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Introduction: Insights from a Mother’s Journey with a Child with Disabilities

In an intimate interview, a mother shared her journey from the diagnosis of her child’s disability to becoming an unwavering advocate for inclusivity. This story not only describes their challenges and triumphs but also serves to remind other mothers of children with disabilities that they are not alone. Her experiences illuminate the role of advocacy well into adulthood, highlighting the need for continued support and understanding as children transition into adult life with disabilities.

She wanted to remain anonymous to protect her daughter. Still, by sharing her story, she hopes to shed light on the often-overlooked aspects of caring for adult children with disabilities, emphasizing the importance of sustainable community support systems and the ongoing nature of advocacy.

A Mother’s Transformative Journey

When my child was diagnosed with a disability, it altered everything I knew about life. Suddenly, I was not just a mother but also an advocate for my child. This story details our journey through adapting to a world that wasn’t initially accommodating and how we’ve advocated for the rights and opportunities my child—and many others—deserve. When a mother receives the diagnosis of her child’s disability, it marks a significant transformation in her life. She evolves from being a typical parent to becoming her child’s most important advocate and supporter. 

Transformative Love: Mothers at the Forefront of Inclusivity

Becoming an advocate wasn’t initially in her plans, but driven by love, she became a passionate fighter for inclusivity. Her efforts have helped make schools, playgrounds, and community centers more welcoming spaces. By sharing her story, she has broadened her understanding of what it’s like to live with disabilities and has raised awareness about the need for more significant support.

The Power of Love: Becoming a Warrior for Inclusivity

Initially, I never anticipated becoming an advocate or a spokesperson. Yet, love transformed me into a warrior. I’ve championed inclusivity, working to dismantle barriers in schools, playgrounds, and communities. 

Impact and Influence: Shaping Policies and Perceptions

My role as an advocate has led me to the doorsteps of educators and legislators alike. I’ve actively spoken out to help shape policies that consider every individual’s needs. Our personal experiences, alongside those of numerous other families, have raised awareness of the need for social change, ensuring a more inclusive future.

Advice from One Mother to Another: Empowering Advocacy Tips

To those new mothers finding themselves in advocacy roles, here are some insights from my journey:

  • Connect: Seek out support groups. They provide a wealth of resources and shared understanding.
  • Learn: Educate yourself about your child’s rights and the educational systems in place.
  • Partner: Collaborate with organizations that support children with disabilities. They are crucial allies.
  • Organize: Maintain detailed records. Documentation is vital in advocating effectively for your child.

Join Our Movement: An Invitation for Inclusion. 

On Mother’s Day, she extends an invitation to join a supportive community that values inclusivity. Your participation is crucial, whether you are a mother, a father, or someone who champions inclusion. Together, we can build a world that accepts every child as they are.

Celebrating Mothers: Pillars of Strength

On Mother’s Day, the community celebrates all mothers who tirelessly ensure their children’s rights and well-being. Their remarkable strength and unwavering dedication inspire everyone. Their leadership and actions make significant differences in our communities, paving the way for a more inclusive future.

“A mother and child sharing a moment, with text honoring mothers of children with disabilities and wishing a Happy Mother’s Day from Challenge Unlimited.” The image depicts two individuals—possibly a mother and her child—sitting on a white couch in a living room. The child wears pink overalls, while the adult wears a white top. The background shows a light blue wall. Text at the top left corner reads “HONORING MOTHERS OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES,” followed by “Celebrating the strength and love of these incredible mothers.” At the bottom right corner, there’s more text that says “Happy Mother’s Day” next to heart and peace sign icons. The logo of “CHALLENGE unlimited” appears at the bottom center, suggesting an organization related to supporting mothers with disabled children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you or someone you know has a child with a disability and needs support, please contact our Intake Coordinator for information about the resources available and the services we provide for individuals with disabilities. We are here to help.

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As the CEO of Challenge Unlimited, I see firsthand the challenges faced by the disabled community in Illinois.

My message to the Illinois General Assembly is simple: “Let’s do better.”

Let’s do better for the estimated 300,000 Illinoisans with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families. The State has responded based on the advocacy work of our providers to support a year after year after year dollar-an-hour increase for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who provide community-based support — helping people with IDD with daily tasks like getting ready for work, eating meals, take medication, and have a good quality of life.

Yet, Illinois lags behind, ranking 46th among states and the District of Columbia in funding for community-based services. This isn’t just disappointing; it’s unsustainable. Can’t we aspire to at least reach the national average?  Don’t Illinoisans deserve that?

