Friday, May 13, 2016

Host Family Raffle and Bake Sale

In a recent sit down with Mike Cheesman, the Community Options Director, his excitement and anticipation that he had for the upcoming Host Family Bake Sale and Raffle was obvious. This has been a major event for the Host Family Program for the past 12 years, and it was obvious that Mike poured himself into it each and every year.

He explained how the event started out small, just lasting a single day with a modest amount of community involvement and donations. However, even in the first year it was clear to see the impact the Bake Sale and Raffle could have for the Host Families that are involved with EP!C. 

That impact, as Mike elaborated, is all about how the proceeds from the event go towards improving the community of individuals and families involved. From allowing the individuals to go on vacations and gaining all new life experiences through the Host Family Power Team to supporting and providing for the families that care for and look after the individuals. This one event really fuels the whole program and is why the work and contributions that go into it are so deeply appreciated.

After all those years the event now lasts all week, allowing people in the area to come in and enjoy food, refreshments, and have the chance to win an array of prizes.

Mark was especially excited this year because of the opportunity of opening up the event up to the community on Thursday night, June 23rd from 4pm to 7pm, something that had not been done before, but would give a lot more people the chance to come be a part of this worthwhile event.

The night will be made even more special thanks to the live music provided by several of the members of Peoria’s own Jam Sandwich!

The event will start on Monday June 20th and run through Friday June 24th. The raffle and bake sale will be going on from 8am-4pm during the week, along with Thursday night, and the final drawing will be at 12pm on Friday.

If you would like to be a part of the Host Family Bake Sale and Raffle, or would like some more information, please contact Mike Cheesman. 


Friday, April 22, 2016

The Reach of a Helping Hand: How Volunteerism is Impacting EP!C

One afternoon, one day a week, one hour a week... a helping hand can go a long way, and as they say, many hands make light work. Marc, our EP!C Harvest Garden Specialist, has been fortunate enough to have firsthand experience with how big of a difference volunteering can make.

Over the past several weeks, EP!C has benefited from the help of several groups of volunteers, many of whom come from Caterpillar and Ameren. This time of year is always a busy and somewhat stressful one for the Harvest: spring flower orders are coming in, the garden needs to be prepared, and plants need to be seeded. This year, we also are growing some special crops, including a variety of edible flower found in Brazil that is reminiscent of poprocks and special requests from Chef Darren McGrady for his gourmet dinner featuring Harvest produce in September. While all of this makes for an exciting gardening season, it also requires a significant amount of work.

In the last month we have had seven separate groups of 15-20 volunteers come in give us a hand, and they have not only eased Marc's workload but also helped EP!C as a whole. In one afternoon of work, one group of volunteers was able to do what would have taken Marc two weeks to complete. The volunteers have helped prepare spring flower hanging baskets; seed herbs; plant lettuce, onions, peppers, and potatoes; and transplant tomatoes. The most recent group, a volunteer group from CAT, transplanted 468 tomato plants in one afternoon! Needless to say, the work these dedicated volunteers has done has made a significant impact!

The extra help in the garden has enabled Marc to utilize the space and materials he has to more effectively grow more produce for sale while also helping make the cost of the EP!C Harvest program more sustainable. Having a healthy and vibrant Harvest program enables individuals to participate in cultivation and growing, which is as educational as it is therapeutic. As the volunteer groups demonstrate, it is also a space where community is built. It provides opportunities for individuals at EP!C, supports local restaurants and businesses, and builds relationships between EP!C and community businesses and members. Volunteering at EP!C, whether in the garden, in the EP!Casso art program, or in an administrative role goes a long way in helping us serve our community by supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

If you or a group are interested in volunteering at EP!C, take a look at opportunities on our website to see how you can make a difference!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bianca, Recipient of the Game Changer Award, Describes Life as a DSP at EP!C

Every month EP!C's Educational Services team selects an employee who stands out for their dedication, willingness to go above and beyond what is required of them, and demonstrated passion for what they do. This month, Bianca Marliere was selected as the award winner after having worked with EP!C for only two and a half months in EP!C's Work Skills program.

Christie Anderson, Bianca's supervisor, gives us a taste of why she was selected for this award so early on in her time with EP!C: "Since starting her employment here February 15th, Bianca has become an invaluable asset to our Work Skills team. She always has a positive attitude and responds with 'yes ma'am' when asked to help out or do anything. She has jumped right in and has become proficient in many areas, including bus duty. Bianca has shown great aptitude for the work here and has made an extra effort to develop relationships with several of the individuals, especially those who do not typically seek out interactions with other. Bianca has volunteered to do various tasks without hesitation and always follows through with the tasks that she starts."

