Allaina Develops Independence
Allaina has been with Pathways to Independence (PTI) for two years, participating in our programs as soon as she was eligible when she turned eighteen. Before Allaina came to PTI, her dad volunteered at events to find out if the program offered the type of supports he knew his daughter would need to succeed. Since starting at PTI, Allaina continues to thrive, dramatically improving her social skills and connections in the community.
Allaina says “I learned about my disability, autism, when I was ten years old. I talked to my parents about it and educated myself. I learned that people with autism often struggle with interacting with others; I did not want that to be me. I learned as much as I could about developing my social skills.”
Her first PTI event was laser tag at Sports Fusion. Nervous at first, she only talked to the other participants when support staff prompted her. She says “I initially joined because I wanted to make more friends. I would see the same people at events and I started to get to know them. Interacting with those people made me want to attend more events. Now, I can make friends in unstructured settings.” Allaina is now proud to say “Now, I talk to everyone. Sometimes I’ll voluntarily ask for someone’s number – I never used to do that.”
When she started at PTI, Allaina acknowledges she looked to her parents to take care of everything for her. Now, she makes plans with friends with hardly any help from her parents, something she learned through PTI. Allaina believes she now has a more laid-back relationship with her parents because they don’t take care of as many things for her.
Allaina says PTI has shown her that everyone with a disability is unique, opening her eyes to people from other walks of life. Allaina says “Through Pathways, I’ve learned to let go of what everyone thinks of me and focus on connections with friends. I love the Pathways staff. They are friendly, kind, and supportive. They give great feedback, and they are wonderful people to talk to.”
Allaina now has the confidence to set some ambitious goals for herself as she becomes more independent. She has plans to continue her education and obtain a Bachelor’s Degree, is working towards getting a paid job by learning vocational skills, and continues volunteering at the Jewish Food Pantry. She just started the SUCCEED program at UMSL, which promotes independence through academics, vocational experiences, and residential life.
Through Allaina’s participation in PTI she now leads a more confident, fulfilled and connected life!
Susie Develops Essential Skills
Susie is a very active PTI participant who has utilized the skills she’s learned through PTI in her work and social life outside of the organization. Through PTI, Susie has enhanced her conversation, planning, time management and customer service skills. These improved skills have not only helped out her social life, but work and family life as well.
Throughout her childhood, Susie said, “I felt shy talking and interacting with new people. After high school I didn’t have a lot of friends. People I knew went their separate ways.” Susie joined PTI in her early twenties after learning about the program from an existing participant. One area where she feels she has improved significantly is conversation. The PTI staff “help me with my relationships with other people. I find it easier to come up with topics to talk about. I feel more comfortable starting a conversation and asking people questions.”
This skill of approaching people and starting a conversation has helped in her work at The Emporium, an antique and furniture store in Kirkwood that her mom owns. Susie says, “I’m more talkative with the customers in the store. I feel more comfortable asking them what they need help with and answering questions they have. It has allowed me to make more sales.” Susie has developed the confidence in herself and her customer service skills that have led to success in her family business!
Another area where Susie has worked very hard is her ability to plan her own small group social events with friends. Susie has utilized PTI’s Social Focus program where a staff supports the participant through the planning process of setting up their own social activity with existing friends made in the program. Susie also gets invited to other participants’ small groups. She says, “I feel excited when people invite me to their small groups and I feel important because I’ve been invited.” This sense of belonging and acceptance greatly enhances Susie’s confidence in herself, which allows her to continue building upon her existing skills.
Susie has also become a champion of the PTI cause and has assisted with some fundraising efforts and events. She came in to volunteer with Trivia Night and has used her personal social media to promote PTI’s fundraising efforts. Susie says, “I wanted to get more people to the Trivia Night and to have them support the organization. Its important to have people know about Pathways so more people like me can be supported.”
As Susie looks towards the future, she wants to continue building on her current success, learning and growing with PTI and helping people in her community.
Brian Learns to Read Social Cues
Brian has come a long way in his almost 20 year involvement with Pathways to Independence (PTI). It can be tough for our participants to learn how to make relationships between people work. Knowing how his behavior and choice of topic affects different people in different ways is a skill that Brian is continually working on. Brian says, “Before Pathways, I was kind of antisocial.
I didn’t know what to say about certain topics…like with politics, private issues or personal information about others. It was hard to know what topics I could bring up in certain situations.” He also felt like he “couldn’t talk to people over the phone; I would call people too often. I used to get jealous because I felt like they would talk to my other friends, but they wouldn’t want to be bothered with me. That made me feel angry, upset and sad.”
