Independence Place of Alabama is a faith-based ministry where adults with intellectual disabilities can develop connections and lifelong relationships with peers.
Carrie Jones, a high school special education teacher, founded Independence Place in 2012 after parents of former students kept expressing concern that their children had little to no social connection after graduation. They might be involved in part-time jobs or other activities but often had no real friends.
“God just kept this notion in the forefront of my mind that there’s more — there’s just got to be more,” Jones recalled. “Through that, in His amazing way, the idea of Independence Place came to be.”
“I knew what I wanted it to look like; I knew who I wanted it to serve … but I didn’t know anything else. It’s been a God-thing,” she asserted. “He laid out the path and put all the people in place. I just tried to follow His direction.”
Space to start
Though not a direct ministry of the church, First Baptist Church Trussville offered some unused preschool space rent-free as long as it was needed, allowing Independence Place to open in 2012.
One of Jones’ favorite aspects of the program is “watching an individual come in who may be totally disconnected from anyone other than family and close family friends, and watching them flourish into social butterflies,” she said. “They want to stay on the go. They have friends who they text or become Facebook friends with.
“We serve some who I personally feel to be the most amazing individuals in Alabama,” Jones added.
‘Connected for Life’
The motto for Independence Place is “Connected for Life.”
“That was the goal, to provide a way for individuals to connect with other individuals and their community for a lifetime,” Jones explained, “not just for a year or a month or a season, but to make connections that would last a lifetime.”
Participants go bowling, eat out, frequent the Trussville Public Library and go fishing. They also do crafts, have weekly Bible studies with guest teachers and go shopping.
A favorite activity is celebrating birthdays.
“It’s such an amazing thing. When you’re in school, you might have a classroom birthday party or your parents arrange a birthday party. People come because you’re family or a close family friend. But these folks celebrate birthdays like nobody else,” Jones said.
Birthdays are noted on a calendar. Though not required, participants often bring each other gifts and families sometimes bring cake or pizza.
“They just have some all-out birthday parties. It’s just great,” Jones said. “Their families get to watch them truly be celebrated by genuine friends, not friends that they’re in class with because they’re in special education class, or cousins because they are family members, or peer partners.
“These are friends that know them deeply. They know what they like, what they don’t like, what gets on their nerves, what makes them smile, that they’re always late on this day, and how to cheer them up when they are having a bad day.”
Some activities stand out. Recently participants did a production of “Beauty and the Beast.” Only one had ever done theater before. Most never had the opportunity. This time everyone participated.
“It was so wonderful, not only for them to shine, but for all of those who attended to see them shine,” Jones said. “I am so thankful for our staff who work diligently each day to make all the activities at IP meaningful and successful. Our IP team went to great detail to make sure all participants have their time to shine, not only in Beauty in the Beast, but each day they are together.
As much as she has given to the program and to the participants, Jones feels she has gained more.
“There really are no real limits in life if you have people to support you,” she asserted. “I found that out, on my end, because I had to go and ask, ‘Will you be on this board? I know it’s crazy. I know I know nothing about this. Will you come alongside and help me?’ and people said, ‘Yes.’
“Then I watch these participants. … Society can sometimes place, not intentionally, but place some limitations on them. I watch the support network that forms around them.
“And then there’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ … with no limitations.”
“We just always want to be in the center of His will with Independence Place,” Jones said. “I want it to be whatever He has planned for it to be.”
For more information visit independenceplaceofalabama.org/about-us.