I applaud the state for raising the minimum wage; however, commensurate wages have not been provided to DSPs who are supporting people with IDD to be active community members across all Medicaid waiver programs. These professionals support individuals with IDD and their roles demand, knowledge, skill, and compassion, which are invaluable to the families they serve.

While I commend the state and acknowledge strides in raising the minimum wage, it’s crucial that wage adjustments for DSPs are aligned accordingly and commensurate wages have not been provided to DSPs who are supporting people with IDD to be active community members across all Medicaid waiver programs.

These jobs require a level of knowledge, experience, skill, professionalism, and compassion that is valuable to the families of the individuals we care for.

Without action this spring, DSP wages will have only risen 37 cents more than minimum wage over the last five years. This is insufficient given their responsibilities and the professional skills they bring to their roles. Let’s not wait any longer.

The seven state institutions are well-funded, but the trend and preference clearly lean towards community-based living. This country has made tremendous strides in deinstitutionalizing individuals living with disabilities by integrating them into neighboring communities. It is time for Illinois to continue to lead by example, advocating for modernization and improved funding for community services that support our most vulnerable populations. This will take the ongoing support and investment from the State of IL into a fragile community system and prevent any further deterioration.

Advocates — please call your legislators today. Tell them what you’re going through. And urge them to do better.

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As Autism Acceptance Week kicks off, communities and groups worldwide are getting ready with a variety of fun, welcoming, and informative activities.

These activities celebrate the autism spectrum’s diversity and offer learning, connecting, and personal growth opportunities. This blog post features three standout events. They are perfect for anyone interested in the autism community, whether you’re directly affected, a family member, an educator, or just a supporter. The following online and in-person events are set to provide valuable experiences for all who attend.

Dr. Temple Grandin: The Hidden Gifts of Visual Thinkers

First on our list is an inspiring lecture by Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the most accomplished and well-known adults with autism in the world. Hosted by the Hayner Public Library District, this event promises to shed light on “The Hidden Gifts of Visual Thinkers.” Dr. Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, has made groundbreaking contributions to autism advocacy and animal behavior research. Her ability to see the world differently has revolutionized our approach to both fields. Attendees will gain insight into how thinking in pictures can be a tremendous asset and explore the unique talents that individuals on the spectrum can bring to our communities and workplaces.

Event details and registration can be found on the Hayner Library website. Given Dr. Grandin’s influence and the invaluable perspectives she offers, this is an event you won’t want to miss.

Animals Aglow at the Saint Louis Zoo

You can also check out “Animals Aglow,” a visually stunning event hosted by the Saint Louis Zoo. This family-friendly exhibit transforms the zoo into an illuminated wonderland, featuring larger-than-life animal lanterns that guide you through an enchanting journey. Designed with sensory sensitivities in mind, this event offers a mesmerizing experience that can be enjoyed by individuals of all ages, including those on the autism spectrum. The zoo’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility makes “Animals Aglow” a perfect outing for Autism Acceptance Week, combining the beauty of nature with the magic of light art.

For more information about event dates and tickets, visit the Saint Louis Zoo’s official website.

 

 

 

 

Low Sensory Sundays at Six Flags St. Louis – Starting April 7th

Whether you are a kid or just a kid at heart, don’t miss “Low Sensory Sundays” at Six Flags St. Louis, starting April 7th. These special days are made with sensory sensitivities in mind, adjusting lights and sounds for a more comfortable experience. Six Flags is committed to ensuring that everyone can enjoy their attractions, and it is making a great effort to welcome guests on the autism spectrum.

For more information, visit the Six Flags St. Louis website, which details Low Sensory Sundays, including dates and accommodations.

Other Ways to Support

In addition to attending these events, there are several ways you can contribute to the cause and support autism acceptance:

  1. Educate Yourself and Others: Learn more about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and share your knowledge to help foster understanding and acceptance.
  2. Volunteer: Give your time to organizations that support individuals with autism, whether it’s during Autism Acceptance Week or any time of year.
  3. Donate: Consider donating to programs and research initiatives dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by autism.
  4. Advocate: Raise awareness and advocate for policies that support the rights and needs of the autism community.
  5. Support Local Programs: Engage with and support local autism programs and services—they are often on the front lines of providing direct support and resources.
  6. Social Media Engagement: Use your online platforms to promote autism acceptance, share information about events, and engage with initiatives like #StrengthInDiversity and #ItsOkToBeDifferent.

