staff photos

Options CIL Treasurer of the Board of Directors Dan Brough talks about the history of the organization at last week’s luncheon celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Options Center for Independent Living (CIL) celebrated its 30th anniversary recently, and it had a lunch to recognize the occasion.

Its executive director, Therese Cardosi, led the event with recognition of awards.

The organization’s three awards were presented.

Calli Bodie received the Volunteer of the Year award.

Cardosi said, “This award is given to the person or persons who have demonstrated support for our mission through volunteer service.

“This year’s recipient has been volunteering their time, coming into the Options CIL office for over two years now. There have been many ups and downs throughout this time span, but there has also been much progress made. Some of the tasks performed by this deserving recipient involved typing up documents, covering the front desk and answering phones to cutting out a lot of pancake supper fundraiser tickets. This recipient also not only volunteered their time to present at the quarterly youth transition meeting at INCIL in Springfield they also volunteered their own time to discuss and share their own transition experiences and answered many questions from various CIL Coordinators in an effort to help the CIL Coordinators improve their youth programs and services. Wow. That is what I call a true volunteer.”

Carla Waters earned the The Carol Gocken Memorial Award, which is given to an individual who has made extraordinary efforts to raise funds for Options. Amber Gocken, daughter of the woman who the award was named after, said, “This year’s recipient of the Carol Gocken Memorial Award was instrumental in not only coming up with the idea of bringing back the U of I Wheelchair basketball game but also in all of the logistics that go along with it. They reached out to the coach of the U of I Wheelchair team to secure the date and timeline of the game, they contacted Watseka High School and coordinated and secured the gym. They even recruited our game night announcer. This well deserving recipients determination and belief that this would be a great fundraiser and insistent that the town of Watseka would love and embrace this event proved to be so true and allowed for Options to have one of its biggest fundraisers in sometime. This person has quietly, and graciously done this for the past two years. The event continues to grow and become more and more profitable. Now, in its third year we believe it is going to be even a bigger success. I know my mom would have approved of the selfless dedication and hard work that this recipient has put forth to make it a fun, family event that also raises awareness for people with disabilities. The whole Options family looks forward to this event and really enjoys every aspect from planning to completion. We have this person to thank for the past two years of success and hopefully, for many more to come.”

Cardosi talked about the Terry Barbee Visionary Award and its recipient, Mary Kate Dalcanton.

“It was named after Terry Barbee, an Options CIL board member who, although he had a vision impairment, always had a very clear vision of what our world should be: fully accessible with equal opportunities and no barriers for any type of disability. This award is not presented every year. It is presented only when we have found an individual or organization truly deserving of this honor; someone who envisions a truly accessible community, and makes extraordinary efforts to remove barriers so that all people with disabilities can participate equally in society.

“This year’s recipient of the Terry Barbee Visionary award embodies the spirit of this award. As a person with a disability, this recipient faces many barriers in their everyday life that could stop them from being independent but in reality it has done the opposite. This person has been an advocate for people with disabilities either by speaking out about barriers or personally showing others how barriers can be overcome. In the past couple of years this person has been an active member of the Independent Crusaders. They have spent countless hours working on events like the Perry Farm scarecrow, other fundraising events and currently they serve as President of the group. They are also an active member and first ever youth member of the Stepping Stones youth transition conference steering committee. Not only have they done all of those things but they have excelled at them. Most recently, at the Cru’s pancake supper, they sold 60 tickets on their own as well as motivating the group to do just the same.”

Cardosi recognized those from Iroquois County who aid Options.

“Reverend Barbara Lohrbach of St. John’s United Church of Christ — For the past several years St. John’s United Church of Christ has always made sure that Options CIL is one of their organizations that are included in their monthly collections. Their parishioners are always extremely generous and very good to the community. The donation is greatly appreciated and is used to continue to provide programs and services provided by Options CIL to people with disabilities living in our community. Thank you so much to Pastor Barbara Lohrback and the congregation of St. John’s United Church of Christ for your continued commitment to Options CIL and the belief in the independent living philosophy.

“Susan Wynn Bence of Gibson Area Hospital — Susan was extremely receptive and helpful in coordinating the grand prize cash finale “cover all” for both of our Options CIL’s Iroquois County Bingo nights at the Watseka Elks this past year. Gibson Area Hospital sponsored both, March and Septembers events. We believe that because of the large prize donation Gibson Area Hospital donated it brought out the biggest crowds to date for our bingo events making both nights extremely profitable for Options CIL. Thank you Susan and Gibson Area Hospital for your collaboration, dedication and commitment to Options CIL.”

Certificates of Appreciation were given to Boy Scout Troop #361- Scout Master Joe Verrill and his son’s Ben and Sam of Boy Scout Troop 361; Beth Farrell from Manteno High School; Chad Miller of the Kankakee County Farm Bureau; Josie Linman of Linman McDonalds; Lenda Hunt; Lindsay Allison with Audibel Hearing Aid Center; Mayor Chastity Wells-Armstrong and Jan Gathing representing The City of Kankakee, Community Development Agency; Paula Erwin from the Kankakee Department of Human Services; and Tara Dunning with the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois in Springfield.

