Melissa showing her artwork

Melissa showing her artwork

Edgar Morales is The Independence Center’s Independent Living Skills Specialist. He tells me that what really excites him, is seeing the progress in his students after spending time in his skills classes. When I ask him for an example, he tells me about one student that stands out to him. Melissa is a young woman who has been in Edgar’s classes for a couple of years now, and her progress has been quite remarkable.

When Melissa started coming to Edgar’s life skills classes three years ago, he tells me that she was a very different person than who she is today. She was shy, lost, scared, and had little self-confidence. As a person with cognitive disabilities, Melissa was referred to The Independence Center by the Transitions Coordinator at her high school. As part of her path to graduation, Melissa was required to complete life skills classes before graduating on her 21st birthday.

After being a student in the independent living classes for a while, Melissa was making good progress. She really seemed to enjoy her time there, and she enjoyed all the new skills she was learning. As Edgar told me, “she was a great student, and she worked hard.” Over the next few years, Melissa took classes in self-advocacy, money management, cooking, knowing your disability, self-awareness, exercise, and art. She was thriving in an environment where she was able to make her own decisions, which was much different than her past experiences. Before coming to The IC, Melissa had little control over her daily routine, because no one thought she was capable. The life skills classes taught her that she was capable and she could be independent.

Though most students only stick around long enough to compete their requirements for graduation, Melissa continued taking classes well afterwards. After a while, it became clear that without a little extra guidance, Melissa would continue repeating the classes indefinitely. So one day, Edgar and The IC’s Nina Kamekona sat down with her and asked what she really want to do in life. Initially, she said she didn’t want to do anything. But after a long discussion, she came to the conclusion that she could make her own choices about what to do with her life.

What she had learned in the skills classes had a significant impact on her. Along with the realization that she was an independent person who could establish her own path and have a career of her own someday, she was becoming more confident, interactive, and didn’t have the fear she once did. Not long after her meeting with Edgar and Nina, she went to visit The IC’s employment department, where she attended a series of Pre-Employment Transition Services workshops. Today, Melissa still comes to skills classes on occasion, but spends much of her time focusing on new aspects of her life such as volunteering at her church and at the YMCA.

If you would like more information on skills classes at The Independence Center, give us a call at 719-471-8181 or visit our independent living skills classes webpage.