SeeMore Inn’s Story

November 15th, 2018

With blue polo shirts tucked neatly into khaki pants, the two women shuffle their hands in nervous excitement, eager to greet their next guests.

For days now, this is the moment they’ve been prepping for. The linens have been washed and lovingly arranged on the beds. Fresh baked muffins sit on the kitchen countertop.

It’s showtime.

Welcome to the SeeMore Inn, where guests are made to feel as if they are the most important people in the world.

And they are — at least within the walls of this bed and breakfast, especially in the eyes of those who work here.

The SeeMore Inn is a groundbreaking experiment in hospitality, a place where individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can learn, work and thrive. The bed and breakfast is the first of its kind in Illinois.

And Human Support Services, which owns and operates the property, sees it as filling an essential role in its drive toward a more person-centered model of service.

What is a person-centered approach? Well, look no further than the inn to better understand.

The name SeeMore Inn derives from a Robert M. Hensel quote which reads: “There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.”

The person-centered approach looks at the individual and identifies their unique talents and strengths, then connects them to roles in the community where they can reach their fullest potential. It’s about allowing that person to find their place in society, not “helping” them within the bounds of an organization or system.

Here at the inn, everyone pitches in and everyone benefits.

There’s Rachel, whose careful work in preparing eggs for breakfast is more than just a job. It’s a step toward a bigger dream of one day becoming a chef.

And there’s Linda, who beams when the guests say they enjoy the meals she serves them.

Clients work a variety of jobs, helping with everything from landscaping and housekeeping to cooking and serving guests, all under the guidance of supervision from HSS staff and a full-time innkeeper.

Those who work at the inn see it as a true privilege. Those who stay at the inn see it as a true treat.

“The Inn represents all that we are trying to achieve at HSS with our person-centered approach,” said Anne King, executive director at HSS. “The many talents of our clients really shine through, and they have a chance to provide a warm welcome to the community — opening people’s eyes to all that we have to offer, and all that we can do when we work together as a society to help every person live their best life.”

The SeeMore Inn, which officially opened to guests on July 1, operated for many years as the Waterloo Inn bed and breakfast. When the five-bedroom home hit the real estate market last year, HSS immediately saw the opportunity to do something innovative.

There was risk involved — as is the case with any real estate deal — but it was hard to pass up what would be a one-of-a-kind experience for clients and guests.

“When we looked at it that way, particularly in light of our larger mission, it was a no brainer,” said King. “We had to make it ours.”

The nonprofit closed on the property in February.

Since then, HSS staff and clients have been busy putting their own touch on the home. Projects have included picking new furniture and decor, and interviewing applicants for the innkeeper’s position.

The efforts shine through, from the moment you arrive at the bed and breakfast. The home, which was built in 1875, has a Colonial Farmhouse feel, with its white clapboard exterior and teal shutters.

Pastel paint and floral wallpaper grace the interior, while custom millwork around the hearth and antique light fixtures complete the look.

One can sip tea from vintage china on the porch or in the sunroom. Or a guest can enjoy one of the inn’s breakfast specials in the kitchen where the sunlight plays peekaboo with lace curtains on the windows.

Everything here is quaint and personalized. And it starts with that special SeeMore welcome, from staff who are more than eager to get to know you.

With every piece of furniture lovingly polished, and every scone carefully prepared and served, the SeeMore Inn proves that the road to a better life connects all of us.

And it wouldn’t be possible without your help.

Consider a tax deductible gift to HSS this holiday season. Your gift to our annual campaign goes directly to programs like those at the SeeMore Inn.

And please remember: We can all do more to see the best in each other.


Shawn’s Story

November 15th, 2018

When Shawn steps into the Walmart parking lot, he stands a little taller.

A slight smile is almost always on his face as he moves through his workday. The job involves a seemingly neverending task — moving shopping carts from the edge of the lot to the inside of the building.

Some might groan and complain. But for Shawn, each shopping cart, and each trip to and from the store, represents so much.

Independence. Opportunity. Growth. Being part of a larger, more diverse community.

These are all things that Shawn craved and expressed to his family and case coordinators.

Now they are no longer pipe dreams or abstract ideas. They are his reality.

The Building Futures program, offered through Human Support Services, is part of a larger movement toward person-centered services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program pairs motivated workers like Shawn with employers in the community.

Both benefit.

For the businesses, it is a chance to tap an eager workforce that truly sees each job as an opportunity, not just a paycheck. Often, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are filling business needs that may have otherwise gone unfilled.

For Shawn and others, it is a valued role — a stepping stone to building an independent future.

Shawn’s smile comes from a sense of purpose, and his delight in being able to shape his own path and follow his own interests. It also comes from the camaraderie he feels with fellow employees and the customers. Not to mention the satisfaction he gains in being able to earn a paycheck and pay for his own things.

After all, aren’t those things we all crave?

That’s the whole point of the Building Futures program.

“We’re looking at how can we allow the people we serve to have the best life, to experience the most quality, to have the most meaning,” explained Jessica Liefer, director of person centered services at HSS.

