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The Center For Enriched Living Builds Community In Illinois

By Rebecca Kasey, CQL Director of Personal Outcome Measures®

The Center for Enriched Living (CEL) provides a myriad of programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. CEL offers specific classes, programs, and employment initiatives that people can choose to sign up for and attend based off their specific interests and goals. They’re all concentrated on supporting people in having meaningful experiences, enjoying fun activities, and creating friendships. To advance its community-building efforts, CEL organizes social and recreational events, delivers employment services, hosts a summer camp, and offers the REACH day program. As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic they stayed flexible, expanding their programs virtually to help people improve their education, grow creatively, connect socially, and more!

It’s one thing for CEL to just offer these services for their members – the people taking part in CEL’s programs – but another to actually see the positive impact they’re having on lives. My colleague Kristen Heichel and I were able to experience it first-hand during CEL’s recent accreditation. We heard from numerous members who shared how appreciative they are for CEL’s programs, describing them as really fun and valuing the variety of activities that are available. They highlighted how many choices there are for programs, which provide people with opportunities to participate in events that match with their unique interests.

“CEL works with everyone to achieve their hopes and dreams.”

Ira Singer, CEL Board Emeritus Member

This speaks to the general positive culture and inclusive approach of CEL, involving how it provides and continues to improve upon its programs. Employees of CEL and family members also echoed what I learned from the members. During a focus group with staff, there were multiple employees who characterized CEL as welcoming, helpful, and collaborative. In talking with family members, their perspective was very similar. They described how caring the staff are, how comfortable the atmosphere has been, and how supportive the agency is. People receiving services and family reported that CEL chooses their staff carefully and they are excellent.

About The Center for Enriched Living

The story of the Center for Enriched Living (CEL) started in 1968. Two mothers were trying to find an after-school program for their children with developmental disabilities. Through some assistance, their children became involved in activities at a local community center. The programs expanded over time and eventually grew into what is now known as the Center for Enriched Living.

Logo for the organization Center for Enriched Living

In 1984, CEL officially became its own independent organization. While it began with just 60 members, it has grown significantly over the decades. Today, CEL provides a wide variety of programs and diverse services to more than 450 people each year across three counties in Illinois. The organization is guided by its mission and exists “so that people with developmental disabilities can be fully included in the community, achieve personal success, and enjoy a good quality of life.”

Quality Assurances Accreditation Awarded To CEL, Again!

Roughly three years ago, CEL set out to achieve its first term of CQL Accreditation and attained that goal in March of 2019. Over the course of their accreditation term, they’ve worked to continuously strengthen the quality of their programs to help enhance the lives of the members who take part in CEL’s services. That commitment to ongoing improvement is at the heart of why accreditation is so important. It’s clear that CEL shares that outlook as they began to pursue their second term of CQL Accreditation.

Both Kristen and I had the pleasure to conduct CEL’s accreditation activities, including planning meetings, the Basic Assurances® Self-Assessment review, site visits, Personal Outcome Measures® interviews, focus groups, and more. We came across so many examples of excellence at CEL. From their dedication to rights protection and promotion, commitment to staff development and training, and implementation of inclusive hiring practices – just to list a few – it’s obvious that they are ‘walking the walk.’

Due to all of their efforts, they earned their second term of CQL Quality Assurances Accreditation on April 22, 2022. Congratulations to everyone from CEL for this achievement, including the executive leadership, support staff, members, family, and the community at large. It’s an honor that I was able to lead their accreditation and work with all of the different stakeholders throughout the entire process. You all did a fantastic job – way to go!

CEL Shares Some Deeper Insight

Along with my own observations and experiences during CEL’s accreditation, it’s also so important to hear from the organization itself. To help us in learning more about the agency, its goals, and the relationship it has been building with CQL, we got in touch with Angela Pasyk, CEL’s Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications. You can read more below to find out what Angela had to share about their organization and their partnership with us.

What are some notable changes you’ve experienced over the last several years?

CEL has always been an agile organization, anticipating the needs of members and innovating accordingly. The CQL Accreditation process introduced even more opportunities to enrich the lives of the people we serve, and the unpredictability of the pandemic pushed us to find new methods of programming.

