Category Archives: Newsletter Winter 2016

Advocating for Accessible Housing

Carrie Baatz speaking at a City Counil meeting on Nov. 10, 2015

Carrie Baatz speaking at a City Counil meeting on Nov. 10, 2015

“A home is that bedrock of your existence, where you rest each day at the end of the day, where you recover from illnesses, where you retreat and spend time with those close to you,” Carrie Baatz, Community Organizer at The Independence Center (The IC) says as she addresses her comments to state legislators at a recent legislative briefing on disability issues.

Baatz understands the deeper needs that having a home meet, because from December 2014 – April 2015, Baatz began undertaking the issue of housing from the community organizing office of The IC. Facilitating focus groups with other organizations such as Tessa, Springs Rescue Mission and Women’s Resource Agency; interviews and community forums, Baatz developed a formal report called Affordable and Accessible Housing Needs and Barriers: Community Voices in the Pikes Peak Region, which can be found online at http://bit.ly/theic2015housingreport.

Incentives for participating in focus groups were deliberately not offered, so as to only involve participation from particularly concerned and motivated people. In addition to the formal report, The Independence Center facilitated the emergence of a dedicated group of individuals who clearly wanted a voice in the discussion and a place at the table to help drive change in the Pikes Peak region. These individuals joined together to create a community organizing group with the name People’s Access to Homes (PATH). Many of these people have personal, powerful stories of barriers to accessible, affordable housing. Many have been influenced by such stories.

Baatz says, “Being a part of this process at The Independence Center out of which PATH emerged has been life changing for me.” As for the group members, who essentially have chosen themselves, she tells, “I look up to them. They are all so articulate and talented and self-aware.”

Perhaps a mark of a true community movement, most PATH members happen not to be consumers of The Independence Center, but come from elsewhere in the community. PATH is still coalescing as a force, working on finding its common goal and long term vision. Broadly, this includes creating more opportunities for housing that meets people’s needs. The idea that everyone has a right to a space they call home is what motivates the members of PATH.

PATH sees housing not as a problem, but through a positive lens: as a long term solution to many problems, one of which is the city’s homelessness problem. While focused on creating long term solutions, PATH’s gauges its success by short term goals.

Their immediate goal is to see the Colorado Springs Sit/Lie City Ordinance fail. PATH is opposing this ordinance because it unfairly targets people who are homeless, and it would distract resources and energy from better solutions (namely, developing affordable and accessible housing). Making sitting illegal in certain places would negatively impact people with disabilities, and in the current draft, a person would have to provide “confirmation” of a medical disability as an affirmative defense.

During recent City Council meetings, various members of PATH showed up. They signed in before the meeting to receive a three-minute podium time. They spoke out from personal and community experience. Michael Hazard (PATH member with a background in law) shared on November 11, 2015 about the discrimination against the homeless in the Sit/Lie Ordinance and asked City Council to postpone the vote until a suitable alternative to Sit/Lie can be found. Kellee O’Brian (PATH member) spoke about her experience of being homeless. Baatz spoke clearly and crisply about the shortage of over 20,000 units in Colorado Springs and offered solutions such as requesting the City Council to look at the Housing Trust Fund Project.

Housing affects those with disability. While everyone needs a home base, a place to come home to, a place to be well and a place to recover from illnesses, people with disabilities need that home in an accessible, affordable package.

The Independence Center is engaging local government in advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities and inviting the community to join them. Through the IC’s community influence and leadership, PATH has become an active, engaged force advocating for better housing options for people with disabilities. It remains to be seen what will happen with Sit/Lie Ordinance, but PATH has only just begun its work in Colorado Springs.

CEO Corner (Winter 2016)

Photo of Patricia Yeager, CEO

Another year under the belt! And what a year it has been….Here are some of the highlights.

Photo of Patricia Yeager, CEO The IC’s Peer Support program really took off with the addition of some great recreational events and funds for people with spinal cord injuries from a grant from the National Council on Independent Living.


We were awarded certification to start providing Home and Community Based Services to Veterans and are just waiting for the VA in Denver to send us referrals. Now vets will be able to access paid caregivers and other services very shortly.


Our advocacy services have had a terrific year. The Mayor added a significant amount of funding for bus transit based on the work of the Transit Coalition. PATH, a new community group that emerged out of the housing study that The IC community organizing department undertook, is grappling with housing for homeless people in Colorado Springs, including advocating for a “Tiny Home” neighborhood that could serve as a transition home for people with disabilities who are homeless. Funding for Centers for Independent Living in Colorado got a big vote of confidence as the State Legislature increased our state funding by little over $4 million dollars annually.