“We’re looking at each and every person, and each and every gift and talent and quality that person has, and we try to place them in organizations and employment positions that…they can grow and succeed in.”

For Shawn, it started with a simple wish, and someone who was willing to listen.

He had been expressing a desire to work for quite a while. So when the Building Futures program started up, and Walmart’s Missy Whittington began asking about potential job candidates, Liefer knew exactly who to ask.

“We knew there was more for him than working in (the HSS) workshop,” Liefer said.

Shawn’s new job was a test run, of sorts, for the larger program.

At the time, HSS didn’t have a job coach yet. So for a couple of days, Liefer went to Walmart with Shawn to see how he would enjoy being a cart attendant.

Her first impression?

“I did not realize how hard it was,” she said, chuckling.

It was a physically demanding position, and Shawn was worried. He desperately wanted to work, but would the job prove too difficult for him? Would he bump into cars with the carts? What about when it rained or snowed?

Whittington was quick to jump in and offer encouragement. She also customized the position in a way that allayed Shawn’s concerns. Shawn would just take the carts at the edge of the lot into the building. No more fears for Shawn; still a tremendous help to Walmart.

“That’s worked out perfectly,” Liefer said. “It’s something he’s good at. He’s right at the building and pushes the (carts) in and just really enjoys it. He works every Friday and he’s excited about going.”

There’s a point here that shouldn’t be lost. The businesses involved in the Building Futures program gain satisfaction and practical benefits as well.

“They see the quality it brings to their business, so that’s exciting,” Liefer said.

And Shawn’s family?

“I think they are happy to see things moving forward for him. They are glad that others see opportunity and potential in him as well,” Liefer said.

That extends to Shawn’s girlfriend, who recently received a gift from him: a beautiful ring, one of the first things he bought with his Walmart paycheck.

Shawn is one of many who are now involved in the HSS Building Futures program. And his story illustrates a common theme: that helping one person realize their dreams can better connect our whole community.

Invest in Shawn’s future — a future we all share, and have a stake in — by contributing to our annual holiday appeal today.

 


Olivia’s Story

November 15th, 2018

Her hands are dusted in flour as they knead dough, purposefully molding the bread into shape.

Later, she’ll mix batter for cakes, carefully measuring ingredients and scooping the soft gooey mixture into the pans.

It’s methodic, calming work. There’s something rewarding about watching the fruits of her labor come to life as the baked goods rise in the ovens.

When she leaves work, maybe she’ll make a call to chat with one of her children, or maybe she’ll visit her grandchildren. She might take one of the yoga classes she recently signed up for, or spend time with some of her new friends.

For the first time in decades, the road Olivia is on is a good one.

It wasn’t easy to get here, and she didn’t do it alone.

Olivia was only 12 when she started drinking to escape the abuse in her household. By the time she was 21, she was using cocaine.

She married young, and had children in her 20s. Over the following decade, she struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues that spiraled out of control.

She divorced her husband, lost touch with her children and ultimately faced trouble with the law and spent time in prison. She couldn’t find a steady job and was plagued by negative thoughts and behaviors.

As the years wore on, Olivia made several attempts at rehabilitation and participated in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. She sought treatment for PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, paranoia and depression.

But still, Olivia struggled to stay sober and manage her mental health. She felt isolated from family and friends and was separated from her children.

This was not the life she wanted.

Olivia knew she needed to change and needed help to do so. When she came to Human Support Services, she was ready to pursue the road to her best life.

At HSS, Olivia received counseling for substance abuse and mental health issues and joined our women’s group, where she receives valuable support from others who have faced the same struggles.

Living in our transitional housing has given her the opportunity to learn to budget money. She has learned to focus on self-care, and completed extensive dental work that has helped improve her self-esteem and outlook.

Over the last several years, she has developed a network of friends and has repaired the broken relationships with her family.

The care Olivia receives at HSS has paved the way to a better life. She has been given the tools necessary to successfully manage her depression and work toward her goals.

Olivia’s future is brighter than ever. She has been drug-free for 10 years and has set goals to become a full-time employee at the bakery and spend more time with her grandchildren. With help from HSS, she found a second chance to live her best life.

Like Olivia, many people in our community are traveling down the road to recovery. HSS is there to give them the opportunities to make a better life.

Tax-deductible gifts from friends and neighbors help make that possible.

This holiday season, consider making a charitable donation to the Human Support Services Annual Holiday Appeal to help Olivia and others like her.

When you give to HSS, the road to a better life connects all of us.


Donate a Car

October 30th, 2018

Donate a Car

Our clients are going places, figuratively and literally.

As individuals and as a group, they’ve achieved incredible success over the last year as they propel themselves forward on the path to their best lives.

They’ve found jobs, excelled in training opportunities, engaged socially in the community and gained independent housing.

For them, the roads ahead are filled with opportunities and promise.

They’ve got the determination and talent to navigate those roads. We’ve got the programs, services and guidance they’ll need along the route.

We’re just missing one thing – the transportation to navigate those roads.

