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updated: 3/2/2011 11:09 AM

Center for Independent Living plans Trivia Night

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After Janine Schlimgen lost most of her vision a half-dozen years ago due to diabetic retinopathy, the future looked intimidating to her.

"It can be the end of life as you know it," she said.

But Schlimgen found her life didn't have to end at the DuPage Center for Independent Living based in Glen Ellyn. The center introduced her to computer software available to the visually impaired, and she spent two or three days a week volunteering there for a year after she lost her eyesight.

"The center just really helped at a time I needed the help and the support," she said. "They were instrumental in helping me gain the confidence I needed to go back to the work force."

Schlimgen, who previously worked in customer-based jobs, has been employed for four years in a new customer care position and recently returned to the center to volunteer one day a week. She continues to find support in a visually impaired peer group and in two of the center's staff members who have been blind from birth.

"Seeing how they lived their lives and do things was inspiring," she said. "You're still doing the same thing. You're just doing it differently."

Right now the DuPage center, one of 23 Centers for Independent Living in Illinois dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to direct their own lives and participate fully in the community, is looking for support of its own in doing things differently.

The center is holding its first "Triviability," a trivia night fundraiser, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, March 5, at Wheaton Elks Lodge, 0N722 Papworth St., Wheaton.

Executive Director Leigh Ann Heenan said the center wants to reduce its dependence on state funding, which until now has provided the lion's share of its budget.

"Part of the issue is we hang on a string every year, wondering if we are going to be cut, not cut," she said.

The center's 2010 operating budget of $419,075 all came from the state except for $36,928 from foundations and private funding, Heenan said. The center also is receiving an additional $133,324 in federal dollars over five years for a new youth services program.

The fiscal 2010 budget represented a 10 percent cut in general revenue and a 20 percent cut in funds to help match consumers who need help in daily living with personal assistants. Those cuts remain in effect for 2011, Heenan said.

The center's normal active caseload of 170 to 180 persons a year dropped to 125 for fiscal 2010 and a staff worker providing specialized services to the deaf was laid off.

In addition to its active caseload, the center provided information and referral services to 954 people seeking help during fiscal 2010, Heenan said.

She said she can't say how many people the center could serve if it had the staff and resources.

"There's over 100,000 people in DuPage County with a disability," she said.

Services the center provides includes advocacy for those with disabilities; development of independent living skills; support groups; help for the hearing-impaired such as interpreter referrals and applications for amplified phones; guidance in finding affordable and accessible housing; training and referrals for the visually impaired; assistance in identifying and signing up for transportation services; community reintegration for nursing home residents ages 18-59; and help with Medicaid and Medicare health insurance questions.

Clients select the areas where they need help, and, like Schlimgen, often are counseled by people who themselves have disabilities, Heenan said. Seven of the center's nine employees and eight of its 10 board members have disabilities.

"We are consumer-controlled and consumer driven," Heenan said. "Our services are absolutely free."

The trivia night is a step toward finding additional funding to keep those services going. Teams of eight players can sign up. The cost is $30 a person at the door. Participants also will learn more about the center and its services at the event, Heenan said.

"We were looking for something that would be a fun, eventful night," she said. "We're just looking forward to everyone having a good time."