In an interview, Bianca's commitment to the individuals at EP!C shines through as she gives even more insight into her experiences as a DSP.

What motivated you to come to EP!C?

"Well, I already had a job in the field, but I just wanted more of a role model-type role, not just at home but also in their work. No one really gives these guys a second chance or takes the time to teach them, or help them, or even communicate with them... It's insane just how much I can brighten their day or they can brighten my day. One time one of the individuals- we were  coloring a superhero picture, and he's like, 'Bianca is my superhero!'" and it just melted my heart."

What kinds of things do you work with the individuals on?

"Two groups- when we get John Deere silverware in, we package the silverware. The two other groups- we do lesson plans on building employment skills and building structure and resumes and things like that."

What is something that surprised you about EP!C?

"The bond between the coworkers, at least back here [in Work Skills] I know we really come together as a team."

How have you seen the individuals progress?

"We're getting there- Jean, she's one of the one-on-ones, she used to not want to do anything- not participate at all and just had behavioral [issue] after behavioral [issue]. And now, we got it to where she will do activities with us... and will actually go to the snack shop and get a snack now... One day I was doing math with her, and then she actually let me color with her."

What is your favorite part about work with EP!C?

"The individuals. I like being part of their lives."

What is one of the most important things you have learned while at EP!C?

"Everyone deserves a second chance. Everyone is still capable. Everyone has their own way of doing things or acts a certain way for a reason."

Is there anything else you want to add?

"This place has been amazing. Just really, really eye-opening. It's stressful, don't get me wrong, it's stressful, but at the end of the day I can say, I was there for them and they help me out at the end of the day too sometimes. They pick up when something's wrong with me- Hey what's going on? What's wrong? Are you okay? Just... this place is amazing. It's amazing how you can actually do something for [the individuals]."

It was clear following the interview with Bianca why she was selected for the Game Changer Award. In the short time she has been here, she has already made a difference in the lives of the individuals she works with, as well as in the lives of her coworkers. We look forward to her continued dedication to the individuals and EP!C's mission!

If you or someone you know would like to join Bianca as a DSP at EP!C, we currently have open positions and would love to see your application! Find out more on our website.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Win, Win: How Community Employment Benefits the Community and Individuals

When you walk into Anytime Fitness, you might spot Dan cleaning the equipment, rag and spray bottle in hand. He will greet you, making sure to get your whole name, and welcome you to Anytime Fitness. Dan is just one of the people that is employed in the Peoria community through EP!C's Community Employment Program.

Chris Brown helping to shelve books at the
Fondulac Library
Employment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities has recently been making it into the news (see for example the story of Sam, the Starbucks barista known for dancing as he prepares drinks). Stories certainly have been highlighting the successes of individuals with disabilities finding employment and excelling at their jobs, but they have also drawn attention to the high unemployment rates, businesses' biases against employing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and poor State support. At EP!C we try to address these issues with both our Organizational Employment as well as Community Employment Programs.

EP!C's Community Employment Program in particular works with local businesses and individuals to find an arrangement that will be mutually beneficial.Though the businesses might initially worry about the individual's ability to perform the job duties, they soon find that they are often some of the most dedicated and diligent employees. (In case you missed it, Huffington Post highlighted the views of four companies who have adopted an inclusive stance on the topic.) EP!C even provides job coaching to ensure that the individual has the skills they need to carry out their responsibilities. Individuals that work with EP!C's Community Employment Program then have the opportunity to pursue employment in a variety of fields, depending on their interests and skills. Currently, individuals with EP!C's Community Employment Program are employed in diverse businesses and organizations from hotels to government institutions to gyms.

Mike Berkley sacking up a customer's groceries at Hy-Vee
The individuals are then also empowered through employment. Not only are they able to earn a pay check, they are also able to take pride in succeeding in their job and creating more connections with the community. Mike Berkley, for example, speaks with enthusiasm about his job at Hy-Vee and enjoys greeting and meeting new people in the store. He has also created lasting relationships with several of his coworkers, who speak warmly about Mike and his willingness to go above and beyond the scope of his job.