We held our first ADA celebratory luncheon in July at the Hotel Elegante with 300 people in attendance! Richard Devylder, longtime California advocate for persons with disabilities and emergency preparedness, gave a great speech for the gains made so far. To our dismay, Richard unexpectedly passed away a week later. What a gift for all of us that got to hear him speak.


Our Home Health/HCBS division has been struggling to find and hire Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) which caused us to have to turn away consumers needing those services. So we took a brave, proactive step and bought our own CNA training school! As of December 1 we are the proud owners and operators of what was formerly Front Range Nurse Aide Training Program. We have renamed it The Independence Center CNA School. We are looking forward to including deaf individuals and others in training programs. Not only will we train CNAs, but personal services providers and home makers as well.


Health care is becoming a passion for The IC. This year the Community Health Partnership that serves as the healthcare coordinating agency for persons who receive both Medicaid and Medicare awarded funding to The IC to conduct research on barriers to healthcare that people with disabilities in the Pikes Peak region experience. Look for some announcements next year on ways we will work to remove those barriers.


New staff, new programs, even a few new board members! It’s enough to make my head spin and I look forward to what 2016 will bring. Here’s to a healthy, prosperous and barrier-free New Year for everyone! ~ Patricia Yeager, CEO of The Independence Center

Caregiver Finds Missing Piece at Support Group

Photo of a patient and her caregiver

Photo of a patient and her caregiverThursday evenings you will find Alexia* spending time with the Family/Caregiver group at The Independence Center. Despite long days of caregiving for her daughter Brooklyn*, Alexia doesn’t miss this time to connect with others who face similar challenges. Connecting with the group has encouraged Alexia to see the positive strides that have been made and acknowledge the work that both she and Brooklyn have done and how far they’ve come. While there is still work to be done, giving credit where credit is due and focusing on the positives for Brooklyn have helped shape Alexia’s new perspective of caregiving.

Alexia’s story begins all the way back with her pregnancy with her daughter Brooklyn. The pregnancy was difficult and trying. When Brooklyn was born, it became immediately clear to Alexia that there was something different about this baby. Brooklyn required constant consolation and was not as happy as an infant as her siblings had been.

“She was constantly crying. Constantly needy. She was one of these kids I could not put down. I could never understand… it was always a struggle because taking care of her was like taking care of three or four kids at one time,” Alexia explains.

Brooklyn’s growing up years consisted of behavioral issues that were difficult to navigate and put considerable stress on the family. Alexia describes her as the center of attention in the family due to the level of behavioral issues presented. Alexia read books, investigated the possibility that Brooklyn had food allergies, and visited various doctors who weren’t able to help. Simply put, Brooklyn was a handful. And Alexia had no support.

Life does not happen in a vacuum. Alexia’s story is compounded by the events after 9/11. As a senior military wife, she held the family together through multiple deployments and was called upon extensively to help troops’ wives at home, including attending many funerals. Raising her children, including Brooklyn, should have been a full time job, but instead it became a side job as she was called upon by her husband Bob’s service in the military.

“The war started coming into our house,” Alexia mentions, “Families coming to me with problems with their children, wives going into mental institutions.”

Maxed out physically and emotionally with her obligations as a senior military wife, Alexia wasn’t able to pursue getting answers for Brooklyn during this season. Brooklyn’s struggles in school and behavior intensified.

The war ended and Bob returned with severe PTSD. Ultimately, this led to Alexia seeking counseling help for the entire family. It was this renewed pursuit for help that led to Brooklyn’s testing and ultimate diagnoses. Armed with these diagnoses, Alexia began seeking help for Brooklyn with a fresh perspective.

As Alexia has walked this road with Brooklyn, she finds that things are constantly changing with Brooklyn’s needs. Things that “worked” previously to help keep Brooklyn in a safe and stable place of relative independence don’t always continue to work and adaptability is key. “My main goal is to get her to be able to live as independently as possible without me,” Alexia states without hesitation.

“I finally made contact with The Independence Center and started coming to the Thursday Family/ Caregiver Encouragement group. I needed help….some pieces were missing,” Alexia tells. “Coming to The Independence Center has helped me navigate with a different way of thinking.”

