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The Independence Center aids those with disabilities, helps reclaim senses of self 

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click to enlarge Charlene Youngblood aids others with disabilities. - COURTESY THE INDEPENDENCE CENTER
  • Courtesy The Independence Center
  • Charlene Youngblood aids others with disabilities.
Since 1987, The Independence Center has provided home health care services, transitional assistance and independent-living programs for individuals with disabilities. The nonprofit caters to all age groups and offers a support network with continuing care to more than 800 people annually in El Paso, Teller, Kit Carson, Park, Lincoln and Cheyenne counties.

“People with disabilities are the largest minority in this country,” says Timothy Gore, development director at The Independence Center. “Our mission is to walk alongside people with disabilities, to encourage and help them create a plan so they can live independently, so the whole community can thrive.”

Charlene Youngblood, 66, a former preschool teacher and Springs resident for more than 30 years, endorses The Independence Center as a catalyst during a difficult period in her life. Youngblood has not been able to walk for more than eight years, with no diagnosis from doctors. After living on her couch for months, she was able to use a wheelchair before suffering a relapse and spending five weeks in the hospital. Still with no answers, Youngblood found herself in a local nursing home where her husband, a classically trained pianist, would visit her daily and play for her. But then he died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their home.

“I had lost everything at that point,” she says. “I was in a depression for a long time. ... Daily life is not living, it’s just daily survival.”

With no caretaker, direction or financial stability, Youngblood was referred to The Independence Center, and within a year and a half she was given the opportunity to move into her own home.

“The Independence Center gave me hope that there was a way out,” she says. “They did everything for me.”

The center helped Youngblood, who uses a wheelchair, find an apartment and even orchestrated a reunion with her dog, Nugget. “It was beyond amazing,” she says. “When you’re moving out of a nursing home to start over, there is no money. It was the beginning of my new life. I’d never lived alone and it was a big step.”

The center offers 17 programs like this that include the Colorado Transition Service, which supports health care consumers after their initial move. It covers the transference of benefits, how to relearn domestic duties and provides transportation to and from errands and appointments. During Youngblood’s follow-up care, she was also offered a job as a peer mentor at The Independence Center, a position created specifically for her.

“The passion and the mission of the organization is to keep people living an independent life,” says Gore. “As much independence as they want to create for themselves, we want to help them do that and we’ll do it for free.”

Two years later, Youngblood’s new role allows her to assist others who find themselves in similar situations as they move from nursing homes back into the community. The Independence Center also hosts a diabetic cooking program that Youngblood participated in and now manages. “I have four to five clients that just transitioned and I go help them with whatever they need,” she says. “It can be overwhelming, so teaching healthy choices is what I try to direct them into.”

Youngblood is just one example of how The Independence Center creates a culture that empowers individuals with disabilities to reclaim a sense of self. “Eighty percent of us that work there are people with disabilities,” says Gore. “It’s people with disabilities creating community is what it is. Not community for people with disabilities.”

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