There is no doubt that having a job enriches the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Local companies and businesses also benefit from hiring such employees, as they not only fulfill but often exceed job expectations. It is up to us, as a community, now to work toward breaking the stigma of hiring individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supporting efforts to do so.

If you are a business looking for qualified employees or someone with an intellectual or developmental disability looking for employment, contact Mike Ashford, the Community Employment Services Job Placement Coordinator, at (309) 689-3690 or

This program is made possible in part by a grant from the Heart of Illinois United Way.

mike berkley

Chris brown

Friday, March 11, 2016

Bon Appetit 2016: A Sold-Out Royal Evening

Bon Appetit was a smashing hit this year- the event was sold out and raised more money than ever. We took full advantage of the beautiful Grand Ballroom at the Pere Marquette this year, which fit the theme of a royal evening to a T. The chandeliers complimented the lavish royal blue, gold, and silver decorations, while the classically painted walls and high ceilings of the Cotillian Room were the perfect setting for the silent auction artwork.

The evening began with an exclusive VIP hour where guests had the opportunity to meet Chef McGrady before the main event. The VIP hour featured plenty of opportunities for socializing and a signature basil lemon drop cocktail that utilized freshly picked basil microgreens from EP!C Harvest.

Following the VIP hour, the main doors to the Cotillian Room and the Grand Ballroom were opened and guests were able to peruse the silent auction items and meet and greet one another. Many of the artists whose work was featured in the silent auction were also present and able to speak with interested guests.

Chef McGrady then treated us to some stories of his time at Buckingham Palace, including the reason why the Queen, though she herself did not like scones, insisted that a fresh batch of scones be baked daily, alternating flavors every other day (if you want to know why, you will have to ask someone who attended Bon Appetit!). Meanwhile, guests were able to enjoy artfully designed amuse-bouch courtesy of the Pere Marquette.

Following Chef McGrady's address, guests were served the first and second courses of the meal- asparagus soup with avocado and lump crab followed by a pink grapefruit and feta salad with avocado and caramelized pecans with an agave lime dressing.

Before presenting the main dish and dessert, Chef McGrady wowed us with how this meal is prepared- flames and all! Then out came the Gaelic steaks with whiskey cream wild mushroom sauce paired with sage derby scalloped potatoes and baby carrots. As people polished their plates, the Queen's favorite dessert of bread and butter pudding was served to round out the meal on a sweet note. 

As guests finished up their meal, they prepared for the live auction featuring a four-course craft beer dinner for ten at Thyme, a trip to Napa Valley, an all-inclusive getaway to Jamaica, and a four-course dinner for ten prepared at home by Chef Luca who was the feature chef at Bon Appetit 2015. Chef McGrady then threw everyone for a loop by offering an exclusive dinner for forty people scheduled for September 2 that he would cook using specially grown Harvest produce. Within five minutes all tickets were sold!
The evening ended with the drawing of the winner of the hand-crafted Bremer Jewelry necklace inspired by Princess Diana and the closing of the silent auction.

With an evening as full and as lively as that, it is no wonder Bon Appetit 2016 was such a success! We owe a big thanks to our generous sponsors who not only supported Bon Appetit, but also support EP!C and the work that we do.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Five Reasons Why We Love EP!C

If the hearts, greeting cards, boxes of chocolates, and flowers haven't given it away, Valentine's Day is  here and a time when we have the opportunity to show how much we care and love someone. This year, we have been reflecting on why we love EP!C, and it really all comes down to the people. The people at EP!C are at the center of what we do and why we love doing it.

1. We Give Back to the Community

When people think of caring for people with disabilities, they often think it's a one-way street: community members give time and money to support them, and they use it to live a better life. As you might guess by now, EP!C is proof that this assumption is mistaken. While EP!C certainly does utilize volunteer, State, and donation support, this support then enables individuals at EP!C to give back. For example, last year, we raised more money than ever before for Susan G. Koman with our annual Walk 'n Roll event. We also empower individuals to gain the skills necessary to be committed, hardworking employees, both as a part of EP!C's Organizational Employment Program and in a wide variety of community locations from libraries to hotels to fitness studios. At EP!C, we use our resources to give back to the community- whether through volunteer events and fundraising or by contributing to local businesses and the economy.

