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CFI anniversaryA resident who lives by herself, with some help from her family, was provided with a lift chair by CFI so she could get out of her chair comfortably. CFI also provided her with a powerchair. Both were provided at a small fraction of what they would have cost new through a CFI program that recycles equipment. The resident now may travel outside of her apartment, and run errands to the grocery store. (Photo from CFI)
During its 25 years of existence, the Coalition for Independence has seen an increased need to help disabled persons stay in their homes, and has expanded to fill the need.
The organization was founded 25 years ago in Wyandotte County by Paul Levy, a disability advocate who had multiple sclerosis . Its purpose was to help the disabled stay in their homes by providing services.
CFI’s executive director, Clarence Smith, estimates it has served 5,000 to 7,000 clients a year.
The agency will celebrate with a Consumer Appreciation Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, at its offices at 4911 State Ave. There also is a dinner and silent auction on Saturday, Sept. 14., plus other activities to celebrate the 25th anniversary.
CFI has expanded in recent years to include the entire metropolitan area, according to Smith.
“The need has increased, allowing our agency and other agencies to expand their services,” Smith said.
“The services we offer now have changed,” he said. “We’ve added services. We still do five core services. As an independent living center, we’re mandated to provide five core services. Those include information and referral, advocacy, peer support, independent living skills training and community integration.”
Additions to the core services have included expanding to the Missouri side with an office at 6724 Troost, adding deaf and hard of hearing services, and recyclable durable medical equipment, he said. Low-income residents who do not have full medical coverage may be helped by the durable medical equipment program.
For about eight years, CFI has been accepting donations of medical equipment in good condition, such as a wheelchair, cane, and hospital bed, cleans them up and then recycles them to the disabled, charging a small donation. If the person has a financial hardship, CFI works with them to provide equipment, he added. Case managers also are available to help Medicare clients who may need advocacy help in receiving equipment, he added.
What has been the agency’s biggest accomplishment through the years?
“I would say being able to remain in business as a nonprofit in this day and age is the biggest accomplishment,” Smith said. “Being able to expand our services across the state line and being able to serve more individuals also is a big accomplishment.”
The 5,000 to 7,000 clients a year served includes anything from those who need resources, or case management to get equipment or access other services.
“We want people to be able to make choices about their living arrangements,” Smith said. “We recognize there are times when their last resort is a nursing home for their safety, but our goal is to keep people out of nursing homes.”
CFI provides resources in their own homes to enable them to stay there.
“We also work with nursing homes to help them transition people from the nursing home back out to a community setting,” Smith said.
Sometimes, CFI’s biggest supporters are its clients. A family with a 12-year-old son with developmental disabilities has been coming to CFI ever since the son was born for medical equipment, he said. The child’s equipment was extremely expensive, he said, and needed constant upgrades. As he grew out of wheelchairs, the family gave the old ones back to CFI and CFI gave the family a new wheelchair.
“The family has been one of our biggest supporters,” he said. The mom in the family volunteers and serves on an advisory committee.
“She said without being able to get this equipment through CFI, our family would not know where to turn,” Smith said. “By the time they got to us they had been turned down by many, many providers and did not know where to go.”
The family estimates CFI’s equipment saved them thousands of dollars over the years, money they did not have, he said. Currently the family is trying to raise money for a new access van for her son, who has to travel hundreds of miles once a month for medical care, he said.
While increasing its services to individuals, CFI is not receiving more public funding.
The current challenge for most social service organizations has been the lack of funding, Smith said. During the last three years, CFI’s state funding has been cut around 10 to 15 percent each year, he said.
“We’ve been challenged with trying to locate other funding sources,” he said. That includes fundraiser events.
“What we’ve chosen to do is use revenue from some of our other programs to make sure we can maintain the number of workers on the Kansas side,” Smith said. CFI has been able to spread the cuts among the various departments and has been able to maintain services, he said.
CFI has a golf fundraiser, Swing for Independence, coming up on Friday, Sept. 13, at Painted Hills Golf Course in Kansas City, Kan. The event includes a sports memorabilia auction.
There is also a live benefit stage show, “Handicap This,” planned at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Liberty Memorial museum, Kansas City, Mo.
A durable medical equipment donation drive will be held Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Liberty Memorial.
The 25th anniversary dinner on Saturday, Sept. 14, includes a silent auction.
Smith, who grew up in the Baltimore, Md., area, said he was an inner-city kid who really didn’t have the opportunity to expand outside his environment. After his mother married his stepfather, who served in the military, the family got the opportunity to travel, he said.
“One thing I’ve learned, is we’re all different, but we’re all somewhat the same,” he said. He added he wanted to share his experiences with others to help them get through the hard times. He started his career in working with children. He went to work for CFI nine years ago, preferring a small nonprofit organization with more of a small family atmosphere, he said. In 2007 he was promoted to program manager and in 2010 he was asked to become the executive director.
His work is delightful at times and very stressful at times, he said.
“The reward is getting the phone calls and smiles from the consumers we serve. It makes it all worthwhile, that’s why I do it,” he said.
For more information about how to participate in the 25th anniversary events and fundraisers, visit the CFI website at www.cfi-kc.org/ or call 913-321-5140.