Learning social appropriateness, phone etiquette, reading social cues and learning what topics should be brought up in certain situations have been the key to Brian’s success. Brian initially joined PTI because “I wanted to participate in social events and have something to do. I also wanted to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures.” Brian says, “I learned not to talk about certain topics or issues out in the open.” In PTI, through trial and error, staff support and lots of practice, Brian has learned which topics can be taboo in certain situations or when meeting people for the first time. The PTI staff “are professional and they tell me when I’m laughing or talking too loud, or saying things that are inappropriate.” He always appreciates the feedback and has built upon his existing knowledge and skills to keep the conversation fun, lively and light-hearted, but appropriate. He also has vastly improved his phone etiquette through staff coaching and practice. He has learned timing, frequency and suitable topics to discuss over the phone with new or existing friends.
Another important social skill Brian has developed through his experience with PTI is conversation. He has learned to read other peoples’ reactions and cues in order to know if he needs to move on to a different topic. “I’ve learned how to tell when people aren’t interested in what I’m interested in.” On top of that, Brian has made connections with other participants by learning to ask questions, “I’ve learned to ask people questions such as their hobbies, where they live or what do they like to do.” This has led to deeper friendships where he can discuss some of those sensitive topics and discover shared interests that may not be appropriate for all social settings. “I’ve made friends with people who share the same interests as me. Its cool to talk to someone who agrees with you on certain issues.”
Brian has lived independently since 2007 and has worked at his job at UPS for 13 years. This consistency is vital for PTI participants to continue building on their existing skill sets. Adapting to change can be difficult for our population of clients. Brian has met the goals he established when he first joined PTI of getting out of the house, participating in activities and meeting lots
of new people. He has developed his social network and remains active in the PTI community. Looking toward the future, Brian says, “I want to be happy, comfortable, independent. I want to be satisfied with life.”
Maria Builds Confidence!
Maria began her pathway to independence two years ago with the goal of broadening her social horizons and to give her confidence in her communication skills for when she interacts with new people. She also was looking forward to meeting new friends and having new experiences that might be outside of her comfort zone.
Maria’s first event was a day trip to Meramec Caverns where she said, “at first I was shy (during the trip) but once people starting talking I realized everyone was so nice and friendly I ended up having a good time and meeting more people!” She attributed the welcoming attitude to the PTI staff on the trip by saying, “PTI’s staff have been great at communicating with everyone and by welcoming us and making us feel comfortable at events. They’re always willing to help you with anything you need”.
While she has many great PTI experiences, one of her favorite memories was when she participated in a daytrip to the Lake of the Ozarks. “We went to a park and a little beach where you could swim in the lake and we had lunch and everyone talked with one another”, she said. “We ended up making a whole day of it”.
While Maria loves participating in PTI events, she said that one of her big goals that she has been working on recently is to interact more with people outside of organization-sponsored events. “I’m much more outgoing that I used to be and I want to continue to open up around people I don’t know as well,” Maria said. She plans to continue attending PTI events to help build her confidence in her communication skills that she can then put into practice at places such as work and in her community.
We can’t wait to see the great strides that Maria makes in the near future!
Lydia Expands her Social Circle
Lydia is a newer participant with Pathways to Independence, however, she has gotten a running start on “expanding her social circle,” as she calls it. Lydia has a great full-time job in the St. Louis County government where she serves as the receptionist in the recorder of deeds office, however, she was missing a social connection to others after her recent major life change. “I felt isolated, I did not have any friends and I wasn’t learning new and different things,” Lydia says about how she felt before she joined PTI.
During her first few experiences at PTI Lydia said, “I felt nervous and awkward, but the more I got involved, the more I felt welcome, like I belonged.” Now, she says, “I’m happy and I feel like I’m moving forward with my life.” The PTI staff has developed a safe environment at PTI activities where Lydia feels comfortable accepting suggestions and encouragement to interact with others. “There were times I was on my cell phone. I was encouraged not to do that and interact with the group. The staff is very supportive and understanding.”
Along with participating in PTI’s social activities in the community, Lydia has participated in the Relaxation and Yoga classes offered at PTI taught by program specialist, Beth Gill. Beth is a Certified Yoga Instructor along with being a Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialist. This combination of training offers unique supports for PTI’s participants. After taking these classes, Lydia says, “I am relaxing more and I’ve learned mindfulness techniques and used them in life outside of the class. I feel like I am calmer and in a good mind set.”
