Center for Independence reaching goals, helping other do the same
July 30, 2017
Stephanie Areman's dream is the kind of story Ian Engle loves to tell when people walk through the doors of the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence.
As executive director, he wants to help the people who come to him, but more importantly, he wants to give them a chance to help themselves and an opportunity such as the one he had.
"NWCCI has played a big role in my life," Areman said. "I would not be where I am today; I would not be here without these guys."
Engle said NWCCI serves more than 110 people dealing with disabilities in Moffat, Routt, Grand, Rio Blanco and Summit counties. He said his staff in Steamboat may have played a part in Areman's new-found independence, but added she only has to look in the mirror to find the reason she landed an apartment in the Reserves at Steamboat.
"We were just along for the ride," Engle said. "When she came to us, it was her goal to move into her own place. We helped her come up with a plan, we discussed what to do and in what order and we helped her with research and filling out the application. But we don't do things for people — we work with them to help them reach their goals."
Engle said the philosophy of the center, one of 400 across the United States and nine in Colorado, is not to reinforce a feeling of entitlement that is often found at other organizations, rather to empower people by making them responsible for the eventual outcome.
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"We are not there for that person that stubs their toe and is looking for a check from the government," Engle said. "What we do is help them develop the skills to become more independent … I think a lot of people want to help that person, but when we just give them something, it reinforces that sense of entitlement, it actually promotes a feeling of helplessness, and the more that person has done for them, the more debilitating it becomes. We want that person to learn by going through the process."
The process, he said, is different for everyone, but the end message is the same: They want people to be advocates for themselves and know they can find independence, despite their disabilities. Engle said that is a key to personal success, and it’s a path that will make that person, and the community in which they live, stronger.
Engle said Areman came into the office with a goal, and the staff offered her a place and a path.
"She did it — we were just their to support her when she needed it," Engle said. "The really cool thing is that, when she got the apartment, we got to say, 'Nice job, Stephanie.'"
Craig Kennedy, president the NWCCI board, said the organization is funded as part of Semi-Independent Living Services, a human services organization that receives its funds from the state and counties it serves. He said that money has fueled the Steamboat organization’s success, but added more diverse funding is needed to allow the organization to continue to offer key services.
The organization recognizes that people with disabilities and seniors are the best experts on their own needs. All NWCCI’s services are consumer controlled, which means each client makes his or her own decisions about what goals to work on, the type of services received and the the direction.
The organization serves people of any age with physical, mobility, sensory, health, learning, intellectual, psychiatric and mental health disabilities, including those who are blind, deaf or have a traumatic brain injury or autism. The organization also serves seniors with loss of mobility, vision or hearing or other health challenges.
Centers for Independence were established across the United States in the 1970s. Engle helped start other centers in Durango and Boulder before coming to Steamboat three years ago. When he arrived, the local organization was serving about 20 people and employed a staff of three. Now, the number of people being served is more than 100 each month, and the local staff is in the neighborhood of 20.
But Kennedy thinks the organization is at a pivotal point in Northwest Colorado, and in the next few months, he said, NWCCI hopes to raise awareness about what the organization does. He also hopes to find the support needed to continue to expand and provide services.
He said Areman's story is a great example of how NWCCI is helping people dealing with disabilities in Routt County thrive and find success.
At age 3, Areman suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body, including her arm. She has learned to live without the use of her left arm and has been able to overcome many daily obstacles while being a contributing member of the communities she has lived in. Today, she works at Horizons Specialized Services, where she helps other people with disabilities overcome the obstacles they face and find a path to reaching their own goals.
She understands how obstacles can impact a person dealing with disabilities. As a child, she went to special schools, and as a teenager, she had to face people who didn't think she would be able to drive a car. Through it all, she has lived an independent life.
But in 2014, after several major life changes, she landed in Steamboat.
"Really, through no fault of my own, I found myself in a situation where I had to lean on my parents," Areman said. "I went though a divorce in 2014 and moved up here to live with my dad."
But, regaining her independence was a major goal for Areman, and the most important part of doing that was finding a place to live on her own.
"I told myself that this is where I wanted to plant my roots, and my biggest goal was to get a place of my own," she said.
It was that search that led her to the NWCCI.
"They were amazing,” she said. "They helped me with the process, and when I got discouraged, they just kept telling me it was going to be OK."
This spring, Areman moved into her brand-new apartment at the Reserves and has found a new level of self-confidence in nearly every part of her live.
Kennedy said he became involved after meeting Engle three years ago.
Engle has worked as executive director at the Center for People with Disabilities, based in Boulder, and was also executive director for the SouthWest Center for Independence, with a main office in Durango.
Engle sustained a spinal cord injury in a 40-foot fall from a tree on Oct. 1, 1994, but he didn't let the injury stop him — instead, it became a life-long passion for helping people have more freedom and control over their own lives.
Kennedy is a disability consultant and trainer with the Open Doors Organization and a whole food nutrition and business coach with the Juice Plus Company. He moved to Steamboat Springs from upstate New York in 1994.
He was involved in a skiing accident two years later that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Kennedy has since focused much of his life on helping people with disabilities live more independent, fulfilling lives without boundaries. He is an author and co-founder of an Adaptive Travel Resource Company called Access Anything. He is also the founder of CK Consulting and has spent the past 15 years motivating people with disabilities to look beyond perceived abilities. He continues to advocate for rights of people.
He spent seven years as a founding board member and program director for Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports, a program that opens the doors of outdoor recreation to those with disabilities.
During the past three years, he has shifted his focus to helping those with disabilities find, or re-discover, their independence. To reach those goals, he knows the group needs to shift to more strategic planning, which is one of the reasons it is hoping to raise awareness and money to support the cause. Anyone interested in helping with the campaign can find more information from Engle, at 970-871-4838, or by visiting NWCCI's website, nwcci.org.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com, or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.