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We had a very large, close knit family. It is my understating my mother was struggling to be there for all of us and taking care of Mary’s additional needs. At that time, kids like Mary were not eligible for school. Mary was my older sister, and one of my strongest memories of her journey as a person with a disability was the year my parents decided to follow all the professionals’ recommendations and send Mary to Lincoln Developmental Center (which was closed in 2002 by Gov. George Ryan after reports of abuse, neglect and preventable deaths).
When we dropped her off, the social worker recommended we not be in contact with Mary for at least six weeks because that would be easier on her. Not sure if it was easier on Mary, but I remember finding my mother crying often. When six weeks were up, our whole family went down to visit. Mary was so happy to see us, and when it was time to go home, I remember feeling sad. We went to visit Mary a few more times on the weekends. I remember coming back to the car to get something before it was time to leave, and I saw my father sitting in the car leaning over the steering wheel sobbing. Shortly after that visit to Lincoln, Mary came home.
Mary has been with EP!C since 1976 at the age of 21. Thanks to the support she is given she has always had a job in the community (recently opening the new Peoria Taco Bell) and lives in a Host Home.
Pat Hanley – Mary Grant’s Sister & Guardian
My husband, our twins, and I moved to Peoria, IL, away from our families for a great job at Caterpillar. We were excited but very nervous about being away from our families and raising our twins.
Kim was a happy baby girl while Tom was very anxious and unhappy most of the time. We truly believed he would grow out of this phase. As he approached the age of 2, his discomfort was getting worse. Our new physician was of no help and looked to me as the problem. We felt like bad parents. We confided in our new neighbors and a couple of my husband’s coworkers to see if they would be any help in finding a specialist in the area. One day, unannounced, a woman knocked on our door and identified herself as Barbara Smiley. She said she had heard we had a son that had special needs and there was an organization called PARC where we could find assistance with how to give our son the best opportunity at a great life.
JoAnn Kirkwood – Tom’s Mother
When Gretel was born, we knew there was a chance that she may never have the opportunity to live on her own. When the time came to discuss options for our family, we knew that EP!C’s Host Homes program was something worth looking into.
This program allows Gretel to live more independently like any other 25-year-old, far more than anyone in our family ever dreamed she would. It also allowed us the security of knowing that she was not alone and is happy. Gretel has pride in herself for what she has accomplished and she is excited to share what is going on in her life. She loves being someone’s “roommate” and it has allowed her to build relationships outside of our family unit.
Dr. Sally Jo Winek – Gretel’s Mother
I am a graduate of Augustana College in Rock Island, IL with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. I also happen to have cognitive differences. I came to EP!C’s Job Placement program after struggling to find a job in the community. Their Job Coaches worked with me to identify what type of career I wanted and were able to connect me to one of their many amazing business partners. I am now proudly working as a Veterinary Assistant at Brown Animal Hospital in Peoria. I love my new role and visit EP!C whenever I have the chance to work on training service dogs.
Nathan Treichel – EP!C Individual
I lived with my mother and deaf brother, and spent my time taking care of them and our house. When my mother passed, I went through a very hard time and became homeless. I started drinking very heavily, made some poor choices, and ended up at the Peoria Rescue Mission where a chaplin introduced me to EP!C in 2013. I was introduced to the Bourlands, who would eventually become my Host Home providers. The Bourlands came to see me every weekend and would bring me back to their home to visit. I spent holidays with them and attended their family events. Marilyn and Mike felt that I was meant to become part of their family.
After securing stable housing, I then focused on finding a job. I currently work at Hy-Vee Grand Prairie in Peoria and my coworkers say I am known for my work ethic, people skills, and loyalty. I take pride in all tasks I complete. I also am an ambassador for EP!C’s Host Homes Program.
I recently made it a goal to get my driver’s license and own a car. With guidance, I was able to accomplish it. I practiced driving, studied the rules of the road, and passed my driving test at the DMV. Because of hard work, I was able to purchase a car and make payments for both it and the car insurance by myself.
Mike Berkley – EP!C Individual
When I first spoke with EP!C, I was living in Vermont with my father and his girlfriend. It was not a good situation and Adult Protective Services had to get involved. I then moved back to Alabama. I did not have the life skills needed to live completely on my own so my friend helped me buy a train ticket to Illinois to live with my Grandpa in Havana. With my Grandpa’s health declining, I decided it was best to try and find support elsewhere.
