October 21, 2020
Living in a rural community has many benefits, including a lower cost of living, a feeling of safety, and a sense of belonging. But for people with disabilities, residing outside a city can make it more challenging to access the supports and services they need to live independently.
That’s where The Independence Center’s Outreach program comes in. Serving six counties in Southern Colorado, the program brings The IC’s resources and connections to those outside of Colorado Springs. Keep reading to learn more about the program from Michele Chamberlain, Independent Living Program Manager, and Fran Dorrance, Independent Living Specialist.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and what you do.
Michele Chamberlain (MC): I was hired as an Independent Living Specialist for The IC’s Outreach program in 2017, and I
covered Teller and Park Counties. I became the manager of the program in 2017.
Fran Dorrance (FD): In my position, I cover the Eastern counties including El Paso, Lincoln, Kit Carson, and Cheyenne Counties. I’ve been doing this about six years.
What is Outreach, in a nutshell?
MC: Outreach takes all the services we offer at The IC into rural communities in Park, Teller, Lincoln, El Paso, Kit Carson, and
Cheyenne counties. We have five staff members who act as a bridge between our consumers and the resources they need. We can either connect them to resources at The IC or within their own community, depending on what’s available. So, for example, if they want to apply for disability benefits, we can get them started with our Benefits department. And since our staff members actually live in the communities they serve, they can help with things like getting documents signed or helping the individual understand the process.
FD: The specialists also directly provide services like peer support and other programming. We work to make sure we’re giving
people in the community what they need. When I first started, I reached out to all the communities I work with. One of the big things they wanted was an exercise group so I figured out a way to do that.
What sets The IC apart from other groups that might be in the area?
MC: When I started, one of the things I heard over and over again in Park County was that The IC was one of the groups they could count on. There have been groups that have come in, stayed a few months, and then left because they couldn’t continue to provide resources. But The IC has stayed and has been responsive to the needs of individuals in the community. Something else that sets us apart is that our specialists live within the communities they serve. Because they’re part of that community, residents really do reach out when they need the services we offer.
FD: Being part of the community also creates trust with the other people who live there. I live in Calhan, and if someone needs something in this town, they call me because they know I get things done.
How has the pandemic changed the way Outreach provides services?
MC: Before COVID, we would often meet people either in their homes or at the offices we had in the communities. As of right now, we are not able to meet in any of those offices because we don’t want to bring our consumers into a situation where they could be exposed. But we’re still available to help. We can meet with someone in person on a case-by-case basis, depending on what’s needed, although we’re trying to do as much as possible virtually.
FD: If they have health issues or transportation issues that prevent them from coming into an office, we will go to them. However, if they have the ability to come to us, we encourage them to make an appointment.
What do you like most about your job?
MC: I’m just in awe of all the different communities and people we serve. I love that we’re able to give individual attention in these small towns. And I get to watch my staff grow and flourish. They have so much compassion and they don’t give up on trying to help our consumers.
FD: I enjoy being able to help people. And I get excited about finding resources for our consumers and seeing the really awesome outcome of it all.
For more information about The IC’s Outreach program, visit http://bit.ly/IC-outreach or call 719-471-8181.