On busy Route 30, in the heart of bustling New Lenox, teens and young adults will soon have a new spot to drop in for games, snacks, learning, employment leads and time with their peers.
As they transition out of high school, many young adults who have intellectual disabilities face a period in their lives with no options like this one. Like others their age, they are finding their place in the world and in their community. But unlike many of their peers, they do not have the option of college, technical school or the military. And, many of them do not wish to lose the skills they gained during high school. The Branch: Well-Being and Enrichment CenterSM is a place where they can develop their skills, and focus on options they do have.
The Branch: Well-Being and Enrichment CenterSM of New Lenox opened in late 2014. The program is based on tenets of positive psychology, such as engagement, accomplishment, meaning, positive emotion and relationships. Young people who participate will experience these positive benefits and help their peers experience them, too.
The building is designed to be welcoming and to act as a hub of activity. When people walk in they are greeted by a Starbucks-like atmosphere. Specialty drinks are available, and a choice of high-top tables with bar stools,
or large comfy chairs and couches, encourage them to relax and socialize.
Technology is a core component of the Center. With wi-fi access throughout the building, a person can move from room to room with the technology and engage in work or play with more flexibility. For example, a person might work with a job developer at a high-top table or other comfortable spot to complete a job application.
The technology also allows participants to connect a tablet to a mounted screen in a larger program space. There they can play videos about art or exercise, for example. They can also take the technology out to locations in the community and use computer applications that are relevant at those sites.
The Center is open in the evening in order to provide a space and activities for students after school. This option offers valuable social opportunities and helps teens and young adults envision the “next steps” of life after high school.
The Center's unique environment is built around the participant's needs and interests. It will enhance the time they spend with others, and increase the ways they can challenge themselves and each other. But, most importantly, they will have opportunities to participate in activities around the community.
All Center activities are designed to support young adults to identify what makes them happy, and to use available resources to build upon that happiness. The Center supports them to flourish personally and within their chosen environments.
Membership equals inclusion, not exclusion
The initial membership fee includes the benefit of using the Center, as well as certain discounts, such as a reduced price on smoothies.
Every member can choose tracks to participate in. Benefits include a unique environment that is built around their needs and interests; opportunities to spend time with other young adults. Opportunities to challenge themselves and teach each other in ways that work best with peer groups.
Membership is not about exclusion. Individuals will never be excluded on the basis of any protected class, such as race, ethnicity, gender or income status. Rather, membership is about creating a sense of community and belonging. And, the membership fee helps to sustain the center.
A bustle of activity
The Center's goal is to provide a fluid experience. Participants can move throughout the building, experiencing a variety of activities at “stations.” In one room, participants may choose yoga or tai chi, with aid of instructor first and later, perhaps, just with participants and a DVD played on the large screen.
The extremely welcoming atmosphere begins near the entrance. A wi fi on the left offers screenings and video games. Bar-style hi-top tables on the right invite the visitor to set up a laptop or enjoy a cold drink from the smoothie bar. This hub of activity at the front is followed by a central area where participants can check out tablets, laptops, video equipment or other supplies.
Movable tables with sleek industrial styling will be used in a variety of ways, or set aside during fitness, drama or other highly physical activities. TV screens in every room allow staff and participants to supplement activities, and the Center is 100 percent accessible.
After school activities will be open to individuals already in transition programs. Trinity's Supported Employment (SEP) staff working out of the same building are available to the Center participants. SEP serves those who are working or receiving job services to prepare for and find work. SEP is a funded partner of the Illinois Department of Rehabilitative Services.
Five Participation Tracks
The Center offers five tracks that participants can choose from. Each activity uses the brand new space but, most importantly, takes participants into the community to help build relationships and promote learning outside of the walls of the Center.
The Center's equipment and technology, such as art and culinary supplies, large-screen TVs, tablet computers and laptops, will assist participants to gain or enhance their skills. The computers feature applications that promote independence and learning, fitness, artistic skills and cultural awareness. The Center's 3G service will help participants become more independent. It enables them to acquire the skills that are increasingly necessary to navigate public services and facilities that rely on digital technologies.
The five tracks include the following.
This track helps the participant engage with employers, and learn about and get involved with civic activities, such as voting and donating one's time to a cause. The Supported Employment team, housed in the same building, will provide guidance. Through SEP, participants will have access to the resources a job developer can provide, including the developer's assistance in finding work that is meaningful to them. Trinity has connections with several organizations that will allow participants to volunteer with them on a regular basis. Opportunities include, for example, delivering meals to senior citizens or caring for animals in shelters.
Creative Expression Track
The creative expression track gives participants an option to work with an art therapist inside the Center, and to join trips to art shows and museums to learn about creative styles and artists. The participants' artwork will be displayed at the Center.
The well-being activities introduce forms of exercise such as yoga and tai chi. The Center will connect participants with facilities where participants can take classes that the Center does not offer. This offers participants the option to use a variety of fitness equipment and to swim. This track will also introduce information on how food affects our bodies and how the choices we make when we eat can affect the way we feel.
Problem Solving Track
The problem solving track focuses on problems a young adult typically faces in their day-to-day life. A variety of computer applications will be used in preparation for practicing these new skills in the community. For example, global positioning system (GPS) technology can teach a person how to find her way around town, locate a hair stylist, or estimate the distance to a potential employer's facility. Apps from grocery stores teach about food choices and shopping. Apps from public transportation providers help a person navigate the bus or train system to travel.
This track will focus on both individual interests and on the participants' communities. The program has recruited volunteers who are experts in their field. Some of them will visit the Center to share their knowledge of well-being, art, career development, and culture. At other times, program participants will go to the volunteer. For example, a nonprofit vegan café in Lockport will welcome visitors and share about their values and why they chose to launch a business that supports families who are coping with cancer.
A badly needed resource
The Branch: Well-Being and Enrichment CenterSM is designed to fill a gap in disability services that has existed for some time, and is expected to grow. Many young men and women with intellectual/ developmental disabilities (I/DD) graduate from high school. For individuals with significant I/DD, services often become available after high school, but for a great number of others the need for support is not considered critical. They receive little to no assistance once they leave high school.
By no fault of community service providers, this gap has existed for a long time. There has simply not been enough public funding to pay for these services.
The situation is critical for individuals and families seeking services. U.S. Dept. of Education data from 2007 show that, seven years after high school, more than one in three adults with autism had no paid job experience, college credit or technical schooling. And, the number of persons entering adulthood with a diagnosis of autism is increasing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many of these individuals―and with those with another I/DD―graduate and do not want to lose the skills they’ve acquired. But, they are not prepared for college or technical training programs and do not have access to appropriate skills training and career guidance. Trinity Well-Being and Enrichment CenterSM is designed to meet these needs, including connections to paid and volunteer employment.