By Marj Frew
Located in a small office on the west edge of Main Street, the services provided by Raychel Sterkel and Roberta Wounded Head at Independent Living Choices, are anything but small.
The mission of the non-profit organization is to provide services to people with disabilities who make independence their choice. In Raychel’s words, “We work with individuals with disabilities to maintain their independence.”
“Everything we do is based on what the person wants. We can make recommendations, but ultimately they drive everything,” explained Sterkel.
The office in Martin is the first West River branch of the headquarters, which is in Sioux Falls. Raychel and Roberta serve the areas of Oglala Lakota, Bennett, Jackson, and Todd Counties.
Opening in late December 2018, the business has grown busier as clients become aware of their services. “We have been doing outreach to local schools and other things to increase our visibility.”
The heart of their service lies in the work of helping those with any sort of disability to be as independent as possible.
Services are free for qualifying applicants. “We haven’t had to deny a request yet,” remarked Sterkel. “People are starting to learn that we are here, and it doesn’t cost them anything. We want to make their life easier.”
Funding for the program is provided by the State of South Dakota and grants.
They serve clients from age three and up, working closely with school age children who have an Individual Education Program (IEP) who have adaptive needs. “Typically the IEP’s have their educational component, but they also have adaptive components, and we focus on the adaptive components,” said Sterkel.
“That can be something as easy as processing grief, or with behavioral concerns. We work closely with the parents, the schools, and the SPED departments.”
Although both ladies work with a wide range of ages of clients, Raychel likes to specialize in working with children, and Roberta spends much time working with older clients.
Roberta has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services. “I’m always checking on people to see if they are all right. Most of my working background is in financial work, but I am excited to meet so many people. I love spending time with them.”
Roberta continued, “At the outreach events at school career days, I like it because the kids come over and they ask a lot of questions. I enjoy that. We share a lot of information with them.”
Other services include assisting people to find resources to suit their needs, such as helping navigate the application process for applying for disability. Sterkel added, “That process can be very lengthy, and can be very overwhelming.”
“If they don’t have internet access they can come here and I’ll walk them through the process of applying for disability, social security, or benefits through social services. We can also help with apartment searches and housing.”
Home modifications are available through the organization. These might be as simple as reachers, adaptive devices, or more detailed, such as ramps or lift chairs.
Devices for assisting with telecommunication, similar to other emergency call buttons are also available.
According to Sterkel, this is called an emergency response phone. It taps into the existing landline phone. Calls made from this device do not go to the 911 center. Instead, they are preprogrammed with phone numbers. In case of an emergency, it will call whoever is the first person listed. If they don’t answer, it goes onto the next, and will also leave an informational message. She explained, “It’s us talking, depending on who sets it up. We have put in quite a few of those. Qualifying for this part of the service is quite simple.”
Another part of the services offered is peer counseling, which provides opportunities for people to talk one-on-one or in a group with people in similar circumstances. This can be by phone, or email, or in person, depending on the want.
The ladies research assistive devices to compare prices quite often, as each individual has a monetary limit to the amount of aid they can receive.
In qualifying for this job, Sterkel has a degree in Criminal Justice, and recently spent many years at the South Dakota Department of Social Services and at local schools. “My whole past has been helping other people and having that sense of satisfaction.”
“I’m hoping that when people see some of the projects we are doing, that others will see what we are capable of.”
“I thrive on working with kids, getting them to evolve and take accountability. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of dealing with behavioral problems.”
One challenge for the organization is finding qualified contractors for installing some of the adaptations, such as the grab bars in a bathroom. Any construction project requires two bids.
Sterkel explained the growth of their office, “Our clientele is growing, although we started out pretty slow, because nobody knew we were here. We’ve done a lot of outreach going to different communities, getting the word out, talking with schools to let them know of our services. If we have a student who has adaptive needs, we can help with that.”
“We advocate a lot for people. If they just need someone to go with them for application needs, or helping people with any learning needs they have.”
Located at 316 W. Main Street, the ladies welcome you to stop by to learn more about their services.
More information can be found at www.ilcchoices.org.