Kyle Bean and Kevin Schneider, advocates of full life for everyone.                          RoundTable photo

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Kevin Schneider worked 18 years as a bagger at Dominick’s on Green Bay Road; Kyle Bean worked as a bagger at the same store for eight years. They became fast friends working nearby aisles. When the grocery chain closed its doors in December, both men turned for help to Center for Independent Futures (CIF), the Evanston-based not-for-profit that supports people with disabilities.

Kevin and Kyle are among thousands of clients (called “participants”) CIF has assisted since its founding in 2002 by Evanstonians Jane Doyle and Kay Branz. The organization, located since last February in a spacious 3,200-square-foot office suite at 1015 Davis St., provides counseling, social programs, housing and other services to help individuals with disabilities and their families develop the skills and opportunities “to realize full lives,” as CIF’s missions statement says. Since 2007, CIF has helped Evanston Township High School teachers work with special-ed students. In 2014, that assistance will be extended to District 65 middle schools as well. CIF also supports ETH’s Transition House, 1742 Lemar Ave., a block west of the school, to help graduating students adapt to independent living.

Kevin first came to CIF in 2004 when he needed help finding a place to live. “He had no social life,” said his mom, Susan Schneider. “I was very concerned. He was almost 30 and living at home,” With the organization’s assistance, Kevin moved into an apartment on Harrison Street. CIF staffers reside at four Evanston residences where the organization places participants. “I was thrilled. After that, he became so much more social,” Ms. Schneider said.

To help in the transition to independent living, Kevin worked with CIF tutors to hone his skills, learning to shop, cook, do laundry, take public transportation and master the details of living on one’s own. Once Dominick’s announced it was closing, Kevin utilized CIF programs to find a new job, getting help with business cards, writing a resume and sharpening his interview skills.

“We start with new participants by developing a supportive network of friends, families and CIF professionals,” said Dr. Doyle. “One of the first things we do is determine what a person’s hopes and dreams are. In Kevin’s case, it’s to get a job. Over-all, our goal is to build a network of community support that can help people become self-sufficient and sustain them beyond the lifetimes of their parents. That’s really critical.”

Kyle started going to the center after being invited by Kevin to a CIF-sponsored Cubs outing in April 2011. A big baseball fan, he had a great time and was intrigued by CIF’s programs. He started attending the monthly social club, at which participants “chit-chat, snack, talk about our favorite TV shows and what’s going on in the world,” he said. Kyle is also a regular at the monthly volunteer club, bagging gifts and making lunches for church homeless shelters and senior centers. “The people at the center are nice enough to pitch in, to help those less fortunate,” Kyle said.

“I am thrilled with the things CIF has done for Kyle,” said his mother, Joyce Miller-Bean. “He loves it there. I think they are wonderful people and I couldn’t be more happy he’s involved with them.”

Kyle’s younger sister Lauren is a University of Chicago masters student. She said the two are “very close – even though we’re polar opposites. He’s quiet and eats meat and I’m a chatty vegetarian!”

Just 19 months apart, the siblings went to school together and shared friends growing up. Lauren, who returned home last year from studying at Oxford University in England after a stint in Kosovo, where she worked with rape victims and co-wrote a paper published by the UN Development Fund for Women, said they learned a lot from each other.

“I was able to teach him some things, but he taught me a lot too,” she said. “He’s so empathetic, so naturally giving and incredibly thoughtful, and I’m studying to be a social worker, so those are wonderful skills for me to emulate.”

On the job front, there is good news for Kevin. Thanks to CIF’s help, he has landed a position bagging groceries at the Jewel in Wilmette, just a few blocks north of his old Dominick’s. He started Jan. 4. Kyle is still looking but with CIF’s skills and tutoring assistance, is hopeful he too will soon be employed again.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently three consecutive Northern...