That’s where you can help. We’re in dire need of vehicles – cars in good working order – to transport our clients to their jobs, training, medical appointments and social events.

Our Human Support Services staff will operate the vehicles strictly for our clients’ needs. Our maintenance staff will also handle all the upkeep on the cars so that they remain in tip-top condition.

If you are able to donate a car you no longer use, or perhaps could benefit from the tax deduction from donating a car you were considering trading in, we would be immensely grateful.

Your donation of a good condition vehicle 2010 or newer would help ensure that clients can get to their jobs, and continue to thrive in our community.

You’ll receive a considerable tax write-off, but more than that, you can enjoy the knowledge that you’re impacting the futures of dozens in your community.

Our staff will pick up the car from your residence or chosen location, and handle all Secretary of State paper work. We’ll also send you a letter for tax purposes.

If you have questions or are interested in donating a car, please contact HSS Facilities & Vehicles Manager Todd Krebel at tkrebel@hss1.org or call 618-939-4444.


Laskowski Brings His Passion for Person-Centered Services to HSS

September 20th, 2018

craig-photoCraig Laskowski didn’t intentionally seek out a career working with individuals with disabilities — he believes his path in life led him there.

Laskowski went to McKendree University to play baseball, not knowing exactly what he wanted to do professionally. An inspiring psychology teacher steered him toward a path in human services, but even after graduation, Laskowski’s future in the field was far from defined.

In fact, he admits that as a kid, he often felt nervous around individuals with disabilities.

It took the right set of circumstances for his whole attitude to change.

After eight months of job searching after college, Laskowski was hired to open the Lebanon Terrace Intermediate Care Facility for the Developmentally Disabled.

There, as one would expect, he was surrounded by people with developmental disabilities. And one man in particular opened Laskowski’s eyes to a new way of thinking.

This man was an avid baseball fan, like Laskowski. He knew all of Laskwoski’s high school stats.

As Laskowski recalls, “we hit it off right away.” They’d have one conversation after another.

“That was my first opportunity to relax and listen to him,” Laskowski said. “It was God’s way of introducing me in a way I was comfortable with, (and) it didn’t take me long to realize that what I had paid attention to was only on the outside, not on the inside.”

From those early conversations on, Laskowski was hooked on learning more. Now, he is convinced it was always his personal calling.

Today, he can look back at a more than 30-year career working with individuals with disabilities, where he has honed a specialty in person-centered care. He brought that expertise to Human Support Services a year ago this month, joining the organization as Chief Program Officer.

Before joining HSS, Laskowski worked for 28 years with the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Developmental Disabilities.

While there, Laskowski was a trained facilitator in essential lifestyle planning, then personal futures planning and other similar models. He also had the opportunity to be trained by Michael Small, the pioneer of person centered planning.

Small’s message struck a chord with Laskowski, and person-centered care has been his passion ever since.

“When you allow people to live the way they want to live, it’s amazing…the dramatic impact it has on their lives, their self esteem,” he said. Laskowski became the division’s spokesperson for person-centered planning and service enhancement.

His message was often quite simple: the old ways aren’t what work best for the individual.

When an inspector of care, he would review the models in place at the time, “and I realized that no matter what, there was still something missing: quality of life. When we dictated what they had to work on, we focused on their weaknesses, ignored their strengths. Now we can focus on their strengths, gifts, talents, dreams and desires.”

He continued, “With person-centered, we talk about how to meet friends, different jobs we can do, how to self advocate for yourself, take control of your life — focus on their strengths, abilities, gifts, dreams and desires. Then you try to tailor services around that.”

Since starting at HSS, Laskowski has introduced an array of initiatives aimed at bringing the organization in line with state and federal mandates pertaining to person-centered care.

This has included extensive staff training on Personal Outcome Measures, to ensure HSS offers supports and services that are truly person-centered.

In the early spring of 2018, for instance, staff went through four days of personal outcome interviewer training to make sure the standards are being met.

The goal, Laskowski said, is to develop ways to support the individual so they aren’t entirely reliant on HSS — essentially, so they can live the life of a non-disabled person.

This might mean building a community around the individual so they are less dependent upon the service system, or perhaps finding modes of transportation beyond what HSS can provide.

Under the old models, Laskowski said, the goals were simpler: teaching someone to give change for a dollar, or how to tie their shoe.

“Now, it’s more,” he said. “It’s developing friends in the community, continuing traditions and rituals in their life with their family. Now, we want to find out what their dreams or desires are, personal outcomes, things they want to achieve.”

It’s allowing individuals to shape their own futures and preferences, dictate their own schedules and do ordinary things like plan a vacation, or cook and entertain for friends and family.
“The biggest thing for me has been seeing the change the clients here,” Laskowski said.

Newly empowered, he’ll hear their changed outlook just in day-to-day conversations.
“They’ll say to me, ‘You mean I could be my own boss one day?’” he said with a smile.

“To me, I feel that a person with a disabilities has the same dreams and desires that we have and should have the same right to pursue those as me or you.”