The Center for Independence (CFI) is one of five centers in our state and one of over 500 throughout our nation who are federally recognized and federally funded to provide services based on the Independent Living Philosophy. The Independent Living Movement started as a grass roots effort following the Civil Rights Movement in recognizing and fighting for the civil rights of individuals who experience disability. Those of us who embrace the movement have a saying: “Nothing About Us without Us!” This follows the philosophy that a person with a disability (PWD) knows what their needs are and has the right to direct their lives, otherwise known as self-determination.
CFI actually was started at Good Samaritan Hospital in 1981 by a group of rehabilitation doctors who embraced the IL Philosophy. By 1991, CFI had become its own 501c3 with federal funding and recognition. CFI continued a unique relationship with Good Sam and was housed there until 2003. While at Good Sam CFI worked with the rehab teams to ensure PWDs transitioned back into the community. CFI also worked in the community providing outreach, information and referral, advocacy and IL Skills training. In 2003 CFI moved to Lakewood just off the I-5 corridor to be more centrally located to our service area of Thurston, Pierce and South King counties.
In 2012 we were awarded a second federal grant to open another center in the north sound area of our state. We initially chose Bellingham as our base office in the north and hired staff in almost every county served with the new grant: Snohomish; Skagit; Whatcom; Island; and San Juan. In May of 2016 we relocated to Marysville which is more centrally located to our service area which enables us to serve a larger portion of people who experience disability in our service area. Together we now serve eight counties.
Although all independent living centers provide the same core services: Peer support; Information and referral; Individual and systemic advocacy; and Independent living skills training; we also provide community activities addressing the civil and equal rights of people with disabilities. Through the passage of the Work Innovation Opportunity ACT (WIOA) in 2014, which included the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act, a new core service was added. Transition is now a core service which involves assisting PWD out of institutions and into the community to a more independent setting. It also involves working with youth who are leaving high school and entering the real world.
The new core service is not new to CFI as we have been working with the Roads to Community Living program for many years assisting PWDs out of nursing homes and into a more independent community setting. Likewise Youth Transition services have been provided for the past 9 years. CFI works with youth beginning at age 14 through 25 providing one-on-one participant goal driven service throughout the year. In the summer, we run a week long workshop for youth focusing on continued education and vocational goals. Youth who qualify for this program leave with a brighter outlook on life and better prepared to plan their future. This is an award winning program recognized locally and by the Governors Committee on Disability Employment (GCDE).
In Bellingham, we enjoy collaborating with community partners who provide us space to meet with participants and hold support groups. We also sponsor participants who are involved in various art mediums to participate in the monthly community Art Walk. Some of their art can be scene regularly in the old Bon Marche building on Magnolia street. Our participants plan the event; display their art work; meet the community to discuss their work; and even sell their work. In our new Marysville office, our staff have received strong support from the Mayor's office, the schools and the Tribes. We also took over hosting four dances a year for our transition aged youth in Skagit County.
Outside the core services, our centers have been proactive in the area of Emergency Preparedness. We know from experience that disasters hit fast and its everyman man for himself, so it’s best to be prepared whether you go to a shelter or shelter in place. We partner with our local Department of Emergency Management, FEMA, Department of Health and other state entities to teach the best practices for emergency preparedness to our participants and community partners.
Across the nation, IL Centers provide the same core services but each one may provide those services a little different depending on the individual’s need and the community. Regardless, the programs are always consumer driven and our service is through peer mentoring. After all, at least 90% of our staff experience disability themselves which lends itself to our peer support model. We are a show you how, not a do for you agency.
Personally I have worked with CFI for almost 20 years, starting at Good Samaritan hospital, then providing SSA benefits planning throughout our state, moving into management and being named as the executive director in Oct 2013. I enjoy the staff at CFI, their professionalism and their creativity, and the people we work with.
I invite you to get involved with CFI, whether as a participant, a volunteer, a board member or a donor. Let’s enjoy life equally!