The creation of virtual programs enabled people supported to choose from 55 different weekly programs, 7 days a week. Today, in addition to our on-site programs, we continue to offer a robust weekly schedule of virtual offerings – allowing many more choices for CEL members.

After our first accreditation in 2019, we started our Human Rights Committee which included a member of the community who has a disability. Now members also take part in other committees, interviews for prospective staff, and were key contributors when we updated our mission and vision statements.

“I am included in things at CEL. I have freedom and get to make choices.”

Robyn, CEL Member

CEL also recently obtained our first Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) contract for our Employment Opportunities Program. This program has continued to grow, and as we get more community-based jobs for adults with IDD, the funded slots increase and more people are finding meaningful employment!

What organizational values or practices are you most proud of?

It is very gratifying to see how much our CEL values are in alignment with CQL values – each one carrying great importance to the culture of our organization. What we are most proud of is how enthused our staff are in each of these value areas, with their own internal value system that is very much in synch with both CEL and CQL. The continuous learning and continuous improvement is what motivates us to achieve aspirational goals that will elevate the quality of our personalized approach to achieve excellence in person-centered practices.

Why did you pursue CQL Accreditation?

CEL is an organization that prides itself on establishing strong partnerships within the community. These partnerships greatly enrich the lives of people with IDD and strengthen their connection to community and opportunities. They help us see ourselves through a community lens in terms of the respect, dignity, and person-centered excellence under which we operate.

However, since CEL is not licensed by the state, we wanted to find a way to assure members and stakeholders that we were providing quality programs. As our CEO Harriet Levy said, “I always knew CEL provided quality programs, greatly appreciated by our members and their families, but I was in search of an external measure and guide that would better inform us on how we can continuously improve upon the work that we do.”

That’s where CQL came in. We were looking for an accreditor that would provide guidance on how we can provide the best to the disability community. CQL works as our partner in the accreditation process – working with us to ensure continuous improvement in achieving that excellence for which CEL is known. We aspire to present members with every opportunity to lead their best and most meaningful and independent lives – through their choices and on their terms.

What is the impact of CQL Accreditation?

At CEL, we believe that we can always do better in making sure that members’ voices are heard and their choices are respected. CQL provides us with the tools to achieve even greater excellence in our service delivery of person-centered programs. CQL helps us look at every facet of what we do through the criteria of their Basic Assurances® – making sure there is continuous improvement in the health, safety, and security of members.

For the first time, CEL has received state funding for our Employment Opportunities Program since we are now accredited. This has allowed us to secure job placements for several people we otherwise could not serve.

“CEL helped me find a job, and I feel good about myself when I am doing my best at work.”

Jeff, CEL Member

The Personal Outcome Measures® (POM) interviews have fostered deeper understanding of member needs and personalities, encouraging more meaningful interactions and greater satisfaction with our programs. We are witnessing success in new ways for many members and are excited to continue this process and see the impact.

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

Since our accreditation, CEL provides an overall higher quality of support for members’ success, and we are most proud of the establishment of a Human Rights Committee (HRC) with member, family, staff, and community representation.

This committee meets regularly and is extremely helpful in ensuring that we uphold the rights of members in the least restrictive environment possible. The HRC and its accompanying policies have further enlightened us on how we can better (and least restrictively) support members, especially on their most difficult days. We are analyzing potentially intrusive strategies, completing a more comprehensive review of our incident reporting system, and referring members to a greater number of resources for positive behavioral support.

How do you envision the future of your partnership with CQL?

We will continue to work towards the highest CQL Accreditation level. There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then and we are always up to the challenge!

CEL will continue to expand its elements of quality assurance by utilizing CQL’s various measures. This will allow us to craft our programs and services to meet the wants and needs of members while also becoming a resource for similar agencies seeking this same growth. In the future, CEL sees itself as a presenter at different CQL conferences, and therefore a greater advocate alongside all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

CQL will continue to challenge our agency to take our services and practices to the next level. We also look forward to sharing resources and collaborating with other CQL accredited organizations in various ways.

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.