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Fast-growing Colorado Springs Independence Center finding its stride

May 29, 2018 Updated: May 29, 2018 at 10:15 pm
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The lights here are bright. The floorboards are grooved. And special chairs are at the ready to assist people down the stairways, should the elevators ever go out.

But more is at work here to assist people with disabilities than meets the eye.

Here at The Independence Center exists an ambitious and fast-growing nonprofit - one that has vastly increased its work in recent years helping people with disabilities live more independent lives.

In a nod to that growth, the State Department recently arranged for a delegation from Japan to visit the nonprofit's growing campus in downtown Colorado Springs as part of a wide-ranging trip to the United States. The goal: Help these visitors learn new ways to assist people with disabilities back home.

For Goto Hidekazu, who operates a similar organization in Japan, that meant taking notes on the nonprofit's ability to help clients find jobs - often with the organization itself. Such work programs don't exist in Japan as they do here, Hidekazu said.

"It gives people with disabilities a choice," he said.

The visit caps a busy few years for the nonprofit.

Late last year, The Independence Center made its most ambitious move yet - purchasing a neighboring building for about $1.5 million to nearly double its space.

The organization also has added a care program for military veterans, as well as a certified nursing aide school to better train caregivers.

Such expansions are indicative of the immense unmet needs facing people with disabilities in the Pikes Peak region, said center CEO Patricia Yeager. She oversees a staff of 80 that serves a broad array of clients, including people with impaired sight, hearing and mobility and those with traumatic brain injuries and the lingering effects of strokes.

But Yeager said the expansion is just a byproduct of the nonprofit's creative approaches to the longstanding challenges facing her clients.

For example, the nonprofit recently moved its certified nursing aide program into the new building's second floor, to better train caregivers.

"We want to base them in a little bit of independent living sauce," Yeager said. "We want to talk about the philosophy of empowerment and consumer control, so that the consumers that these people serve are encouraged to be in control - are encouraged to make decisions. And the worker is there to help them actually implement the decision."

The nonprofit has bigger plans for its new addition.

It's working with an architect to design a way to connect the buildings and install an elevator in the newly acquired facility to make it more accessible. The nonprofit plans to start fundraising in early 2019, once an estimate is available for the cost of those renovations.

Yeager also is embarking on a $300,000 pilot program to assist people admitted to UCHealth Memorial Hospital leave more quickly and to avoid nursing homes.

The program, which was funded largely by grants from the Colorado Springs Health Foundation and the Colorado Health Foundation, aims to reduce costly hospital stays while helping people return home after suffering a stroke or debilitating illnesses.

"We really want to provide a service to the hospital that benefits people with disabilities," Yeager said.

And for Yeager, none of that growth should come as a surprise.

"We're finding our stride here," she said.

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