Community Choices is a family cooperative supporting individuals with disabilities to live in the community, have jobs, and make new friends. We sat down with Ashley Withers to learn more.
What is Community Choices?
Community Choices is actually set up as a human services cooperative, which basically just means that we have a lot of involvement from our membership. People who want to receive services, people with disabilities here in Champaign County and whomever they consider their family can join. They have access to certain things like our social opportunities. In normal times, we do about 4 social opportunities a month for our members and some of them are family events. We do a lot of classes, , for instance, right now we have a friendship class. We partnered with Rape Advocacy, Counseling, and & Education Services (RACES) to do health relationship classes, and we’ve partnered with the health department to do sexual relationship classes.
What is your job at Community Choices?
What I do is employment. I work with job seekers with disabilities who want to find a job. Sometimes they are finding a job for the first time because they might be straight out of high school and they just don’t really know what they want to do. Sometimes they have been in their job for many years and want to do something different. We work with them a lot to figure out where their skills lay, what they are passionate about, and what their ideal work environment is. We really work to figure out what those are before we talk to employers.
What services do you provide?
We have three key areas. First, is our Connect Department and that is responsible for organizing social opportunities, family parties, and classes. The second area is Employment, the largest one. We have 4 full-time employees in the Employment Department, and 1 employee that split their time between Employment and Connect. Our third one is Community Living and that is responsible for personal development, community transitional support and home-base self-direction assistance.
When and how did Community Choices get started in Champaign?
We were formed by a group of parents about 11 or 12 years ago. This was a group of parents that really fought for their sons and daughters to have full inclusion while they were in school. The kids were getting ready to graduate and the parents realized that the same kind of inclusion and community was not available after school with services providers in the area.
Are there any opportunities for volunteers or to get involved with Community Choices?
We have worked with some volunteers before but because of how we operate it’s hard to have volunteers here on a regular basis. We have worked with some graduate students before, but nothing with a lot of consistency. If people are interested, they can always reach out to us.
What is LEAP?
LEAP stands for Leaders in Employing All People. It’s actually a partnership we have with Developmental Services Center (DSC) and is funded by the Champaign County Developmental Disabilities Board, which is one of our main funders in the county. It’s a free training program that we offer to Champaign County businesses on how to be more disability inclusive in their hiring process. It’s a free 1-hour training that we do in person or over Zoom. If it’s safe and appropriate, then we are happy to do one in person. The training talks about the history of disability inclusions, employment and accommodations for people with disabilities, and ways that hiring a person with disabilities could be a beneficial to your business. We do have a follow up training that we are calling our Frontline Staff Training. It is a shorter training session that is geared towards employees that would be working directly with an employee with disabilities.
Learn more about Community Choices online.