How a group of moms created opportunities for their special kids

For parents who have children with special needs, there are many uncertain changes and adjustments that must be made. One of the biggest challenges is often known as “transition,” when the child leaves public school services and moves to adult services.

This transition generally occurs at the end of senior year of high school or the day they turn 22. Yet the services for adults with special needs are much more limited and scarce, leaving parents at a loss for what is next.

Janice Weinstein, along with a passionate group of mothers in the Northbrook/Glenview area, was determined to create opportunities for adult children to socialize, work and live in their local communities.

“What brought us together was our vision for a great life for our special needs children with opportunities that mirror the experiences that their brothers and sisters have had—to be on sport teams, to be invited to birthday parties, to share their hobbies and passions, and to have new opportunities for learning and growth—just like everyone else,” Weinstein says.

So Weinstein and five other mothers created TotalLink2 Community to empower people with disabilities to have a great life in their own community through employment, lifelong learning, recreation and meaningful social connections.

“We see ourselves as moms first,” Weinstein says. “I think we’re forward thinking, creative, and we’re not afraid to be the voice for our children if and when they aren’t able to express their own needs and opinions.”

Joan Martin has two children with developmental disabilities and has been one of the founding and active members of TotalLink.

“As a group, we all had children of different ages and disabilities,” Martin says. “Our common bond was we were not content with the status quo for what was presently available for services and lifestyle for a future adult life for our sons and daughters.”

As Martin’s two children neared transition, her biggest challenges were employment and the lack of available opportunities.

“The adult service system for people with developmental disabilities has not progressed at a fast enough pace to have options and funding available for inclusive housing, employment and recreation for the amount of people leaving the school system who need these services,” Martin says.

“There is no reason why our adult children should leave a school system that provides full resource of services to an adult system that puts them on a waiting list. Their education makes them ready to blossom and step into the community as responsible citizens. It is our responsibility to meet them where they are and invite them to be a part of the place they grew up in and introduce them to work, social life and recreation just like ever other citizen.”

In 2011, with a grant from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, TotalLink launched its customized employment services called “Everyone Works.”

To date, they have placed more than 34 young adults into competitively paid positions within inclusive work settings such as at ABT Electronics, Mariano’s, Kids First Pediatric Partners and Jennings Chevrolet.

Pauline Shoback’s adult daughter, Marice, has autism and has been a client of TotalLink for the past year after her transition from high school. TotalLink helped place Marice in a job at the Northbrook Park District, where they went to interviews with her and helped structure the job for her success.

“Marice loves being active and learning new things,” Shoback says. “… She has help in finding and keeping a job that can be customized to her strengths, with the help of TotalLink.”

Beyond employment, TotalLink also focuses on the social aspect of the lives of its special needs community.

According to Shoback, Marice has attended social activities, a class on social media and a class on entrepreneurship by TotalLink.

“The social component is wonderful for young people who really are challenged by trying to find social activities,” she says.

TotalLink’s housing committee is exploring options on behalf of their local community.

Both Martin and Weinstein credit the success of TotalLink to the tight bond with their clients and families, all of whom are invested in the success of these special young adults.

“We develop a strong bond with our clients and their families,” Weinstein says. “TotalLink feels like family to many and we’re proud of that.”

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