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2012 Top-Rated Nonprofit

Independence First, Inc.

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Centers to Support the Independence of Specific Populations, Civil Rights, Disabilities, Disabled Persons Rights, Human Services

Mission: IndependenceFirst is a non-profit agency directed by, and for the benefit of, persons with disabilities. We primarily serve the four county metro Milwaukee area.  Our vision is for full inclusion of people with disabilities in every aspect of our community.  With over 20 programs to benefit independent living and access for people with disabilities, we serve thousands each year.  We’re the community’s FIRST resource when they have questions about disability and access, answering nearly 6,000 information and referral calls each year.  We serve people with all kinds of disability, in all age groups.  Over 51% of our staff, managers and Board have disabilities themselves.

Target demographics: People with disabilities of all kinds, in all age groups.  Family members or other service providers who are interested in independent living for people with disabilities.  Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties primarily, but some statewide programs.

Geographic areas served: Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha Counties primarily, some statewide programs

Programs: Advocacy - individual and Systemic, Assistive Technology Consultation, Independent Living Skills training for youth and adults, Benefits & Employment Counseling, Job Club, Peer Support, Information & Referral, Accessibility Consultation, Counseling & Services for Victims of Abuse who have disabilities, Personal Assistance Services, Attendant Referral, Wheelchair Sports & Adaptive Recreation for Youth and Adults, Youth Leadership Training and Skill Building, and MUCH MORE!

Community Stories

28 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

It is intrisically rewarding being a volunteer with Independence First. The organization empowers individuals with disabilities to live with dignity, have control over their lives, and to make decisions. As a volunteer, I have interacted with indviduals who have overcome challenges with grace and dignity. I do not see these individuals any different than myself. They are capable of doing the same project but just perform the project in a different way. Independent First provides people with the disabilities to participate in the communityby assisting with devices that provide them the mobilty to get around the community.

The first day I volunteered, I saw the cohesiveness with the staff and volunteers. I don't know many people who could say that about the company or business they work for. All anyone wants is to be respected and acknowledged for the work they do each day. You can definitely see how much Independence First values the contribution people with disabilities bring to the community.

DMueller

Board Member

Rating: 5

As a board member I am proud to serve this organization. Services that are provided and directions to aid the disabled are outstanding. Staff are sensitive to the needs of all. They go above and beyond their regular duties. We are very fortune to have an organization within our communities with high standards.

Judi Wisla

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Independence First makes a large differance in the lives of people with disability's and low income, through our CRP we can give individuals a computer at no cost to them.The computer refurbishing program has grown from giving out 25 computers a year to over350 per year in the time I've been 2x a week voulnteer at Independence First in MIlwaukee. When we give a free computer to someone with a disability it has been noted over and over the computer is used by all the family and others in the neighborhood. So one computer helps the grandkids who do not have to go in early to school to use a computer to finish their homework, and the uncle who is looking for work and cannot travel to the unemplyment office due to a lack of money,

Board Member

Rating: 5

I have been on the board for 12 years and just finished two years as Chairman. In my years of Association with the agency, I have been extremely impressed with the staff's determination to ensure that the work they do supports the tenets of social justice. Individuals coming to independencefirst for help, will always get the support they need and will be treated with respect.

Client Served

Rating: 5

Wendy & Tracy ROCK!!! The building and accommodations are beautiful and hidden within the walls is a great sense of humor!

BVCILTexas

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

I live in Texas and for a few years, I have "followed" Independence First via Twitter to keep abreast of IL topics. In the summer of 2010, I reached out to IF with the idea of bringing a CIL to our area. I did not know Lee or any of the staff at IL personally at that time. In the true spirit of peer mentorship, resource development, etc. Lee was very instrumental in helping me refine my ideas and giving me technical assistance. Our CIL was born October, 2010. Since that time, I have visited IF twice, continually learn from Lee and his staff and have recently been the recipient of some "mighty fine" peer mentoring services from his staff related to fiscal management. I'm looking forward to growing our center over the next several years and consider IF to be a flagship CIL that I am proud from which to learn! Thanks! Jackie Pacha, M.A., CRC, Executive Director, Brazos Valley Center for Independent Living.

