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EP!C Is Empowering People Throughout Illinois

By Laurie Kelley

The human services agency EP!C is all about empowering people in Illinois. It’s even built into the first two letters of their organization’s name. My colleague Anne Buechner and I spent time with people receiving services, staff members, the leadership team, and other stakeholders at EP!C, during their recent accreditation. It was evident that they truly put people first, supporting them to grow and develop.

I was able to see many examples of this. For one, EP!C places a priority on people’s rights. They provide robust training about various rights, have an engaged Human Rights Committee, and became affiliated with Illinois Self-Advocacy Alliance to strengthen educational initiatives. They then have systems in place for collecting and evaluating data about rights, to monitor and track progress.

They also ensure that people are front-and-center during the person-centered planning process. EP!C conducts roughly 140 Personal Outcome Measures® (POM) interviews each year, where people receiving services are directly sharing what their life is like and what they want to achieve involving their hopes and dreams. Through three POM Certified Interviewers and dozens of staff who have attended POM Workshops, the organization is able to better understand outcomes at an individual level and analyze data at the aggregate level.

The organization is rooted in the values of dignity and respect. You can see that in everything from their internal interactions of how staff treat the people they support to the external communications that reflect a people-first focus. EP!C is very intentional about all of this. In our focus groups with people supported, they shared that one of the best things about the organization is the level of respect they’re shown and how much staff members listen to them.

EP!C’s journey of empowering people across Illinois started decades ago with more humble beginnings. As you’ll read, they have grown substantially – both in their impact and in their range of services.

About EP!C

EP!C has been around for more than 70 years. Founded in 1950 by parents in Peoria, Illinois, the group set out to provide their children with educational opportunities. While the organization started as a school for children with disabilities, In the 1960s and 1970s they pioneered services to include early intervention programs, respite care, residential offerings, and additional services. Beginning in the 1990s, EP!C transitioned its residential programs from large, congregate settings to homes located in the broader community with more individualized supports.

Organizational logo for EP!C: "Empowering people inspiring capabilities"

The organization has experienced significant growth over the decades. Now, EP!C provides services for people with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, epilepsy, and other intellectual or developmental disabilities. Across 15 counties in Illinois, they offer an array of programs spanning community living, technology, employment, education, and more. EP!C is also known as a trusted source of information, tools, etc. for families.

EP!C Achieves Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation

EP!C has been accredited by CQL for many years, having received their first accreditation term back in 2014. This years-long commitment to continually evaluating and strengthening the quality of its services speaks to EP!C’s ongoing dedication to empowering people. It’s a partnership that means so much to all of us at CQL.

“We are a better agency since our initial accreditation with CQL.”

Eric Sutter, Senior VP of Human Resources, EP!C

On 3/18/22, EP!C officially achieved Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation from CQL. This is the third 4-year Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation designation for the organization. Following a variety of accreditation components and requirements, involving meetings, a self-assessment, interviews, visits where people receive services, focus groups, and more, the accreditation activities culminated in a stakeholder day where the accreditation was awarded. We want to congratulate everyone from EP!C – people supported, staff members, agency leadership, families, community members, etc. – for this impressive accomplishment!

EP!C And Their Partnership With CQL

To gain some first-hand perspective about the organization, including their values, services, successes, and more, we asked our partners from EP!C a number of questions. Doris Hayes, Chief Operating Officer for EP!C, was gracious enough to offer some more information about the agency, how they positively impact the people they support, and their experiences with accreditation. Here’s what Doris shared with us!

What is one aspect of EP!C that you’re particularly proud of?

We have made a significant effort in working with self-advocates. Advocates are part of the interview/hiring process; they are committee members, teach DSP training, and help make decisions that affect our agency. Not only are they impactful to our agency, but their peer mentorship has helped other people served at EP!C. When you walk through our programs, you see that the people served are in charge and are valuable to our agency.

“I love being at EP!C. I know that CQL helped EP!C look and evaluate our voices in the agency.”

Tim Marshall, Self-Advocate, EP!C

How do you use data to inform your operations and services?

The Personal Outcome Measures® drive our training and overall programs we offer to people served. If data reflects a low percentage in outcomes achieved, we evaluate if training is needed or a total program change. We have built robust rights training due to many people not achieving this outcome ‘People exercise rights.’ We have increased our job placement program due to outcome data being low in this area of ‘People choose where they work.’ The Personal Outcome Measures® data is reviewed at the board level and drives much of our programs within EP!C.

Why did you pursue CQL Accreditation?

The Board of Directors and Executive team knew EP!C did good work, but wanted to be challenged. We knew that CQL would challenge us and help us look at things differently. Our first accreditation was in 2014 and it made us take a step back and evaluate what we were doing. CQL made us a better agency and, most notably, a better agency for people served and our staff.

What is the impact on your organization and people you support?

Our overall impact has been extremely positive. We spend a lot of time reviewing data and using that data to change EP!C positively. Our agency has built a robust Quality Assurance Committee that reviews information that has been identified as critical within the agency. This data is used to determine the agency’s direction, including training, satisfaction, health/safety, and much more. The POM data helps us evaluate if we are meeting the needs of people served and we have made many changes to our agency based on that POM data.

The largest impact for the people we support is their involvement in all levels of our organization. They are not just people served; they are active committee members, trainers, presenters, and mentors. They have a voice in our agency and our decisions as a company.

What is one area of your organization that has improved through your accreditation?

One area CQL pushed us was job placement. In 2014, we were helping 10-12 people a year find jobs in the community but now we are placing an average of 50 people a year. And these are not just jobs, but places people can find careers.

We spent so much time evaluating our employment program and made significant changes. This includes assessing people for jobs, providing training for people to sustain employment, and building robust relationships with over 45 employers in the area. Now, employers call EP!C when they need dedicated employees.

We choose to partner with CQL to ensure we are doing everything in our power to be the best resource for people. We are passionate about discovering and developing potential. By working together, we can elevate the voices, strengths, and positive contributions of persons with cognitive differences.

Have questions about CQL Accreditation?

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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.