Community Connections: NorthWest Colorado Center for Independence empowers all people to live well | SteamboatToday.com

Community Connections: NorthWest Colorado Center for Independence empowers all people to live well

Ian Engle/For the Steamboat Pilot & Today

Please allow us to introduce ourselves: We are us, and we are them, too.

The NorthWest Colorado Center for Independence is a Center for Independent Living, rooted in a rich history of peer support and the advancement of civil rights for people with disabilities. Our operation is based on the conviction that all of us have the right, regardless of age or ability, to live well in the community of our choice. Moreover, we recognize that when we marginalize people based on age or ability, it erodes the social and moral fabric of our community as a whole.

Our history and philosophy is the foundation upon which we have developed the grass-roots movement our organization represents today. We work with anyone with a disability, of any age, free of charge, to reach goals for living well in Northwest Colorado communities. We do not foster dependency or reinforce entitlement, which is why the NorthWest Colorado Center for Independence cannot do anything for you. We will however, do anything we can with you in support of your goal to live well in the community.

Our advocacy, independent living skills development, information and referral, peer support and transition services are designed to connect people with the services, supports, tools and skills needed to realize progress toward empowerment and a better quality of life. In the process, we break down the barriers between us and them, those who provide and those who receive. Charity and pity are insidious enemies of our effort to develop mutually beneficial relationships wherein we are all valued participants in accessible, inclusive and accommodating communities.

We are people with disabilities, on staff and our board of directors. Therefore, we are understanding peers who know and experience the challenges of those with whom we work. We know what it feels like when the first thing everyone asks is, “How can I help you?” We know what it is like to be immersed in a culture of dependency as subtle oppression born of good intentions and toxic charity becomes internalized. These concepts can be learned and understood, but it is the wisdom of experience that allows us to connect on a powerful level uncommon among human service organizations.

Independence doesn't mean we do everything by ourselves; it means we are able to choose and direct our supports and be actively engaged in our lives. We work together to avoid being relegated to passive observers of our own lives, merely existing in a world where people are kept safe without any opportunity for personal growth. We believe in dignity of risk and the right to fail.

Recommended Stories For You

We recognize that many of us are being robbed of the opportunity to learn from mistakes in the name of some misconceptualized need to take care of the poor pitiful people with disabilities. There are plenty of custodial options like nursing homes from which to choose. The institutional bias in this country promulgated by a for-profit health care industry makes these available, and unfortunately, many of us have had to move to the Front Range and live in congregate facilities for lack of community-based services and supports. It costs approximately $300 per day to exist in a nursing home. We could live on a cruise ship for less.

Choice without options is not real choice. We work with people to access the transportation, housing, attendant services, social/recreational opportunities and other supports necessary to live well in mountain communities. In the process of connecting people with services we realize a healthier community for us all. Fortunately, we live in an amazing place where mutual support is valued above personal gain, fertile ground for the message we carry.

A huge thanks to everyone who gave on Colorado Gives Day! We invite you to learn more about who we are, what we do and how we do it; check out our website (http://www.nwcci.org) and feel free to contact us or drop by our office at 1306 Lincoln Ave. (the northwest corner of 13th and Lincoln). A good time to do so is when we are showcasing unique talents during First Friday Artwalk on Jan. 2 and every first Friday of the month.

Ian Engle is the executive director of the NorthWest Colorado Center for Independence.