVRC’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans and Substance Abuse Treatment Program. The grant paid for the showers on the first level to be made more accessible for those with physical disabilities.]]>

Kudos Due For Collaborative Efforts for Accessible Telephone Communications

old trends= outdated legislation; new legislation for accessible telephone communications; Disabled Telephone users Fund will be signed into law May 4, 2016Kudos are due for legislative work that ensures that people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or deaf-blind will have access to accessible telephone communications in coming years.
The Independence Center was instrumental in lobbying for HB 1414, the Disabled Telephone Users Fund, which will be signed into law by the Governor at a signing ceremony on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. In addition, HB 1414 includes new program funds requested by the Colorado Deaf Blind Task Force for additional services for people who are deaf-blind.
Our hats are off to The Independence Center Board of Directors. Our board supported the vision for change to engage in the political process to keep telecommunications accessible across the entire state. We’d like to acknowledge the hard work of our lobbyist, Edie Busam; Senator Pat Steadman and Representative Bob Rankin, bill sponsors; and the entire Joint Budget Committee for working to put a funding structure in place that keeps pace with changing technology and telecommunication trends. The telecom industry also deserves a big “thank you” for working with the bill sponsors in support of the community.
If you’d like to read more about the issue The Independence Center lobbied on, read our issue brief here.

The Independence Center CNA School Wins Best of the Springs

Gazette's Best of the Springs Continuing Education & Technical SchoolThe 2016 Gazette’s Best of The Springs awards have been announced. The Independence Center (IC) CNA School has taken home two awards.
As a Technical School, The IC CNA School has taken home the Voter’s Choice bronze award.
In the Continuing Education category, The Independence Center CNA School has received the Voter’s Choice silver award.
A hearty congratulations to The IC CNA School staff, instructors and students who have contributed to make our school a top school in Colorado Springs.

Professor Regains Independence after Two Years in a Nursing Home

Dr. Jeffrey Burkhart sits casually in his living room discussing his 30 year career that encompasses teaching in four universities and two private schools. The walker next to him is the only indicator of his partial disability. A glint of pride sparkles in his eyes as he recalls a particular student’s evaluation of him at the end of a semester: Dr. Burkhart not only teaches us about French but he also teaches us that we matter.

Jeffrey Burkhart smiles fora photograph in his new apartment

Jeffrey Burkhart, a retired French professor, spent two years in a nursing home before being transitioned back into the community with help from The Independence Center.

“Unless you choose to live in a cave, you are in the ‘people business,’” he offers the oft-given admonition by his father and mother, a doctor and nurse respectively. The ‘people business’ has sustained him through four years of transitional housing. Now successfully living independently in his own apartment, he continues to seek out community with his neighbors in spite of needing to use the walker to get to them.
A retired French professor, Dr. Burkhart moved to Colorado Springs in 2007. A series of catastrophic events caused a sudden, unexpected eviction from his residence. Several days later Dr. Burkhart found himself being dropped off by cab at the doorstep of a local shelter. Because he didn’t even have enough money for cab fare, the cab driver kept his two boxes of belongings that held his only clothing, family photos and favorite books amassed throughout his career. Dr. Burkhart walked into the shelter with only the clothes on his back.
Health issues led to hospitalization, multiple surgeries and over two years in a healthcare facility. Sustained by his daily walks (utilizing his walker) along the facility corridors and visits with his resident neighbors, Dr. Burkhart sought out community inside the health care center that many people would call a nursing home. He just called it “home,” but he always knew it was temporary. The question was just how he was going to get into a position to live independently.
As one of the more independent residents, Dr. Burkhart was challenged by the facility social worker to once again enter the broader Colorado Springs community outside the comfort zone of daily corridor exercise. Walking the halls is where he met LaTesha, Community Transition Coordinator from The Independence Center (The IC). The rest is history, as they say, but it’s a history that’s still being written as Dr. Burkhart is regaining his independence through the Community Transition Services of The Independence Center.
LaTesha and the Community Transition Services team from The IC came along side Dr. Burkhart and moved him into his own apartment in July of 2015. By choice, his new apartment is just down the street from the healthcare center. He still gets his exercise going next door to walk the corridors and visit his neighbors in the healthcare center. But now instead of retiring to a small room he goes home to his comfortable first floor one-bedroom apartment.
Transitioning from life in a healthcare facility to independent living on his own is a passage that Dr. Burkhart doesn’t gloss over. Dr. Burkhart’s advice to others going through similar transitions is, “Be true to yourself and maintain the ties.” Intentionality about the ‘people business’ and Community Transitions Services provided by The Independence Center have given Dr. Burkhart a successful reentry to independent living. He’s even doing some of what he did for thirty years: giving French lessons in his apartment. He smiles and says, “It’s getting back to where I feel like I am part of society again.”

Community Transition Success after 11 Years in Nursing Home

Judy Gates poses for the camera in her new apartment

Judy transitioned out of a nursing home after 11 years with the help of Community Transition Services at The Independence Center.

These are new freedoms since The Independence Center Community Transition Services program enabled Judy to move out into an independent apartment in 2015.
“The biggest highlight about Judy’s story is that we transitioned her out of the nursing home into the community after eleven years in the facility,” LaTesha Kearney, Community Transition Coordinator at The Independence Center explains. Judy laughs good-naturedly about the day that staff and volunteers from The Independence Center moved her out of the nursing facility. It was a big day for her and one she remembers clearly.
Judy gets a sparkle in her eyes when she talks about her neighborhood and her favorite pub. She’ll easily take a new friend around her apartment and point out her new furniture and décor, with which she has been establishing her new home.
Since the move, services set up by The Independence Center have helped sustain her independence. Judy receives regular visits each week from a nurse for medication monitoring and a CNA for help with personal care. She beams happily when she talks about her new situation. She says, “I love it.”