2. EP!C Brings Families Together

On a similar note, EP!C gives back by bringing families together. Those who come to EP!C not only have a family in us, but also are able to connect with other community members and families throughout the area. Even several generations after a family member first joins EP!C, EP!C is a hub around which family members gather and reconnect. For employees, too, EP!C is a place where family members can connect with their community and help make a difference, volunteering and offering support. One of the programs where family is most prominent is EP!C's Host Family Program. Here, individuals expand their family to include their hosts, while also maintaing strong bonds to their biological family. The families of individuals, EP!C employees, and community members create lasting bonds that strengthen our impact and outreach.

3. We Think Everyone Deserve a Chance to be their Best

Especially during this time of economic instability and insecurity as the State navigate a changing economic landscape, a process that has hit human services hard, more and more service providers are turning away individuals that require more care, time, and money. EP!C is one of the few in the State that has continued to welcome individuals with a wide variety of care needs. We strongly believe that everyone, regardless of their ability level, should have the opportunity to maximize their abilities to live their best life.

4. EP!C's Halls Are Always Filled with Positivity

Regardless of how your day has been or how things are going, whether you walk through the halls at Townline, visit an apartment, or stop by a host family house, you are always enthusiastically greeted, often times with smiles, hugs, and questions about what has been going on in your life. You are constantly surrounded by positive, friendly faces that are eager to talk to you, learn about you and what you do, and tell you about what they've been up to. The individuals EP!C serves remind us why we do what we do every day.

5. For EP!C Employees, EP!C is so Much More than Just a Job

With all of that in mind, it should come as no surprise, then, that EP!C employees know they are making a difference and are committed to helping however they can. They are generous with their time, be it by supporting the basketball team at their games, helping out with special events on weekends or after hours, or donating materials for projects. For people working at EP!C, EP!C is more than just their employer- it is a place that transforms lives, and they welcome the ability to be a part of it.

So, today, we would like to wish everyone- individuals, families, employees, donors, community members, businesses- who have helped EP!C to continue to support individuals with disabilities.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The EP!C Hub: A Gateway to Endless Possibilities

You may have heard of the EP!C Hub and how it is one of the features that sets EP!C apart from the rest, but I am betting you have not heard about all of the things the Hub does. The Hub is one of Educational Services' many programs that provides opportunities for EP!C individuals to access and utilize technology for a number of different purposes. It is aptly named, as it acts as the intersection between curious minds, information, employment, education, technology, communication, hobbies, and more.

So, how, exactly, does the Hub provide this amazing service, you might ask. There are many stories we could tell of how the Hub has changed EP!C individuals' lives and possibilities, but I will limit this post to an overview of the ways the Hub is making a difference:

Adaptive Technology

One of the biggest obstacles in utilizing technology for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities is the traditional keyboard, mouse, and screen size, which does not allow people who may have limited ranges of motion or need to magnify the screen to use technology effectively. The Hub provides individuals with a wide range of devices to help them use the technology from special keyboards to buttons that they can click with their heads, elbows, or knees to select an option to trackballs that are more easily manipulated than mice.

Communication Devices

The Hub also provides and assists with the use of individuals' electronic communication devices. These devices open up a world of opportunities as they allow individuals to communicate in real time with those around them as they aid those with severe speech impairments to express themselves. These devices can also be connected directly to a computer, allowing them to use computers more effectively.

Classroom Technology and Education

As part of the EP!C Hub Outreach program, the Hub also outfits EP!C classrooms with computers and projectors to facilitate lessons. With these tools, EP!C individuals can more easily see, read, and interact with the material they are learning as a group.

Technology at Home

Another arm of the EP!C Hub Outreach program provides computers for all twenty-one of EP!C's group homes. The computers can be used to connect with others, access needed information, and promote leisure time activities.


Because the Hub's adaptive technology enables individuals to more effectively use computers, EP!C individuals also have the opportunity to do paid computer work to earn a paycheck on their own. Many EP!C individuals design and print flyers, posters, calendars, and greeting cards; develop presentation materials; create business cards; and enter data.

Hobbies and Leisure Time

When EP!C individuals are not using the computers for paid work, they have time to pursue their interests on the computer. On any given day you might see one person browsing antique tractors, another chatting with friends on Facebook, and yet another watching the latest WWE match.

The EP!C Hub is just that- a hub of intersecting strands of life where individuals at EP!C can pursue their interests and achieve their goals. Whether it is paid work or browsing the internet, the Hub contributes greatly to the building of self-esteem and independence, while improving overall quality of life.