She recognized organizations, businesses or townships also helping with Options’ mission: The Boy Scouts, Burke Montague & Associates, C&C Best One Tire and Auto Care, CSL Behring, The City of Kankakee, Department of Rehab Services Kankakee Office, Good Shepherd Manor, Health Alliance, Home Helpers of Bourbonnais, Iroquois Mental Health Center, Kankakee Community College, KC-CASA, Manteno High School, Riverside Health Care, St. Johns United Church of Christ, Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois, Thrivent Financial, and Times Republic.

Cardosi followed up with, “Options history of providing services and our team — We started providing CIL core services to people in Kankakee County in 1989. In 1992 we added Iroquois County to our service area. In 2002 we opened our satellite office in Watseka with two employees. Seventeen years later that office is still thriving, open five days a week, with two full-time employees’ serving Iroquois county. The Bourbonnais office is also still thriving with seven full-time employees and one part-time employee providing five core services: Information and referral, Peer support and mentoring, Independent living skills training, advocacy, and transitions services.”

She recognized for the staff service to the community through Options: Jennifer Cappellano, 11 years, associate director; Heather Long, four years, youth transition coordinator in both counties; Donna Sample, four years, independent living advocate and resource coordinator; Ashley Varvel, three years, administrative assistant for the Bourbonnais office; Shannon Robbins, one year, vision service advocate for both counties; Kim Harwood, one year, independent living advocate for Iroquois County; Olivia Jennings, one year, independent living advocate assistant; Stephanie Todd, six months, administrative assistant for Iroquois County.

Treasurer of the board of directors Dan Brough spoke about Options CIL’s history.

“Back on Feb. 1, 1989, the first Articles of Incorporation signed by the then Secretary of State Jim Edgar, were issued to, ‘Kankakee River Valley Options for Independent Living, Inc.’ The Articles of Incorporations were also signed by the first executive director and founder, Lenda Hunt, who is with us today. Lenda, please raise your hand and be acknowledged. It was also signed by, then president of the board of directors, John Fulton. The office originally opened up with space at Riverside Hospital. We then moved to a location at 53 Meadowview Center to serve our consumers in Kankakee County. In September of 1992 the Board amended the Articles of Incorporation and changed the name to ‘Options Center for Independent Living’, reason stated on the amendment that they were now providing services to not only Kankakee but also Iroquois County. On Sept. 8, 1992, the then Secretary of State, George Ryan, signed the amendment.

“In 2000 Options CIL moved locations to where we are still located today at 22 Heritage Drive in Bourbonnais. Options has had three executive directors in the 30 year span, Lenda Hunt served eight years, Kathy Peterson served 18 years and our current ED, Therese Cardosi, just celebrated her fourth year as E.D.

“How far has Options come financially? Well looking back at the financial records, after the first six months of operations the ‘Kankakee River Valley Options for Independent Living INC. had a bank balance of $262 with $150 of outstanding bills. In 1997 we had $10,000 in reserves from a very successful raffle we hosted. Fast forward to now, October 2019, we have an annual operating budget of just over $754,000. This is made up of state and federal grants such as our Independent Living grant, Vision Services grant, and our Fast Track Transition for youth grant. We also receive funding from trusts such as the Clifton, Freed, Iroquois Federal, and Griffin Trusts in Iroquois County. Also included in this total is funding from United Way for both Kankakee and Iroquois County, Christopher Reeve’s Foundation, Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, Community Development Block Grant or CDBG through the city of Kankakee, Area Agency on Aging, an unrestricted money from memberships, donations and several fundraisers we host every year in both counties. So as you can see, we have come a long way.”

The president of the board of directors, Kay Jurica, went further in the organization’s history.

“How far has our Board and Advisory Boards come? Our board of directors is currently made up of 70 percent people with disabilities. Every one of our board members truly believes in our mission. They are passionate, caring and believe wholeheartedly in the independent living philosophy. Back in 2012 we decided as an organization and as a board that we needed to not only increase Options CIL’s visibility in the community but also increase our fundraising dollars. So we decided to expand by developing two advisory boards, one in Iroquois county and one in Kankakee County. These two advisory boards along with our board of directors have accomplished a great deal. Not only have they increased Options visibility but they have increased our fundraising dollars in both counties. The Iroquois Advisory Board brought back, or should I say revived the U of I Wheelchair Basketball game. The event is now in its third very successful year. They also started participating in bingo at the Watseka Elks twice a year which is also a very good money maker for our Options CIL in Iroquois County. The Kankakee Advisory Board and the board of directors decided to take on a new challenge this past June and host the bingo at the Bourbonnais Friendship Festival. This turned out to be very successful and a wonderful partnership with the Bourbonnais Friendship Festival. We now have a contract to host this three day bingo event every year. Other fundraising events that we host are the annual empowerment seminar held at KCC every March; our annual Reference Guide to Independence which is distributed every July. All of these are not only successful fundraisers but also wonderful awareness events and great opportunities to showcase the good work, and highlight the programs and services Options CIL provides for people with disabilities living in our community.”