Join the Celebration

Autism Acceptance Week is more than just a series of events; it’s a movement towards understanding, inclusion, and celebration of the diverse spectrum of human experience. By participating in events like these, we can all contribute to a more accepting and supportive society.

Whether you’re learning from Dr. Temple Grandin’s insights, marveling at the luminous displays at the Saint Louis Zoo, or enjoying the thrills of Six Flags with a sensory-friendly twist, you’re participating in a global celebration of autism acceptance.

Let’s come together to support, learn from, and celebrate the autism community, not just during Autism Acceptance Week but every day.

Support Our Programs

Remember that supporting our programs is one of the most direct ways to contribute. They are tailored to empower autistic individuals, providing them with opportunities to succeed at achieving their goals. You’re positively impacting someone’s life and contributing to a more inclusive community by getting involved with our programs. Contact us to find out how you can join our mission at Challenge Unlimited.

Click Here to Make A Donation to our Autism Acceptance Campaign!

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Recognizing a Trailblazer: Charlotte Hammond Receives the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award 

Charlotte Hammond, the CEO of Challenge Unlimited, has recently been honored with the prestigious Martin Luther King Drum Major Award. This accolade, presented by the St. Louis Urban League, is not just a recognition of her professional accomplishments but a testament to her dedication to fostering an inclusive and equitable community. Read more about the event, speakers, and honorees here.

A New Chapter: Appointment to the City of St. Louis Workforce Development Board

Further cementing her role as a community leader, Hammond is set to be sworn in on January 17th to the City of St. Louis Workforce Development Board, (WDB). This significant appointment reflects her deep commitment to workforce development and her expertise in creating pathways for employment and training. 

The Impact of the WDB and SLATE in St. Louis 

The WDB, as the governing entity, plays a crucial role in overseeing the programs implemented by the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE). These initiatives are vital for the economic development of St. Louis, providing essential support to job seekers and businesses. Through adult and youth programs, the WDB and SLATE focus on upgrading basic and occupational skills, thereby enhancing the workforce’s overall capabilities. 

A Diverse and Committed Board 

The WDB is composed of a minimum of twenty-three volunteer citizens appointed by the Mayor. This diverse group includes representatives from local businesses, public and community-based agencies, and labor organizations. Their collective efforts ensure that the workforce development programs are aligned with the city’s needs and are effectively implemented. 

A Visionary Leader 

Charlotte Hammond’s journey is one of inspiring leadership and unwavering commitment to community service. Her achievements, recognized by the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award and her appointment to the WDB, highlight her exceptional ability to lead, innovate, and uplift the community. In her new role with the WDB, her participation will surely enhance employment opportunities for the citizens of St. Louis, focusing on bringing these opportunities to underserved communities and opening new avenues for workforce development and growth in the city.

Charlotte’s story is a powerful reminder of one individual’s impact on a community. Her leadership at Challenge Unlimited and her involvement with the WDB showcase a career dedicated to creating opportunities and fostering growth. As St. Louis looks forward, it does so with a remarkable leader among its ranks, ready to drive change and make a lasting difference.

About Challenge Unlimited 

For over 60 years, Challenge Unlimited has operated as a social enterprise committed to serving individuals with disabilities while earning a reputation as a trusted business partner to private commercial companies and federal and state government agencies. As an accredited Community Rehabilitation Program (CRP) provider, Challenge Unlimited fulfills its mission through employment programs and services, skills training centers, and community-integrated living options.  

For media inquiries, please contact:
Stephanie Schrage, Marketing Manager
sschrage@cuinc.org
(618)462-4593 

 

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Expanded Transportation Services Supporting Individuals with Disabilities in Madison County 

Edwardsville, Illinois The Agency for Community Transit (ACT) Board of Directors has recently approved a substantial grant of $100,000 to the leading provider of disability services in the Madison County area, Challenge Unlimited (CU). These grant funds provided by the ACT Community Action Grants Program will be dedicated to operations and maintenance costs for transportation services provided to individuals with disabilities in the region. 

Challenge Unlimited is renowned for its outstanding services, catering to individuals aged 18 and older facing disabilities. Their extensive fleet of vehicles is specially designed to facilitate the attendance of individuals in programs focused on developing life skills and enhancing independence levels. 

“We are thrilled to receive this generous grant from the Agency for Community Transit,” said Susan Wild, Director at Challenge Unlimited. “The funding will enable us to continue our mission of providing dignified and inclusive opportunities for individuals with disabilities, empowering them to lead fulfilling lives.” 

