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Posted: Feb 28, 2008 10:31

INDEPENDENCE CENTER

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Los Angeles, California
Judith Maizlish - Executive Director
310-202-7102
judym@independencecenter.com
www.independencecenter.com

Visit by Kristie Campbell, November 8, 2007

While attending the IECA Conference Fall 2007 in Hollywood, CA, I decided to take some time to visit a local program. Independence Center is a mainstreamed residential program for young adults with learning disabilities. Residents stay at Independence Center for a minimum of one year. As Judy Maizlish, Executive Director, drove Nancy Masland and me over to the program, we discussed appropriate residents and the basics of the program.

Independence Center accepts young adults who struggle with broadly defined learning disabilities. Many have "labels" but basically lack concrete thinking. Judy explained that some residents have a low IQ, above the mentally retarded level, while others test in the gifted range. However, IQ doesn't matter as much as history and ability. Judy prefers to look at individuals rather than their labels. Approximately one-third to one-half of the students look and sound like they belong in normal society, which makes it harder for them to accept they have a disability.

Residents live in apartments spread throughout in a large, gated community, allowing them to live independently with support of the staff and other residents. The schedule is fairly strict with meetings and gatherings, but gives ample opportunity for residents to be alone and put their learned skills to the test. Each resident has at least one roommate in his/her apartment.

Shortly after we arrived at Independence Center's office, a resident came in to take us on a tour of the apartment complex. She was from a larger family, so adjusting to living in an apartment with only one other resident was a change for her. By the looks of her apartment, she was adapting quite well.

There are three basic components of the Independence Center program. The first focuses on Independent Living Skills. Independent Living doesn't just teach residents how to cook and clean, but how to use and manage time effectively and manage money. Residents learn to get and keep employment, attend meetings and group activities, budget accounts, track their money, fill out forms, etc.

The second phase focuses on Vocational and Educational components. We met with Dr. Marie Walbridge, Clinical Director and Vocational Coordinator, who works on the employment plan with all residents. Dr. Walbridge speaks with employers before residents apply for their jobs, prepares residents for application and interviews and, more importantly, teaches the residents how to keep their jobs. She assists them in finding jobs that will be most like their personalities and abilities to enhance the potential of success. We talked with a resident about her experiences with job related activities and she explained that the program was helping her discover her likes and dislikes, hobbies and abilities, and helping to match her with a part time job that would allow her to explore a career.

In addition to the Vocational component, Independence Center works with residents to further their education. Because of its location, Independence Center residents may work part time and/or attend one of the two community colleges. For those who do not wish to attend a local community college for a degree, the Venice Skills Center or a technical training program are appropriate for residents who need to learn to live within routines and schedules, and learn specific vocational skills.

The third phase of Independence Center focuses on "narrowing the gap." Meetings, groups and community activities help make life as normal as possible for the residents. They work on social skills such as entertaining guests and being a good host. Students set goals and work on problem solving and feedback with each other.

All activities at Independence Center are mandatory until residents are in the advanced stages of the program, unless the activity interferes with school or work. As residents advance, they also begin to do other tasks independently; such as attending outside activities and doing their own shopping and banking.

For residents who have completed the residential program, Independence Center offers an Outreach phase as well. Outreach residents live in their own apartments and have access to "life coaches" and other support services as needed.

As we finished our visit to Independence Center, Judy, Nancy and I sat in Judy's office discussing staff at the program. An intriguing part of the hiring process for "field staff" is that employees, all of whom have at least a bachelor's degree, must volunteer at the program for at least one week before being hired. This allows the Center to assess how they will fit in as well as determining how dedicated these staff members will be to the residents needs. They are then hired retroactively.

Another intriguing component of Independence Center is their admissions process. Once staff has met the prospective applicant and received written reports about him/ her, the applicant is invited to stay for a three-day visit. Potential applicants stay those three days with a current resident, where they participate in meetings, groups and activities. Staff is also able to do informal assessments on academic skills, cooking and shopping and communication skills during this time. By the end of this three-day adventure, staff and residents discuss which applicants will be an appropriate fit for the program.

Independence Center is a 501(c)(3) corporation which is able to get grants to help pay program costs for families not able to pay the full cost. Although they are one of the least expensive programs in the country, the program is still costly. About one fourth of the families receive some amount of aid although no one gets a free ride. This helps ensure the family is dedicated to the success of the resident.

On our way out, Nancy and I met another student who was returning home after work. He greeted us at the gate and, not knowing anything about us, made excellent eye contact with a proud and gentle presence about him. We left the campus having a good sense of how Independence Center works with its residents with a feeling they were doing a great job for this particular niche.



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