On May 14, Clearbrook held a formal ribbon-cutting for a program which opened earlier in the year to provide participant-driven experiences for individuals with developmental disabilities. The CHOICE program (Creating Heartfelt Options in Community Environments) is an effort to discover the specific needs and interests of participants and customize their delivery in community settings.
It is typical for program options available to individuals with developmental disabilities to be based significantly upon the type of programs provided by an organization located nearby. These programs options might include skills training in a large facility, piecework in a sheltered workshop and outings to recreational and educational sites. The experience a program participant gets is driven by the offerings of the organization and not primarily by the interests of the participant. The CHOICE program begins with a more robust "discovery" process which reveals specific interests of participants which become priorities for program staff as they shape the experiences available in the program.
Unlike more traditional program sites, CHOICE is located in an office building just a short walk from downtown Evanston, Illinois. The location serves as place for some program activities, but is more importantly a launching point for endeavors in the nearby area. Participants walk to local venues and maintain a sense of inclusion into the Evanston community. Several of the program's initial participants reside in homes operated by the Libenu Foundation, an organization which supports Jewish individuals with developmental disabilities. CHOICE incorporates the dietary and other needs of these participants into the program.
There are increasing demands for services for individuals with developmental disabilities which are "person-centered" and responsive to individual needs. The infrastructure through which these services are often delivered in Illinois can make this challenging. Programs are underfunded by the State which forces service providers to use scale in order to achieve sustainability. CHOICE is a new model and an experiment to learn how a traditional service provider might provide more flexible experiences in smaller settings based upon participant interests.