The Stepping Stones to Deanna’s Independent Living

Deanna moving into her new apartment. // Photo courtesy of Angela Marshall

Since 2014, Deanna has lived in a Community Living Home until KenCrest’s Stepping Stones opened the door to new possibilities.

By Sydney Kerelo

For the past nine years, Deanna, a Pennsylvania resident with an intellectual disability, has lived in a KenCrest Community Living home with three other women. And she wasn’t happy; she dreamed of living alone but didn’t know where to start.

At the Community Living home she lived in, her roommates had challenging behaviors, and one consistently yelled throughout the day. She is very vocal, and whenever she gets excited or upset, she cries in a booming voice, which bothers the other residents, Deanna included. One day, Deanna had enough and told her support team she wanted to live independently.

But she couldn’t do it alone; she needed help finding the right program to accommodate her needs. That’s when her Outcome Specialist, Shawntai Thomas, spoke with her about the Stepping Stones Transitional Housing Program—which gives those with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD) the chance to hear about and experience living independently. She was immediately on board and, later that year, spoke with Vincent Waskiewicz, the Coordinator for Stepping Stones, and Angela Marshall, the Director of Supported Independent Living, to review her assessment and discuss her options.

RELATED: Transitioning to Independent Living

Originally, Deanna wanted to move out with her friend Kelly, who already resides in KenCrest’s Supported Independent Living program. To prepare for moving in together, the duo met their respective clinical support staff to help them learn skills that would strengthen their new budding relationship. But after a few months, it became apparent that their friendship was too new and wasn’t ready for them to live together.

So, Deanna and her support team discussed different possibilities, like looking for an apartment in the same community as Kelly, and she was sold! Deanna still accomplishes her dream of living independently, with the bonus of living near her new friend.

“Every time her roommates or her got upset about something, Deanna would use that as motivation to learn new skills to move out,” says Vincent Waskiewicz, the Coordinator for Stepping Stones. “And she did it.”

Deanna moving into her new apartment. // Photos courtesy of Angela Marshall

The Stepping Stones program is a New Business Idea—A KenCrest-led grant opportunity that funds ideas, services delivery, and innovations to support those KenCrest serves wanting to live independently better. It provides individuals with an intellectual IDD the opportunity to learn and practice independent living in a safe environment, which starts by meeting the person where they are, whether that’s living in a Community Living Arrangement (CLA) or within a family home.

“This program provides the opportunity for those we serve not only to hear about the possibility of independent living but to practice and experience the process,” says Angela Marshall, the Director of Supported Independent Living. “They get to drive the train on their steps to independence.”

From there, the Supported Independent Living team will meet with the individual to chart their LifeCourse—a person-centered plan that helps those KenCrest supports to plan their life, personal goals, and desired outcomes. This visual tool allows people to process the action steps and time frames needed to reach their dreams .

After that, the Stepping Stones program Coordinator will meet with the team to regularly drop in for checkups on the individual’s progress as they continue to develop. They spend time—with or without a staff member—in a transitional home setting where they can practice the daily living skills needed for a fully independent life, like spending time alone, taking her medicine, and cooking small meals.

They helped her do that by having her take a tech assessment with KenCrest’s Enabling Technology department to prepare her with the best technology to help her succeed. She was given an Amazon Echo, which she uses to help her set reminders throughout the day to do daily tasks like taking out the garbage or putting her clothes away after washing them.

Deanna moved out into her own apartment in October 2023, and it has been bliss ever since. She decorated the whole apartment the first week of her arrival and slept, in her own words, “like a baby” her first night there. She even threw herself a birthday party to celebrate turning 31!

“I always wanted to be free,” she sighs. “Now I am.”

Are you interested in learning more about KenCrest’s Supported Independent Living program and Stepping Stones? Click the links below!