EP!C’s Host Homes Program has given me the chance to have a family again and also be a part of my community. I also live with my new best friend Tony. My provider Katrina is helping us become more independent and work on goals we want to achieve. The three of us build each other up and help each other. Because of EP!C I have an awesome place to live and get to be a part of the Bulldogs Basketball team. They make me a better man and I cannot thank EP!C enough for everything.
David Friend – EP!C Individual
Prior to moving into an EP!C group home, I lived in a small two-bedroom apartment with my sister, her boyfriend, and my one-year-old niece. My sister struggled to meet my needs, as I use a wheelchair and require total care. One night my niece became ill, so my sister was forced to leave me alone for several days until I was found by the apartment’s maintenance man.
Adult Protective Services contacted EP!C because I already attended their Day Training program. Right away EP!C knew I would benefit from moving into one of their group homes, and I’ve been there for over 8 years now. Because of EP!C, I receive exceptional personal care, attend outings with my friends, work in their Technology HUB and get paid, and have learned to use an iPad to communicate my wants and needs. Without EP!C, I would have not had the friendships or work opportunities, which have significantly increased the way I live my life.
Devin Perry – EP!C Individual
Naomi was born a normal, healthy baby girl, but when she was very young, she suffered from a traumatic brain injury. Naomi became a part of our family in August of 2001. We met her at the Rehab Institute of Chicago as a potential foster child. We knew upon our first meeting with Naomi that she would be the daughter that we were longing for. Eventually, we were able to adopt her permanently into our family.
Naomi’s life in our home began with three sessions of therapy at Easterseals five days per week. They did a phenomenal job of bringing her from being a non-verbal 8-year-old child to a girl that could fit in with her peers in the East Peoria school system. Because of Naomi’s injury, she lost the ability to walk or use her dominant hand to write. Naomi’s school and Easterseals worked together with our family to help her reach her potential, considering the extent of her brain injury and age.
Fortunately for Naomi, she had a great Life Skills Educational program at East Peoria Community High School and they highlighted the importance of planning for the adult world while still in high school. Her teacher took her students to PARC, (now called EP!C), weekly. Because of this partnership, Naomi didn’t have a difficult time adjusting during the transition from high school to the day program at EP!C.
Naomi is now 26 years old and attends EP!C four days per week. She truly enjoys working in the Technology HUB, she is paid for data entry and she makes greeting cards that are sold for fundraising to EP!C. Bringing home a check every two weeks thrills her and has improved Naomi’s self-worth. Her favorite activity is the EP!Casso art studio! She loves painting ceramics, canvas, and making jewelry that EP!C helps her sell and she earns a commission on. While working at EP!C she has met many friends and built relationships including one with her boyfriend Eugene. She looks forward to attending events, hanging with friends, and going out on dates like anyone else her age.
Whenever we run into EP!C staff in the community, Naomi’s face lights up and she quickly zooms her wheelchair over to meet them with admiration and excitement. I’ve always known that Naomi loves her time at EP!C, but you can see the staff at EP!C truly admires her and she feels that she’s earning her own way in the world. She knows she is important to the EP!C staff and to our community. We are very grateful to live in a community that has such an exemplary organization!
Carla Hardesty – Naomi’s Mother
When our daughter was born, we were thrilled to be first-time parents. After she arrived the doctor stated we shouldn’t see her because there was something wrong with her. He very bluntly told us it was best if we leave her because she would be a burden on our lives, and if we saw her, we would get attached. Very confused, we demanded to see our baby and the doctor became upset with us, noting that it was against his advisement.
We were scared, but she was ours and nothing was going to change that or our decision to keep her. We had feelings of desperation, helplessness, and even panic. Prior to being discharged, a woman named Barbara Smiley paid us a visit and told us that everything was going to be ok. There was a group of parents who started an organization that we could be connected with. Their early intervention program would be the first, but certainly not the last experience with PARC. With the support of this organization, our family knew we would be able to navigate our daughter’s needs and establish what our normal would be.
Anonymous – Parents of a child with a disability