“The other part to this is taking care of myself,” Alexia acknowledges. “She is probably more capable than I think she is. I am challenged [in group] in a positive way to have more accountability and awareness to not beat myself up.”

Alexia has four words of wisdom that she would give to anyone navigating the journey of caregiver to a family member. If she could leave a legacy for other caregivers to embrace, it would be:

  • Go with your gut.
  • Seek counsel and advice.
  • Get someone in your corner.
  • Make the time to step out and rest.

The Family/Caregiver Encouragement group meets every Thursday from 5:30 – 7:00 PM at The Independence Center, 729 S. Tejon St, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. If you are a caregiver or family member of person with a disability, you are invited and encouraged to attend.

The IC buys a CNA School

Photo of a young CNA with her patient in the background

We are proud to announce…

The Independence Center CNA School Logo

 

CNAWe are excited to announce that as of December 1st, 2015, The Independence Center purchased the Front Range Nurse Aide Training Program! Our goal is to train and grow future CNAs with the hope that they will consider applying for positions with The IC. CNAs can use this program as a stepping stone into the health care industry, to train and take care of their family members, or to become a CNA for home heath care, hospitals, assisted living communities, or long-term care facilities. Find out more at the-ic.org/cna.

Looking for Employment?

The Independence Center hires and trains graduates from the training program and offers tuition reimbursement and sign-on bonuses. We also offer tuition assistance for current employees. For more information, contact Katey Castilla at 719-471-8181, ext. 136.

 

The Independence Center Teaches UCCS Public Affairs Students how to Affect Change Through Advocacy

UCCS Forum Panelists

UCCS Forum  Panelists

Panelists left to right Billy Allen (The Independence Center), Carrie Baatz (The Independence Center), Michael Hazard (People’s Access to Homes), Andrew Winders (Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation), Gail Nehls (Amblicab) and Maggie Sims (Rocky Mountain ADA Center)

About 40 public affairs students were introduced to The Independence Center at a community discussion hosted by UCCS School of Public Affairs on October 29, 2015. Attendees were given theoretical and practical perspectives along with real life stories about policy barriers for people with disabilities.

The Community Discussion focused on Advocacy and Policy Development Supporting Independent Living for People with Disabilities. Panelists were: The Independence Center’s Carrie Baatz (Community Organizer), Billy Allen (Board Member), People’s Access to Homes’ (PATH) Michael Hazard, Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation’s Andrew Winders, Amblicab’s Gail Nehls and Rocky Mountain ADA Center’s Maggie Simms.

Billy presented on the history of education and policies affecting people with disabilities in the United States. Carrie presented on the issue of accessible and affordable housing and how community organizing can affect this issue in Colorado Springs. Michael spoke about his background in law and education and affecting change at grassroots level, especially now with PATH, a community group formed out of the community organizing efforts of The IC.

“Nonprofits sometimes don’t take their responsibility for advocacy seriously,” Patricia Yeager, CEO of The IC, said after the forum. “Nonprofits can be so service focused that advocacy is neglected.”

Michael Hazard (PATH) talked about encountering people who were surprised that The Independence Center has effectively broadened the spectrum and included people with disabilities on all areas of the spectrum. He spoke of going out to talk with people to encourage them to become civically engaged regarding the sit-lie ordinance.

“When I first started to tell people ‘hey, we’re working with the homeless, we’re working with sit/lie [proposed ordinance], we’re working with [people with] disabilities, we’re working with affordable housing, people started to say ‘but it’s The Independence Center’ [in a questioning/confused way].”

He starts to smile.

“We went ‘yeah’.” Michael draws out the word emphatically and nods vigorously, to “knowing” chuckles from the audience. “That’s the interesting thing about what The Independence Center has done here.”

Patricia Yeager is one of the “knowing”. She says, “The Independence Center is different. Similar to the starfish story is the metaphor of the beach. We can sweep the beach or we can remodel the beach and make it better. We can’t do this for people with disabilities. They have to do it themselves. We can help. We’re committed to giving them a voice.”

Several questions from the audience were directed to representatives from The Independence Center, including questions about funding, starting grassroots movements, and how to obtain and utilize data in community organizing. The entirety of the discussion can be viewed here online.

 

Download the press release: 10.29.15 THE INDEPENDENCE CENTER TEACHES UCCS PUBLIC AFFAIRS STUDENTS HOW TO AFFECT CHANGE THROUGH ADVOCACY

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