Jillian Leed stands at her stove, stirring a chicken, baked potato and vegetable soup. Just a year ago, this was something she couldn’t do.
The 35-year-old has been living independently in her own apartment for the last two years.
“I like it (here),” she said.
Her one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of her apartment complex is cozy, decorated with pictures of her family and complete with new furniture in the living room that Jillian proudly states she bought recently with her own money.
Jillian has been successful in achieving her dream of living on her own, now working full-time at Good Will on Lincoln Highway, taking public transportation to and from work, and managing her household with help only one day a week. But achieving this success didn’t happen overnight.
Anna Edling, Associate Director/Program Specialist for Residential, said Jillian first expressed an interest in having her own place in 2011. The first step was to find competitive employment, and then teach Jillian the skills she would need to be independent, including laundry, cooking, cleaning, navigating public transportation, and money management.
“It’s a process,” Edling said. “You don’t just say you want to move out and (then) move out the next day.”
After preparing her the best they could, Jillian moved into her apartment two years later in 2013. But even after she was on her own, Edling said they realized there were still skills she had to address. One of the big ones was socialization. When she lived at Frederick Circle, there was always someone to talk to or play a game with. Suddenly, Jillian was all alone. She started peering into her neighbor’s windows, looking for that contact with other people, Edling said.
Staff started role-playing with Jillian, training her in social situations. Since taking the bus to work every day was a major factor in Jillian’s success, staff addressed the safety issues that come along with being in public places all alone. One of the ways they role-played was having staff approach her while she rode the bus, asking her questions like her name and her address to make sure Jillian knew not to give out her personal information to strangers.
That practice has seeped in to her life in other areas beyond the riding the bus.
“No strangers! No strangers come into my apartment,” Jillian said emphatically.
Taking steps to move from a group home into one’s own apartment is a complicated process, Edling said. Many don’t realize all the many skills that are needed to achieve such a goal.
“Think about your everyday life and all the things you do,” Edling said. “All those little skills that we take for granted, she didn’t know how to do. We want her to live an everyday life like the rest of us.”
That includes waking up on time in order to take a shower and get to work, realizing at the end of the day that you didn’t plan for dinner, going to the grocery store, coming home and making dinner … the list goes on, she said.
“There are a huge amount of skills that we take for granted every day and she had to be taught,” Edling said.
For example, when Jillian lived on Frederick Circle, one of her chores was to mop the kitchen floor. As the scheduled was laid out, Jillian only had to mop the floor once every three weeks since her roommates did the other weeks. When Jillian first moved into her apartment, she was only mopping the floor once every three weeks. Edling said she had to remind Jillian that she alone was responsible for that now, so she had to do it every week.
Another skill was cooking, and Jillian seems to have mastered that. She frequently gets up from the couch to go to the stove and check on her soup, stirring it and tasting it. The apartment starts to take on the hearty aroma and warmth of the soup.
“I’m making tacos today,” she says excitedly, a new meal she is learning.
Brandy Inhenyen, program coordinator and staff member assigned to work with Jillian every Thursday when Jillian has off work, said she has been working with Jillian for about a year. Her job now is easy.
“She’s really improved in her cooking skills. She was scared to use the stove when I first started. Now, she does it all herself.” Inhenyen said. “I’m just here to give prompts. She knows what she needs to do.”
Inhenyen said the only thing that Jillian still struggles with is money management. She pulls out a roll of quarters and counts out the $1.50 Jillian needs to do her laundry.
“If I gave you this whole roll of quarters, you’d spend it,” she says to Jillian.
Jillian smiles sheepishly, admitting this to be true, as she takes the quarters and heads downstairs to the laundry room.
“Don’t put too much in,” she reminds herself as she puts her clothes into the washing machine.
Edling and Inhenyen said Jillian has inspired other clients to want to work toward independence. Two other clients have since moved out, but they are receiving help from their families and are no longer getting support from Excentia. Jillian is currently the only Excentia client living on her own.