Nonprofit Spotlight: Glenwood’s Center for Independence helps people at the end of their rope
Post Independent Correspondent
They come hungry, overwhelmed and often homeless, with every last possession packed into the confines of a car. They feel broken by circumstances beyond their control. They are male and female, young and old, and are maybe even former professionals who once took pride in a fruitful career.
What brings all of these different people to the Center for Independence in Glenwood Springs, however, is one unifying factor: physical or mental disabilities that have been preventing them from finding work and leading self-sufficient lives.
“When our clients arrive here, many have no phone, no computer, maybe no family members or support network to help them. They’ve lost nearly everything, and they need assistance,” said Tobie Thurman, director of program services at the center. “Our objective is to help these people get back on their feet so that they don’t fall through the cracks of society. Our ultimate goal is to see them begin living independently again as soon as possible.”
Everyone who receives services at the Center for Independence, Thurman added, meets criteria set forth by the Social Security Administration. Social Security defines eligible conditions as long-term disabilities that render an individual unable to work in any capacity, and the person must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental condition as supported by medical evidence or records.
“By the time they reach us, the people we serve don’t know where else to turn,” she said. “And they may not even be aware of the benefits they are entitled to. So we help them navigate through all of the benefit systems — Social Security, housing and others — and provide assistance filling out and submitting forms to the right agencies. The whole process can be very daunting, and we hope to make it so much simpler and easier for them.”
Thurman estimates that her office invests an average of 280 hours of assistance per client. Very few are members of the area’s seasonal transient population; most are locals who have fallen on hard times and are struggling to find a way to remain in the community.
“We see many individuals struggling with serious health conditions such as cancer or multiple sclerosis,” Thurman said. “But some people have been in accidents and lost employment as a result of major injuries, or they are simply seeing natural complications in older age. There are a range of disabilities.”
That range includes mental disabilities as well, she added.
“The valley has a lot of mental health issues not always related to drug and alcohol dependency, although the two can often be linked,” Thurman said. “We see people struggling with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, thoughts of suicide — and often with physical problems comes serious depression soon after. All of these are very important concerns and we typically see a split between mental and physical disabilities.”
The Center for Independence office on Blake Avenue in Glenwood Springs is known internally as Satellite East, functioning as a branch of the parent organization based in Grand Junction. Serving Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties, Satellite East opened in 2013 and operated out of the Third Street Center in Carbondale before relocating to its current office in April 2016.
“Our new location in downtown Glenwood is much more accessible for our clients who rely on public transportation. Now we’re also near doctors’ offices, Health and Human Services, and we’re much closer to the people we serve in Eagle County,” Thurman said.
Although most people with disabilities are referred to the office by a number of local entities including health-care providers and government agencies, walk-ins are accepted. Thurman reports five to 12 new clients each month, with all services rendered being cost-free.
Thurman, who is based in Glenwood but spends a couple days per week travelling to appointments and meetings throughout the organization’s tri-county service area, runs a busy operation with one part-time assistant. She feels that the work is demanding, but highly rewarding — and requires a level of compassionate stamina that many in the nonprofit sector must possess and sustain over time.
“I have learned so much in this position, and have gained a greater sense of gratitude in my personal life,” Thurman said. “To work in this field you have to have a good heart, but also a kind of Teflon coating. This is not exclusive to my position, it is that which healthcare providers see, touch and examine day after day. It is what all nonprofit organizations digest. We are all circling our wagons of love and support around those in need, working together with those who are willing to partner with us in helping them.”
She stressed that although the office works hard to help individuals with disabilities obtain the benefits they need to stay afloat temporarily, the group’s ultimate purpose remains steady in its commitment to long-term stability and independence for all who seek its services.
“Our overall objective is to wean individuals off of the benefits and to lead them to independent lives where they are proud, contributing members of society,” she said. “This involves employers willing to hire them. The process of building independence for individuals with disabilities involves a wide range of community support and a mindset that a disability does not define or dominate the individual’s life.”
The Center for Independence Satellite East has conducted 158 client intakes since it began offering services more than three years ago.
“The majority of people we represent are yearning, determined to return to work,” Thurman said. “And to not only go forward in life, but upward as well.”
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