Options CIL’s Associate Director Jennifer Cappellano talked about Options’ “happy stats” forward to announce some of our past year’s “Happy Stats”.

“Options CIL collaborated directly with 394 individuals with disabilities last fiscal year to develop and achieve Independent Living Plans in Kankakee and Iroquois county.

“One hundred twenty-seven of those individuals were over the age of 55 and experiencing vision loss/blindness. Options CIL Vision Services Advocate provided assistive technology/adaptive living aids needed to maintain as much independence as possible to each and every vision consumer. She also facilitated 18 Vision Information Groups in two counties to promote peer to peer relationships and dedicated herself to learning as much as possible about age-related vision loss and blindness.

“Twenty-six individuals with disabilities worked with Options CIL Community Living Advocate to manage their personal assistant services. Additionally, Options CIL offered 18 personal assistant orientations in Kankakee and Iroquois county to ensure adequate number of employees available to prevent nursing facility placement and promote independence.

“Twelve youth with disabilities worked with our youth services advocate and received pre-employment transition services, which included, job exploration counseling; work-based learning experiences; counseling on post-secondary education; workplace readiness training; and/or instruction in self-advocacy.

“An additional seven youth with disabilities received services by participating in peer-to-peer group meetings of Options CIL Independent Crusaders. These meetings are held twice monthly and offer a variety of social; educational and professional development opportunities for all who attend. This past year, three CRU members also applied for, and received, scholarships to attend the Statewide Stepping Stones Transition Conference which is all about transitioning into adult life. One CRU member served on the steering committee for the conference, one CRU member was invited to be a guide for a blind attendee and one CRU member shared her own experiences during her transition.

“Last, but definitely not least, here are some outcomes of our Independent Living Advocates:

“Twenty-two individuals with hearing loss or speech impairments received amplified or teletype phones to increase their access to communication.

“Ten individuals with mobility impairments requested and received ramps for their homes. This could not have been possible without the Ramp Builders of Iroquois County or without Thrivent, Griffin Trust and United Way funding. These ramps have improved the safety and access to community living.

“Ten individuals with disabilities requested and received assistance with vocational services.

“Twenty-three individuals with disabilities requested and received advocacy services.

“And, beyond the individualized services provided throughout the last fiscal year, Options CIL also partnered with local, state, and national organizations to reduce barriers to community living.

“As a referral source for the City of Kankakee Home Affordable Modification Program otherwise known as HAMP program, eight individuals with disabilities thus far, have received Home Accessibility Modifications needed to remain as independent as possible in their own homes, including bathroom modifications such as roll-in showers and having doorways widened.

“Twenty-three income eligible individuals with disabilities received rental assistance and we were able to provide 79 nights of shelter to deflect nursing facility placement as a direct result of funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, and funding from the Community Development Block Grant or CDBG.

“Our continued collaboration with rural transit provider Show Bus resulted in our ability to once again provide over 1,000 discounted transportation vouchers to individuals with disabilities in need of accessible transportation to continue living in the community. In Kankakee County, we continued serving on the local transportation meetings at River Valley Metro and advocating for more accessible bus stops, reduced travel times and increased availability of para-transit services needed.

“We again collaborated with our local community action agency (KCCSI) to assist income-eligible individuals with disabilities apply for benefits at our Options CIL Bourbonnais office for LiHeap which stands for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

“We also spent another year providing Options Counseling services to eligible individuals via funding from Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging.

“As a United Way Agency, we were able to provide services to income eligible individuals with disabilities with a variety of needs to improve/maintain independence.

“This year we also had a successful collaboration with a local McDonalds as a result of a young adult member of Options CIL Crusaders desire to raise money for a college tour, group trip to University of Wisconsin — Whitewater.

“We additionally continued being a proud recipient of Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation funding making it possible this past year to provide an equipment loan closet.

“The success experienced by many of our youth/young adult consumers may not have been possible without our continued relationship with Statewide Independent Living Council, specifically Tara Dunning.

“We collaborated with National Council on Independent Living to provide Accessibility Site Reviews of several medical providers in Kankakee and Iroquois county, thus resulting in increased access to healthcare services in the community for individuals with disabilities.

“So much of what we do and what we accomplish as an organization would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of our employees, our partners, and most importantly the 394 individuals with disabilities we were able to serve.”

The event was sponsored by Health Alliance. The table sponsors for the event were CSL Behring, KCCASA, and Riverside Medical Center.