It always seems impossible to enact change before it’s been done. And yet, our history is full of stories of passionate and driven groups and individuals who have done just that. For this month’s SDP Client Spotlight, we’re highlighting one such organization: Claremont-based non-profit, Service Center for Independent Life (SCIL).
Read on to learn more from SCIL’s Larry Grable and Susan Pearson about how this local non-profit has benefitted countless individuals with disabilities and seniors and even made waves on a national scale.
A Dream & Its Dreamers
Forty years ago, independent life for individuals with disabilities was just a dream. In its place, the only widely accepted solution for seniors and people with disabilities who could not care for themselves was to institutionalize them. Well, as Harriet Tubman so eloquently recounted, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.”
In this story, those dreamers were a group of Claremont educators with disabled children along with their families and friends. Seeing the problems in society’s treatment of the disabled at the time, they formed Service Center for Independent Life (SCIL) in 1980. Full of hope for a better future, the group began their work to make this dream a reality.
Today, SCIL is one of 28 Independent Living Centers (ILCs) in California and represents more than 150,000 individuals with disabilities living in 22 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. From Azusa to El Monte, Hacienda Heights to Pomona and Claremont. Beyond their physical reach, SCIL achieved intangible success as well, creating a model for a better response to disability.
Changing the Status Quo
Flipping the existing norm of institutionalization on its head, SCIL showed just how easy it was to offer individuals with disabilities an opportunity to live an independent life. Their goal was to keep people in their homes, and oftentimes all it took was a little bit of education and some slight home modifications. For example, installation of grab bars or shower chairs–all of which SCIL was happy to help with at no charge!
As SCIL and other budding ILCs continued chasing their dream of independent life for their consumers, they succeeded in demonstrating not only that people were better off on their own, but also that the independent living initiative made more fiscal sense for state and federal governments compared to the expense of institutionalizing these individuals.
The independent living movement was truly blossoming. After a decade of hard work, SCIL and other ILCs were finally granted federal funding. Further, the movement entered the national spotlight with the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) banning discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public accommodation, public services, transportation and telecommunications in 1990.
The SCIL Team Today
While SCIL has certainly grown from its origins as a tiny group of Claremont residents, the passion and contagious enthusiasm of those early pioneers is still undeniable in every member of the SCIL team today. Larry shares,
We all have it. You just don’t do this job unless you have a passion for what we’re doing.
And he’s speaking from experience! It was 8 years ago on Christmas Day that Larry received word that SCIL’s Executive Director Dr. Lee had passed away. At the time, Larry was retired and serving as Board Chair, but he decided to temporarily come in to help run the organization.
He was already passionate about the work SCIL was doing in their community as a board member. But once he became immersed in the day-to-day operation, he felt even more strongly. Eight years later, he’s still serving as Executive Director!
And the rest of the team shares his enthusiasm, too. Today, the Claremont location employs thirteen employees as well as several volunteers participating in a return-to-work program for single mothers. All employees are able to work full-time with benefits, and over 50% of SCIL’s staff and board are people with disabilities. Larry explains,
That’s the “peer” part of it. People call in to speak with an independent living specialist and are able to speak with someone who’s been through the same things they’re going through and who genuinely cares and wants to help.
What They Do
Together, the SCIL team is dedicated to their mission of increasing the independence of people with disabilities and seniors. Anyone with a disability or who is a senior gets free access to their programs, services, and support.
As an ILC, SCIL is mandated to provide 5 services: peer counseling, independent living skills, advocacy, transition services, and youth services. Above and beyond these core components and the free home modifications SCIL provides, they’ve also built out a variety of other programs to further meet their consumers’ needs.
With just a quick glance at SCIL’s Program Calendar, you can easily find independent living skills classes, a money management class, cooking classes, tech help hours, fitness classes, support groups, educational events, and more.
They even offer a computer literacy course where consumers receive a Chromebook that is theirs to keep after they attend 5 classes. Additionally, SCIL has partnered with Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison to create a Disability, Disaster, Access & Resources Program. In the program, consumers attend topical classes, create their own personal emergency plan, and receive an emergency kit.
SCIL also hosts a Food Pantry every Monday. They provide bags of groceries including pasta, tuna, chicken, protein bars, fresh produce, masks, and more. Each Monday, they distribute groceries to 65 households, feeding an estimated 160 people every week.
In addition, SCIL has a dedicated Braille department. This began when the organization received a small grant to write menus in Braille for local restaurants. From there, SCIL began creating Braille brochures for large organizations including Molina Healthcare, Anthem Blue Cross, City of Pasadena, and the City of Los Angeles.
SCIL even has a for-profit division, Talking Fingers, that creates greeting cards for the blind. They have over 60 cards available, all containing Braille messages, tactile images, and Braille captions beneath the images as alt text.
When SCIL first partnered with SDP, they had previously worked with a larger company. As a smaller organization themselves, they felt that the more proactive, personalized service that a smaller payroll provider could provide them was just a better fit.
With SDP, payroll no longer felt transactional; it felt like a genuine partnership. Susan shares,
I’ve worked with lots of payroll companies–large and small–but SDP is my favorite. Your team is always there to show me the “how this works”. And when it comes to HR, you are my go-to people!
She loves SDP’s email newsletters, HR Support Center of resources, and our Human Resources Q&A service to quickly get the answers to any compliance questions she may have. With SDP’s Custom Reports, she can create an unlimited number of special reports for their grant applications without worrying about exorbitant charges.
Even during COVID, I assumed as a smaller company, you wouldn’t be as on top of things. But SDP was right there with the big guys–sending us information, hosting webinars, and communicating changes to us. I knew I could rely on SDP and it felt like you really cared about our business.
Susan shares that ultimately, it’s the little things that make her partnership with SDP so special. Things like free webinars providing good, quality information that doesn’t cost anything. Customer service that goes above and beyond. And knowing that when she calls in, she’ll be greeted with, “Hey Susan!” by someone who’s already familiar with her and her business.
If you know someone who could benefit from SCIL’s services, we’d love your help in spreading the word. They have plenty of great events coming up and are adding more to their Program Calendar every day! If you’d like to support SCIL’s mission by volunteering and donating, you can learn more about how to help here. Lastly, SCIL’s Disability Athletics Faire and 40th + Anniversary Event are both coming up later this year. Be sure to subscribe to their email list to get an invite!
SDP Client Spotlights: Celebrating Our Clients
Every month, we highlight one of our amazing clients with the SDP Client Spotlight. Here at Southland Data Processing, we’re in the people business and strive to always put our clients first. So if you or your organization is interested in becoming our next Client Spotlight, please contact us at [email protected] and we’d love to hear your story!
Photo by SCIL