Lydia directly sees the improvement in her life and her outlook since becoming a PTI participant. She is a member of the planning committee for PTI’s Trivia Night Fundraiser. “I am involved in the Trivia Committee because I want to give back to the community that inspires me.” Lydia says that being involved with PTI these past six months has “helped me grow, see a world of opportunities and learn to be more positive.”
Philip Joins his Community!
Philip (pictured left in yellow) said he joined PTI because, “I needed to break out of my shell. I was feeling socially awkward and not sure how to approach new people.” Philip is a 33 year-old from St. Louis City with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), like many of our newer participants entering our program. Asperger’s Syndrome is now classified as Level 1 Autism. In fiscal year 2012, only 12% of PTI’s participants were adults with a Level 1 Autism diagnosis, but in fiscal year 2016, that percentage increased to 36%. This growing group offers unique opportunities, and challenges for PTI to further expand and enhance programming in response to that increased need. This involves PTI staff getting training that is uniquely designed to working with adults with Autism. Both program managers, Jessie Steinberg and Rose Piel are now Certified Autism Specialists.
While Philip sometimes struggles to communicate with others and articulate his feelings, he can see immense progress in his social skills since becoming a PTI participant, and he absolutely loves the program. He states that in the year he has participated in PTI, “I am more confident talking to new people. I always walk up to the Seven Eleven near my house, and lately, I feel much more comfortable talking to the cashiers and getting to know them better.” While this may seem like a small victory, getting people like Philip independently out in their community and having interactions with businesses in their neighborhood is a big deal. Philip now has a place in his neighborhood where his presence is known, a way to practice financial transactions on his own and a place in the community where he feels safe walking to independently.
The PTI staff reinforces and provides coaching for these types of community integration skills. Philip feels that the staff is at the heart of his progression in the program, “I love being around them [the PTI staff]. They have such infectious personalities and positivity.” In particular, he says, “I really like Ray [a part-time PTI staff]; I loved going to the ‘Guys Night Out’ last year. I felt like ‘one of the guys.’”
This sense of belonging is a feeling so many of our participants crave their entire lives. PTI not only provides a supportive environment where that is possible, we also teach the skills necessary to develop that feeling of belonging outside of our programming and in the community.
Matthew Speaks on his PTI Experience
Good evening, my name is Matthew McCord, I am a participant at Pathways to Independence. My parents are here tonight. I want to thank them for all of their support.
Pathways has made a big impact on my life. Growing up, I felt different from my classmates and siblings. Although I have a very supportive family, I felt nervous around new and big groups of people.
My mom found Pathways to Independence three years ago and I decided to give it a try. At Pathways events, I sometimes feel like I’m in a different world. I feel supported and I feel understood. It felt great to be accepted by a new group and have everyone introduce themselves to me at my first event.
Through Pathways, my ability to talk with others has greatly improved. I’ve learned how to ask people questions and get to know them better. The Pathways staff helps me feel more comfortable at the events and encourages me to talk with people I might have things in common with.
I’ve also been able to share my interests with others. Twice, Pathways participants and staff have come to hear me sing with the Meremac Concert Choir. It felt great to have people there to cheer me on. On March 5, the choir is going to perform at Webster University before we perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
In the future, I want to live on my own in my own apartment, have a relationship and continue to share my interests with others. Pathways has given me to tools to achieve my goals. Thank you all for supporting Pathways to Independence tonight.
Chris Delivers a Speech at Trivia Night
I’m Chris, a participant with Pathways to Independence. Thank you for choosing to support this organization that has helped me so much over the years. Before Pathways, I was always at home by myself in my room. Since I joined PTI, I’ve been going out, doing activities and making more friends. I have a much fuller life.
The PTI staff has made a huge difference in my ability to talk to others. At PTI events, I’m more outgoing. I feel more comfortable approaching people instead of the staff prompting me to do so or waiting for people to come to me. The staff always helps me with any issue that comes up. I always look forward to going to PTI events because I know I’m going to see the people I’ve come to know over the years.
Soon, I will be starting a new chapter in my life. I am studying and doing clinical work to become a Certified Nurse’s Assistant and start my professional career. I currently work at a nursing home and I often come in early to talk with the residents and learn about their lives. I feel like through being a part of PTI, I have gained the confidence, conversation and time management skills in order to accomplish this goal. Thank you again for supporting this great organization that makes a difference in the lives of people like me.
