Reaching Our Dreams (ROD) is a program offered at Access Living designed for people with disabilities between the ages of 17 and 27 who seek to prepare themselves for living independently. Access Living’s Independent Living Coordinator Carleda Johnson has been facilitating this program for four years. Unlike your average workshop, ROD presents information in an interactive way to engage students around the opportunity to have more control over their own lives. To achieve these goals, the curriculum focuses heavily on the students’ interests to live on their own and take care of themselves, and therefore, is geared toward equipping them with necessarily skills needed in the real world.
Among other topics, Reaching our Dreams covers money management. In these sessions, the students learned how to write a check and to distinguish the difference between withdrawals versus deposits. Planning ahead was also a heavy topic of discussion in ROD. This topic included preparing to move out and saving for future expenses. Additionally, the students expressed an interest in communication and sexuality. In this session, the students talked about how to develop healthy relationships with others and how to deal with stress in positive ways. These topics equipped students to feel prepared to live more self-directed lives after graduating from Reaching Our Dreams.
Tiffany Patterson graduated from the last session of the program in the Fall of 2012. Since graduation, she has been volunteering in the dog care section of a local animal shelter. When asked about her overall thoughts on the program, Tiffany replied, “It helps people to learn life skills; at first I didn’t know how to look up apartments on the Internet, but now I know how to. I think it is a good program.” The skills Tiffany learned in Reaching Our Dreams have help prepare her for her work with the shelter. Working with dogs in the shelter, Tiffany says she has learned everything from how to clean the dogs to how to train them correctly. She has also had the opportunity to help out in the adoption rooms, and assist families considering who are going through the adoption process. Tiffany’s job requires her to earn 25 hours of experience before she can move on to another position within the animal shelter.
In November, Tiffany was selected by Access Living to be a part of the Staff Associate Program, an internship collaboration between Access Living and the State of Illinois Vocational Rehabilitation Program. As a Staff Associate, Tiffany will work 19 hours a week at Access Living for nine months. Similar to her experience with Reaching Our Dreams, Tiffany’s work at Access Living will provide her with the skills and experience necessary to begin the search for full-time employment in the job market. Following her volunteer work and internship, Tiffany plans to continue working within the dog care section of the shelter.
To learn more about Reaching Our Dreams, contact Carleda Johnson at Access Living.