Board Member

Rating: 5

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be a member of the IndependenceFirst Board of Directors for the past four years. IndependenceFirst is an incredible community resource. In the cause of Social Justice they provide daily assistance to members of our community with varying degrees of disability so they can live normal lives, go to work, live in their own homes and participate in all social aspects of life in the Greater Milwaukee Community. We are also a resource for other CIL's (Centers for Independent Living) and they are always looking for opportunities to collaberate with other organizations to make Milwaukee a better place to live!

1 Kelly41

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

As the director of the National Council on Independent Living, I can tell you without hesitation that Independence First is a true leader in Social Justice in our nation!

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

I have had the distinct pleasure of working with IndependenceFirst over the past 5 years. I run a similar organization in San Diego County and consider IndependenceFirst to be the preeminent organization off it's type in the country!

Board Member

Rating: 5

As a board member I am impressed with the work the organization does for the people within the community. We cover many facets of needs, for the disabled they are provided with contacts, direction, and support. Staff acts as mentors and family. Until I became a member of the board was I aware of this caring organization. When in need there only one place to go, INDEPENDEENCE FIRST.

Previous Stories

Board Member

Rating: 5

As a board member of this organization for the past 2 years I have been exposed to the fantastic work this group does to help the communities. The work that the employees & volunteers do is outstanding. I don't believe the public understands to what degree and lengths this organization works to provide services to the disabled.
It has been a great learning experience to say the least. More people need to become involved, so that they would understand the complexities of this organization.
This group is #1.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

Independence First representatives have support the Washington County Students with Disabilities and their families for many years. They participate in the activities of the county Transition Action Committee by sharing their expertise with parents and students at Transition Fairs, attending monthly meetings and visiting schools to provide informational presentations. The help they provide is up to date, easy to understand and always helpful.

Phillip3

Client Served

Rating: 5

I have seen this agency grow over the years. I've seen the people they've helped, myself and my family being some of them. Over the years they have helped me see people with disabilities very differently. They helped me understand my son could do anything, all he had to do was try! Today my son is 26 years old and VERY independent, very active, and very much wants to be treated as an equal to everyone else. It is thru the programs and services he received from IndependenceFirst that helped me become the MAN he is today. The staff at IndependenceFirst couldn't be better, they are caring, dedicated individuals. I thank IndependenceFirst for a job well done!

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

Independence First is highly regarded as one of the premier organizations in training individuals with disabilities in the area of assistive technology. From simple to complex tools, this organization finds ways to assist youth and adults in leveling the terrain.

Bob_11

Client Served

Rating: 5

We needed a specialized wheelchair for my Mother-in-law and IndependenceFirst was able to accommodate us. The staff was professional, knowledgeable, and caring.

Jan D.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

I have worked with Independence First for over 20 years. They have always been on the cutting edge of ideas on how to work towards independence for people with disabilities. If someone said it couldn't be done, they would do it. From peer support, nursing home transition, heck even bingo, Lee Schulz and his staff have set the bar for the rest of us in the CIL community

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

The advocates at Independence First are savvy about their community, about the gifts people with disabilities can bring to their community, and smart about moving policies and programs forward.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

Independence First is a leader in the greater Milwaukee community for individuals with disabilities, their families and professionals. I thank them for their vision and commitment!

Jill K.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

IndependenceFirst puts its money where its mouth is. More than 1/2 of the employees and board are people with disabilities themselves. The Independent Living Skills Coordinators are role models, peer supports and examples to the community as a whole but particularly to others with disabilities and their families. They are proof that people with disabilites CAN and DO succeed when given the opportunity. I've seen with my own eyes peoples' lives changed by the Independent Living philosophy and the living examples set by the staff. Independence First doesn't do FOR...they do WITH!

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

IndependenceFirst is a true leader in the greater Milwaukee area. The depth of their programs, their commitment to those they serve and their partnerships with other organizations is outstanding.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I am a volunteer for Independence First. I am there a minimum of 2 days a month. If there are special projects that need to be done I always try to fit them in also. It is one of my favorite places to volunteer. They have an excellent volunteer cooridnator who makes it a pleasant place to work. I feel that the services that Independence First provides to their clients are essential to their well being and staying independent. As far as a place to work it really is state of the art for being handicapped accessible. I hope to be able to volunteer there for many years to come. Rachel Jones (racheljones@earthlink.net) 2earthlink.net