In 1987, a group of people with disabilities, parents, educators, and rehabilitation professionals got together to discuss their concerns about disability services in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. At the time, some disability services were present, but they were segregated, and independent living and supported employment were in their infancy in Virginia. Most people with disabilities lived with their families or in adult care settings and were unemployed or underemployed. All of the local funding for people with developmental disabilities was being used to support a small number of individuals in group settings. As a result, there were significant gaps in service delivery, lack of community-based options, lack of choice and control, and unsuccessful outcomes for individuals with disabilities. The group began to believe that what the community needed was a place where the different aspects of independent living were dealt with comprehensively and holistically. Additionally, they felt that an organization that utilized an individualized, community-based, and consumer-driven approach was needed to provide the necessary tools for many people with disabilities to achieve independence.
The group began by talking with counselors from various funding agencies, such as the Social Security Administration (SSA), Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS), and the Community Services Board (CSB) to outline the goals of a new organization. The organization would resist owning residential facilities in order to promote community-based, individualized services. Additionally, this would allow the organization to focus on service provision and not on maintaining a full facility.
Valley Associates for Independent Living (VAIL) was founded on the principle that service delivery should occur in the community, the home, and on the job site. Furthermore, all services are tailored to each individual’s goals, strengths, and needs so that they could achieve their maximum potential and a full measure of self-respect.
In less than eighteen months, the loose band of concerned citizens had formed an organization with a plan. In October 1988, Valley Associates for Independent Living (VAIL) was incorporated. Initially, VAIL offered classes on work and living skills and then began assisting individuals in moving from their parents’ homes or institutions into the community. These individuals were supported with training in independent living and job skills as well as with specialized education and emergency services. For the first eight months, volunteers performed all of the support and training necessary to move eight individuals with multiple disabilities into the community.
VAIL received funding to become a full CIL in 2000. Centers for Independent Living are unique in that at least fifty-one percent of the staff and board members must be people with disabilities. This allows the individual requesting services to benefit from the personal experiences, develop an easy rapport, and enhances their ability to obtain the support necessary to live independently. Additionally, it ensures that, at the very core, the organization’s focus remains on providing consumer-directed services.
VAIL has continued to collaborate with other service providers in the community in order to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the support they need to be independent. VAIL is partnering with the Harrisonburg/ Rockingham Housing Authority to provide service coordination to the residents of the JR Polly Lineweaver Apartment complex. Recently, VAIL began partnering with Valley Program for Aging Services (VPAS) in providing options counseling to individuals throughout the Planning District to ensure that they are aware of all of the options available to them. Additionally, VAIL is a subrecipient of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through the city of Harrisonburg to provide modifications and rehabilitation to homes of residents who have disabilities and have low to moderate income.
As a CIL, VAIL is a member of the Virginia Association of Centers for Independent Living (VACIL), which allows people with disabilities to come together on statewide issues. Furthermore, VAIL’s Executive Director has served on the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) and helped shape Virginia’s Plan for Independent Living. The result is a collaborative effort amongst all sixteen CILs in Virginia to address housing, transportation, and other significant needs of individuals with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth.