Helping Adults with Disabilities Achieve Independence

The longtime community-based agency Avenues to Independence is celebrating the reopening of its Thrift Shoppe, which serves as a job training center. But the Park Ridge-based agency is one of many facing a reduced budget since the Illinois General Assembly failed to extend the temporary income tax hike.

Meet several families who have benefitted from the work of Avenues to Independence over the years, and find out how the agency plans to make up its lost income.

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Her mother says this is the place where Amanda Krischke fits right in.

“I do the book department, and I make pillows and purses here,” Amanda Krischke said.

Amanda works at this Thrift Shoppe in Park Ridge as part of the job training program at Avenues to Independence.

In addition to working at the store, the 26-year-old sewing fan earns money by selling the items she makes herself.

“Oh my, it’s great. I just made a Blackhawks pillow for the Blackhawks’ season, and that got out last week, put it out on the ground and finished it, and it was sold by Saturday morning. I sold it for $7.”

She’s saving up for her trip to New York with family this summer.

“Never been on an airplane, never been to New York before,” she said “I’m very anxious. I’m very like, like, I’m jumping out of my body, that’s how excited I am right now.”

Photos: Thirft Shoppe in Park Ridge

Her mother, Shirley Krischke, says working in the Thrift Shoppe has given her daughter skills to be able to do more things on her own, but also the confidence she needs.

“She works, gets things done, and she accomplishes things,” Shirley Krischke said. “And I think she’s happy, and it teaches her responsibility, because she gets here on time. She enjoys it so much. The socialization is wonderful.”

That’s the goal at Avenues to Independence.

The 60-year-old nonprofit helps adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities reach their highest levels of independence.

Clients with anything from ADHD, to cerebral palsy, to Down syndrome can benefit from the residential and employment programs, like the one here at the Thrift Shoppe.

“We are in the new part. If you can imagine all of this kind of crammed into the space we have just adjacent to here,” Avenues to Independence President and CEO Bob Okazaki said.

Video: Watch an extended interview with Adam Randazzo, a 26-year old autistic client of Avenues to Independence.

The Thrift Shoppe is celebrating its grand reopening, after a $125,000 expansion.

“It’s been a pretty tough winter, and to the extent that people would’ve liked to drop stuff off, the snow was 10 feet high out back, they didn’t bother coming out of their house,” Okazaki said. “And it was a huge pent up demand when the weather finally broke. Piles of stuff came in left and right. Fortunately, we had already opened this side and plenty of space for us to take in contributions.”

Okazaki explains it’s important for the Thrift Shoppe to continue to function even though the organization is facing a massive budget cut.

“There is a growing demand for good services for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. The state unfortunately has not provided the kind of support that programs like ours need to in order to service the growing numbers of people in need,” he said. “And it’s been incumbent upon us and other organizations to try and raise privately the resources that the state’s not providing.”

Okazaki says Avenues gets about 65 percent of its almost $5 million budget from the state.

The nonprofit is now facing a $600,000 annual budget reduction since the state legislature failed to extend the temporary income tax hike. Meaning, the organization will have to do more to raise funds from private donors to support the 200 adults who come to Avenues for help.

“The particular program that you see here is 100 percent privately funded,” Okazaki said. “We just completed a major fundraising campaign, and one of the goals of that campaign was to increase the opportunities for people to have new training for employment opportunities.”

It’s the kind of help that has not only given 41-year-old Nora Prindiville her independence, but it’s given her parents, Mike and Mary, a bit of freedom as well, since she’s able to live with roommates, instead of her parents.

“We can vacation more than we did before,” Mike Prindiville said. “It’s her future. Avenues has a policy; if you’re with us, you’re with us forever. No one leaves us.”

“Which is a great comfort to us,” Mary Prindiville added.

Knowing that Nora can get along without them.

“And that’s what it’s about right? Yeah. Doing what you want to do,” Mike Prindiville said.

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