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The City Journals

Utah Independent Living Center hosts 5K race to raise money for programs

Apr 29, 2019 10:55AM ● By Cami Mondeaux

Participants cheer after they finish the Run & Roll 5K in 2018. From left to right is Cindy Medau and Aaron Winkler with Robert Garcia to the side. (Photo courtesy Utah Independent Living Center)

By Cami Mondeaux | [email protected]

Utah Independent Living Center (UILC) will be hosting its 29th annual 5K Run & Roll race on June 1 to raise money for the facility and the various programs it provides. 

UILC is a private organization in South Salt Lake that provides services for people with disabilities to become more independent in their homes and communities. 

“We live in a world… that is better because of the diversity that the community now has,” said Debra Mair, director of UILC. “I think people with disabilities are an integral part of… everyone’s community and they should have the same opportunities and the same rights as everyone else.”

The center opened in 1982 as the first independent living center in Utah and is now the largest facility of its kind serving 2,079 in 2018, said Mair, who was hired as a member of the original staff.

The nonprofit agency assists participants in multiple ways, providing classes that enhance their living skills. One of the most valuable skills is learning the difference between being assertive and being aggressive, Mair said. 

“We do a lot on self-advocacy,” Mair said. “Teaching people how to represent themselves well to get the services and the things they need.”

UILC provides seven different programs participants can enroll in, including Community Integration where people can engage in recreational activities in the surrounding area.

It also serves as a way for the outside community to increase their understanding, accommodation and acceptance of the participants’ needs and abilities. 

“We try to help people become comfortable just participating out in the community on their own,” Mair said. “And part of that is also making the community more comfortable around people with disabilities.”

These programs specialize in cultivating independence and self-value. 

“I think people feel so much better about themselves if they have a sense of independence,” said Kent Ryan, a UILC volunteer. “If they can do that on their own instead of having to rely on everyone else for their needs…. it helps [them] feel self-fulfilled.”

Within these programs, there are several classes that teach basic life skills such as cooking, writing and housing. 

The center also provides individual care, allowing for a personalized path to community integration.

“Independence depends on the person,” Mair said. “It doesn’t mean you have to do everything for yourself. It means you have some choices in your life.”

Some participants said the center was important for them to learn how to do things while being comfortable in the given environment. 

“When I first started coming, it was just my dad trying to get me to socialize with more people,” said Eric Swanson, a UILC participant. “[Before that], I was just spending time at the house and doing nothing.”

Swanson has engaged in several classes with the center, including a writing and cooking class. He said it helped him hone his communicating skills and has given him opportunities to speak with others, including his legislators, about what he finds important.

“[I think the center is important] to meet new people and to know there’s always help out there,” Swanson said. 

What makes the UILC unique from other independent living centers in Utah is that 51 percent of the staff have disabilities, using this to model important life skills in a way that is relatable to the participants. 

“[We] do this because independent living centers believe that the person who knows most about a… disability is that person themselves,” Mair said. “And sometimes it makes a difference if you have staff who are doing well and can model some skills, who you can ask questions to like ‘How did you do this?’ … I think it really does help to feel like you fit in with who you are working with.”

Most services UILC provides are free and don’t require income criteria, allowing for a more accessible program. The center relies on state and federal grants which is where fundraising opportunities like the 5K come into play, said the UILC directors. 

The Run & Roll 5K is held not only as a fundraising opportunity, but as a chance for people with disabilities to participate in an event they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. 

The 5K includes seven different categories: assisted wheelchair, non-assisted wheelchair, running, walking, hand-cycle, child runner and child wheelchair. 

It is not a competitive race and is intended for people who wouldn’t ordinarily run to socialize, said Kent Ryan, UILC 5K committee chairperson. 

“It’s a low-key [event],” Ryan said. “No one’s going to laugh at you if you don’t finish.”

The race will be held on June 1 at Jordan River Trailhead Park beginning at 9:30 a.m. For more information, visit www.uilc.org