Charting the Course

At Disability Network Southwest Michigan, we are helping people with disabilities chart their course to increased independence in a more inclusive community. Below are some of the stories of people we have worked with to help them reach their independent living goals.(Click the headings to open the stories). We cannot do this important work without you. Please consider a donation to Disability Network so we can continue to build a diverse and inclusive community.

Telling Our Stories

SHARON | Peer Support

group of women at a park Sharon has been attending peer support groups at Disability Network for more than twenty years. She enjoys the camaraderie, as well as the opportunity to learn new things, meet people, and attend local outings. Sharon finds the support groups offer a safe and comfortable environment for people to share their experiences. When she was having a difficult time with depression, the support groups gave her a reason to get out of bed and an opportunity to focus on something positive in her life.

Sharon has been an active member of the Brain Injury Survivors Group for many years and joined in celebrating the group’s thirtieth anniversary this year.

MARK | Advocacy

MarkMark needed our help in advocating for his legal rights in what could have been a very scary outcome. Mark has been connected with Disability Network for over three years; he sustained a childhood brain injury which was further complicated by a stroke in his adult life. Mark is a kind, giving man who is easily taken advantage of because of his good nature.

Nearly two years ago, Mark was wrongfully charged with a crime which started a nightmarish chain of events. Due to his brain injury, Mark did not understand his options and followed the advice of a court-appointed attorney which resulted in his being sentenced to jail for a crime he had not committed.

Even a short jail sentence would be emotionally devastating for Mark and would cause him to lose his apartment and benefits. When Mark told staff at Disability Network what was happening our staff helped him work through the court system which resulted in a suspended sentence until Mark could be evaluated. During the ordeal Mark was remanded to a psychiatric hospital which was completely inappropriate – Mark does not have a psychiatric condition, he has a brain injury. During this time his apartment and benefits where again threatened.

Disability Network staff again helped Mark advocate for his rights. Nearly two years after the original charges were filed, the Judge re-evaluated Mark’s case and dropped all charges. Advocacy and Education are one of the core services at Disability Network Southwest Michigan. After two years of fearing he would be wrongfully imprisoned or institutionalized, Mark is once again living in his own apartment and has resumed the peaceful life he previously enjoyed.

JEFF | Independent Living

Man in jacket smilingJeff underwent surgery years ago to remove a tumor in his brain. A decade later, he sustained a second traumatic brain injury from a fall. Both events left Jeff finding it hard to hold a job in his field of finance. Family and friends convinced him to get help. He returned to the hospital where his surgery took place seeking advice about options and was encouraged to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. He applied for SSDI and was approved six months later while working as a substitute teacher to earn income to support his family.

Disability Network Southwest Michigan connected with Jeff when he received a call from his caseworker. Though technically allowed to work, Jeff’s income was over the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit of $1,170 per month which caused his approval to be reversed. Jeff had to reapply, setting the process back more than 3 months. Jeff turned to a benefits counselor at Disability Network for assistance in navigating the complicated Social Security system. Our benefits counselors help people understand how disability benefits and state health care coverage can be affected by employment. Our goal is to help simplify the bureaucracy so our customers realize they can go to work and understand the rules and regulations.

With the guidance of Disability Network’s benefits counselor, Jeff has stayed in compliance while still working and his benefits have resumed.

EVA | Information & Referral

EvaWhen Eva first came to Disability Network, she was experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety. She was new to the area and was unsure of herself and had experienced a lot of stigma associated with being a person with a mental health condition. Eva was unsure of where to turn for help or how to connect to the services she needed. Once she found Disability Network Southwest Michigan, she worked with our Information & Referral department to connect to the services she needed. She also joined our Women’s Support Group and started attending many of the educational events hosted by our agency.

For Eva, connecting with other people with disabilities and learning more about the disability rights movement gave her confidence in finding her own voice and becoming a strong self-advocate. Soon Eva was volunteering with other agencies and engaging in her community.

Eva said, “I was welcomed by Disability Network who helped me learn about my disability and know that my disabilities are a part of me, not all of me. They helped me make a change to positive self-value, a better, brighter future and helped me fill in the gaps.”

KATHLEEN | Youth in Transition

KathleenKathleen, who is now 25, has a learning disability and dropped out of high school four months before graduation. This was followed by a few hard years—she moved out of her parents’ home and entered into an emotionally abusive relationship and struggled to make good choices for herself. Two years ago Kathleen decided it was time to take control of her life and become more self-sufficient. She started taking classes to get a general education development diploma (GED) and she enrolled at the Community-based Transition Center (CTC) which would prepare her for employment and the successful transition to independent living.

Disability Network Southwest Michigan connected with Kathleen at CTC where our staff provided Kathleen with pre-employment training, including Financial Literacy & Budget Training, Employer Expectation Training and Life Engagement Skills. The employment and life-skills training Kathleen received from Disability Network positioned her to accomplish her next steps in obtaining self-sufficiency. At the completion of our training program Kathleen said, “I’m ready! I am getting older, I graduate CTC soon and it’s time to work and pay my bills because I want to save for a house!”

Kathleen is now living independently, has re-connected with her parents and is working part-time at a job she enjoys while finishing school. Kathleen will graduate from the CTC program this month and is on track to receive her GED!

MICHELLE| Nursing Facility Transition

Family picture outside a home Determined to move from the nursing facility to a home where she could spend more time with her family, Michelle, a 52 year old woman with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, was referred to Disability Network Southwest Michigan’s Nursing Facility Transition (NFT) program. When we connected with Michelle she had been in the nursing facility for more than two years and did not have a home to return to. Michelle identified several apartment complexes in the area that she was interested in and our staff helped her navigate the application process. She was able to conduct most of the business herself but needed help in acquiring required documentation and getting paperwork submitted. Michelle was soon accepted at an apartment complex near her family.

Disability Network’s NFT program helped to provide Michelle with basic household needs including furniture and kitchen supplies. During the transition, our staff also assisted Michelle in arranging for needed in-home care services.

When Michelle entered her new apartment for the first time, her eyes filled with tears of joy; grateful to be in a space of her own! Over the next several weeks she settled into her new home and started enjoying more time with her children and grandchildren. Six weeks after moving, Michelle was so excited to host her entire family for Thanksgiving dinner! She was feeling very thankful to be living independently and have her family around her.

Disability Network Southwest Michigan is affiliated with The United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, the St. Joseph County United Way, and the Van Buren County United Way.

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