Officials and potential participants in the After 22 Project pause for a photo as they discuss the new initiative’s planned impact of the lives of Chicagoans with developmental disabilities. --Supplied photo

Officials and potential participants in the After 22 Project pause for a photo as they discuss the new initiative’s planned impact of the lives of Chicagoans with developmental disabilities. --Supplied photo

Building a bridge at Daley College

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‘After 22’ program to help adults with disabilities 

By Tim Hadac

For Chicagoans with developmental disabilities, their 22nd birthday can feel like falling off a cliff.

That’s when they become ineligible for the special education transition services they’ve received all their lives.

That ineligibility can last for up to seven years, until they start receiving assistance from state government programs.

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Officials and potential participants in the After 22 Project pause for a photo as they discuss the new initiative’s planned impact of the lives of Chicagoans with developmental disabilities. –Supplied photo

But a new partnership promises to bridge that gap, linking those young adults with further opportunities in education and employment.

Unveiled at a press conference at Daley College last week, the After 22 Project is designed to transition participants into meaningful postsecondary activities by providing flexible learning opportunities, leadership and job skills training, officials led by Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

In addition, students will be able to participate in special recreation opportunities, and internship and job placement opportunities. The Occupational, Life and Academic Skills Program at Daley College will provide a support system to students.

“Far too often, people with disabilities fall through the cracks in our system and are left without access to opportunities to achieve upward mobility,” Lightfoot said. “With the After 22 Project, we will be able to create the social safety net they deserve, as well as move Chicago one step closer to becoming the most accessible city in the country. I commend [19th Ward] Alderman [Matthew] O’Shea, City Colleges of Chicago and the rest of our community partners for launching this new continuum of support for our residents with disabilities to ensure they are able to thrive both before and well after they turn 22.”

Maxine Charles, whose adult son has a developmental disability, called the program “a bridge to the future for young people.”

“When these disabled kids max out of the system but then have to wait for more help from the state, there’s a lot of backsliding,” she said. “There’s learning loss, which makes them less likely to get a job or continue their education or live independently. I’m hoping this new program fixes that.”

“The idea of the After 22 program was presented to me when I was president of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities, and we immediately embraced the idea of providing for our athletes in a meaningful way that includes continuing education and job training skills,” said O’Shea, past president of SOC/SCC. “Through the support of our Board of Directors, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Anixter Center, Chancellor Salgado and [Daley College] President [Janine] Janosky, our athletes now have the unprecedented opportunity to continue to advance their skills and education after the age of 22. Our athletes are passionate, hard-working and fully embrace any opportunity they are given. This program is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Janosky will lead the After 22 program at City Colleges of Chicago.

“One of the greatest strengths of Daley College is our students’ diversity,” she said. “We welcome all students and look forward to the vibrancy these new students will bring to our campus life.”

The first year of the program will serve up to 20 students through non-credit job skill development courses at Daley College. Daley College and Anixter Center team members will collaborate to implement customized educational plans to include competency-based, student-centered curricula to introduce and reinforce workplace soft skills, such as communication strategies, self-advocacy skills, professionalism and navigating institutions.

Additionally, students will practice occupational skills through an internship on campus, such as at the Daley food pantry and professional clothing closet, and other service areas, and will offer them the chance to participate in campus activities.

Daley College and the non-profit Anixter Center will assemble an advisory council composed of business leaders, students, parents, faculty, and special education experts and advocates to provide guidance and advice on program development, additional partnership connections, and possible funding sources.

The Anixter Center will match 10 participants to jobs or internships at a community employer partner, ensuring students have integrated, competitive job opportunities. In conjunction, employers will get the support they need to ensure success and retention for these employees.

Longer-term, Daley College will develop a certificate program for students with disabilities as part of a larger City Colleges goal of creating greater access to education for community members. The Anixter Center will work with Chicago businesses to hire and retain students with disabilities.

The program aims to build an integrated system of opportunities, weaving together public and private partners to support adults with disabilities as they get access to meaningful opportunities throughout Chicago.

“The After 22 program opens new doors of opportunity for our athletes by empowering them with continuing education, important life and job skills, and a readiness for the future,” said Carolyn Daley, president of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities. “Our organization has a mission of inclusiveness for all, and the After 22 program provides just that.”

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