The Marysville office of the Center of Independence can assist people with disabilities to live more self-directed lives.
The organization provides free assistance to people with disabilities to help them achieve their goals.
“We’re federally mandated to work with people with disabilities who are self-directing,” said Margaret Tangedahl, youth transition program manager at the organization. “The reason we call them participants rather than clients or consumers is because it is a partnership."
The Washington state nonprofit organization opened their north office in 2012, which is now in Marysville.
The northern office serves anyone in Snohomish County, in addition to Skagit, Island, San Juan and Whatcom counties.
Participants served have a wide range of disabilities, including being on the autism spectrum, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness or albinism.
The organization is not limited to those disabilities though and has worked with individuals with rarer disabilities such as CLOVES syndrome.
“That is a very rare disorder. He said only about 800 people in the world have it,” said Tangedahl. “It’s kind of cool because he started getting the word out there and got to talk to one of our local legislators about his needs."
The only requirement to receive help is self-identifying as someone with a disability.
“We don’t ask for medical records or any kind of thing like that,” said Tangedahl.
Many other organizations focus on supporting people with disabilities who need more individual help, but Tangedahl said they fill an important need by targeting those with more ability to help themselves.
“Typically they would fall through the cracks and not get any services,” said Rachael Bowker, outreach specialist with the Marysville office.
“We are really a ‘show you how, not do for you’ agency, which means we do expect participation from our participants,” said Tangedahl.
That approach also helps promote self-empowerment in their participants, she said.
“It just helps them to realize that taking certain steps can help you to become more independent and self-actualized, which is a big thing, especially for the younger people,” she said.
One of the biggest things the organization does is assisting individuals one-on-one.
“We come up with an action plan together with our participants. They have steps they need to take and we also have steps we need to do,” said Tangedahl.
Although they don’t help with housing or employment directly, the organization can assist with steps toward those goals, such as creating a resume.
“That is something we can help them with, and my responsibility might be to provide the template to start the resume,” said Tangedahl.
Navigating services and benefits is also a frequent goal for individuals.
“A lot of people need to apply for benefits or services such as Washington state medicaid,” said Tangedahl. “Sometimes we will put the information in for them but other times I will sit with the person and if they don’t understand a question they can ask me and I will assist them with that."
For young people the organization helps those with disabilities think more about their options.
“Really helping them make the best decision for their own future. Is it college or is it an alternative to college?” said Tangedahl.
The organization runs a summer workshop every year where participants can visit a local university and see what the experience would be like.
Tangedahl said she has seen workshop participants go on to community college and at least one who has graduated with a four-year degree in engineering.
“Some of them had no idea before taking this workshop that college was even an option for them, which is something I’m passionate about because I didn’t know college was an option until I was 40 years old,” she said.
Transition programs for adults can help individuals move away from institutions if they want to.
“We’re helping people live the most independent life that they can,” said Tangedahl. “For some people that means living independently in their own home. For other people that might mean moving from an environment like a nursing home to a less restrictive environment like a group home."
Peer groups for youth and adults at the organization also gives people with disabilities a place to gather and network.
“Especially when we’re in person we play games, we have movie nights, we go bowling,” said Tangedahl. “The networking is good, just meeting people who, regardless of your disability, share some of the same struggles."
The organization has also done work during the coronavirus pandemic to provide protective supplies and services to their participants.
“Some of them didn’t want to leave their houses so during the pandemic we would take their food bank food to them,” said Bowker.
Those who are interested in services from the Center for Independence can call 360-393-3890 to learn more.