Challenge Unlimited’s ADA-compliant vehicles are equipped with chair lifts and other essential features and ensure safe and convenient transportation for over 70 individuals in the Madison County area. These vehicles travel over 600 miles daily, offering door-to-door transportation services from Monday to Friday. 

The programs offered by Challenge Unlimited encompass a variety of settings, including community-based recreation experiences, pre-vocational training, career exploration, life-skills building, health and wellness activities, and volunteer opportunities at local organizations. These initiatives aim to support the growth and well-being of individuals with disabilities, fostering a sense of independence and self-sufficiency. 

“With the support of this grant, we will be able to expand our reach and continue providing crucial services to those in need,” added Susan Wild. “We are committed to improving the lives of our community members and helping them achieve their full potential.” 

The ACT Community Action Grants Program grant reaffirms Challenge Unlimited’s dedication to ensuring that every individual can live a dignified life of well-being, independence, and inclusion. Through this funding, they can positively impact the lives of even more individuals in the Madison County area.

For further information about the services offered by Challenge Unlimited or to inquire about enrollment, interested parties are encouraged to contact Director Susan Wild at swild@cuinc.org or call 618.465.0044 ext. 1144.  

About Challenge Unlimited 

For over 60 years, Challenge Unlimited has operated as a social enterprise committed to serving individuals with disabilities while earning a reputation as a trusted business partner to private commercial companies and federal and state government agencies. As an accredited Community Rehabilitation Program (CRP) provider, Challenge Unlimited fulfills its mission through employment programs and services, skills training centers, and community-integrated living options. For more information, please visit www.cuinc.org.    

For media inquiries, please contact:
Stephanie Schrage
sschrage@cuinc.org
(618)462-4593 

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♪ “I’m goin’ to Jackson, but I’m not gonna mess around.” ♪

Johnny Cash’s iconic words resonate with a different journey today – the journey towards creating a brighter future for disability employment. In Mississippi, 256,889 individuals ages 18 to 64 identify as having a disability, and 64% of those individuals are unemployed. (Mississippi By The Numbers)

Advocating for Change from Jackson to D.C.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and GSA Jackson team member Jeffie Walker is not a statistic. He exemplifies the transformative power of inclusion and the strides made in the workforce, but we have a long way to go. He can assure you that individuals with disabilities are not “messing around” but are seizing their rightful place in the world of employment, and his journey is a testament to his determination and resilience in the face of adversity.

Jeffie’s Story

Mr. Jeffie Walker is a self-proclaimed “huge sports fan” and aspires to own his own home so that he can have the “man cave” of his dreams. His story is just one example of how individuals with disabilities can overcome challenges to achieve outstanding success, but the path was not without its obstacles.

After earning a Mass Communications degree from Jackson State University, Jeffie encountered difficulties securing employment due to his disability. However, he refused to be disheartened and, with the unwavering support of his family, friends, and counselors, embarked on a new journey within the AbilityOne Program.

He began as a janitor in the McCoy Federal building in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. Over eight years in this role, Mr. Walker displayed unparalleled dedication and work ethic, becoming an integral part of his workplace. However, uncertainty loomed when the company he worked for lost the contract.

A Chance to Shine

During this critical period, Challenge Unlimited recognized Mr. Walker’s exceptional qualities and not only retained him on the team but was promoted to the building’s sole Floor Care Technician. This marked a significant milestone, his first-ever promotion, and an accompanying raise.

Among his numerous accomplishments within the AbilityOne Program, Mr. Walker is incredibly proud of his promotion. This achievement highlights his dedication and showcases his potential for growth. Jeffie’s success led him to be selected to represent his company and coworkers in Washington, D.C., at the SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference, showcasing his ability to advocate for the program’s mission and the contributions of individuals like him. He’s funny, charismatic, and a delight to be around.

Winning

He was nominated by his supervisors for the SourceAmerica William M. Usdane Award, which serves as a powerful reminder that individuals with disabilities are invaluable assets to the workforce and can thrive when given the opportunity. This nomination is more than just a recognition of his achievements; it’s a beacon of hope for others facing similar challenges.

While the award’s winner has yet to be selected, Jeffie is already a winner in our book. He is committed to his job, and his dedication to advocating for himself and others is exemplary. “To be honest, I think people with disabilities can do just as well or even better jobs if given support and guidance,” said Walker. He exemplifies the transformative power of determination, hard work, and the impact of a supportive work environment. We firmly believe that Mr. Walker deserves to be celebrated for his achievements. Jeffie can inspire countless others to overcome obstacles and pursue their dreams. He is proof that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

Click below to listen to Jeffie’s speech.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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