Three Years, Three Amigos
(from left to right) Daniel, Chiles and Stuart
Stuart, Chiles and Daniel met at Pathways to Independence (PTI) over three years ago and have only become closer over the years. PTI has been helpful in keeping the three in contact. Chiles mentions “I started inviting Stuart and Daniel to small groups because we made a connection” and now they communicate often through text messaging and Facebook.
The Social Focus program allows participants to take the lead in the planning process of their own social events in the community with the guidance of a PTI staff. The participant works with a PTI program staff to invite other participants, choose a place and time, coordinate transportation, budgeting and many other aspects required of getting people together to socialize. The PTI staff meets the participant where they are and steps in where needed.
Stuart recalled a recent outing: “We recently went to Tom’s Bar and Grill and it was a lot of fun! My sister took a picture of the three of us and called us the ‘3 Amigos.'” Daniel and Chiles both remember this outing as very enjoyable. It’s clear that all three of them cherish their friendship and memories. Stuart expresses that his friendship with Daniel and Chiles “makes me feel special.” PTI staff have helped Stuart, Chiles and Daniel find the people they can talk to about their life and things they enjoy. The three of them are proof that at PTI, good food and good friends always means a good time.
When they want to plan a small group, all three of them said that the PTI staff are vital to that process. Chiles says that PTI program manager, Rose, has helped him plan small groups by calling people he suggested to invite and determine the places he’d like to have small groups. He notes that “Rose has helped pick a time that works for everyone.” Stuart has also learned some tips along the way when it comes to planning small groups and has some advice: “I’ve learned that you have to call at least week in advance, instead of at the last minute.”
Stuart, Chiles, and Daniel all say the PTI staff taught them important social skills and help to facilitate their conversations. Daniel comments “the staff has definitely helped initiate and guide conversations.” Chiles says PTI staff have assisted him in his conversation skills on a reactive basis “if something pops up, Pathways has helped me.” The PTI staff coaches Stuart to be more socially appropriate at events which has translated into success in other areas of his life. “The staff has helped me learn to keep my comments to myself” and “some of the rules are you have to be nice to people, respectful of others and everything else will fall in place.”
The three of them agree that PTI has increased their self-advocacy and now they have an easier time talking to people, both inside and outside of PTI. For many, PTI allows its’ participants feel more comfortable in their communities. “I’ve learned to be more open to people and I don’t isolate myself as much.” says Stuart. Daniel testifies that “Pathways has helped me get out of the house more and do more interesting things.” Lastly, Chiles wants us all to know that “Pathways has given me the opportunity to meet people with different interests and backgrounds.”
Ashley and Crystal: Both Skills and Friendship Blossom
Crystal and Ashley met many years ago, long before they joined PTI as participants. The met briefly and then when Ashley’s mother broke her ankle and needed help, Crystal and her family had just moved in across the hall and were there to help Ashley and her mother.
Crystal discovered PTI and joined first. She says, “Before PTI, I was very shy and was always in my room by myself. I didn’t have many friends, but I wanted to meet more people. Once I joined PTI, I was stand off-ish at first, but I was encouraged by Rose and the other staff to interact with the group at Social Growth events.”
Ashley soon followed suit and became a PTI participant as well. She says, “I have always been outgoing, but before Pathways, I struggled with being socially appropriate, handling conflicts and communicating my feelings. For example, I’ve learned how to better communicate with my co-workers and managers to solve conflicts in the workplace, specifically through the Successful Communication in the Workplace Social College.”
Resolving conflicts, compromising and utilizing problem solving steps have been issues for both Crystal and Ashley throughout their friendship. PTI staff have coached them to resolve many of their conflicts that typically come up between friends over many years. “Our friendship has not always been perfect; we’ve had fights and clashes over the years. We have used the PTI staff, especially Rose, as a resource to help us solve our conflicts and find ways to prevent arguments in the future,” Crystal says.
Ashley has experienced the sense of community and support from the PTI community of participants, staff, supporters and families. “Not only has PTI helped me with social skills, it is a supportive community that has helped me with my educational goals. When I was studying for my CNA license, the staff and other PTI supporters helped me pass my test.” When she gave a speech at PTI’s Annual Trivia Night where she talked about her upcoming test, supporters came out of the woodwork to help in any way they could.
Earlier this year, at PTI’s Annual Picnic, Crystal and Ashley gave a speech about their friendship and how PTI has positively affected both of their lives. They were both able to share their experience with PTI and how they use our organization as a resource for so many aspects of their lives. Crystal ended the speech by saying, “PTI is not just for the participants, it is good for the whole community. PTI advocates for people with disabilities and helps us show the public that we can contribute too.”