On My Own of Michigan hosted a ribbon cutting Nov. 15 to celebrate its new Independence College program, which helps those with developmental disabilities learn to live independently.

On My Own of Michigan hosted a ribbon cutting Nov. 15 to celebrate its new Independence College program, which helps those with developmental disabilities learn to live independently.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

New program aims to aid those with developmental disabilities to gain independence

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published November 22, 2023


TROY — New opportunities for those with developmental disabilities are available thanks to a Troy organization that celebrated a new groundbreaking program with a ribbon cutting Nov. 15.

On My Own of Michigan was created to help people with developmental disabilities learn to become self-sufficient and live on their own. The new two-year program is called “Independence College.”

“It is our two-year, college-like residential experience for adults with developmental disabilities to help grow their independent living skills,” said Emily Lourim, the director of education. “Our students have been in class for about two months now, but we are taking today to share this new program with the broader community.”

“The college program is aimed at those in their 20s or 30s. On My Own has been around for 25 years, and it has helped someone who is 60 years old, and our youngest right now is 18 years old,” added lead instructor Kayla Gaffney. “Our main goal is for them to live independently, but also to thrive and hold a job so they can live on their own or with roommates. We want to give them a sort of compass for a life that all adults are looking for.”

Lourim said this program is designed to bridge the gap between school experiences and living independently, noting that for someone who can’t attend a typical college or university, the time between when they end school and when they live independently is a big jump.

“During the day, they participate in classroom work based around our uniquely designed curriculum,” she explained. “In the evenings, they are supported by our evening instructor who helps them learn how to live if they want to go to the gym, cook dinner, do chores and so forth. We also do things week to week to get them involved in the community. We’ll go to the Troy Community Center and the library, for instance. We go grocery shopping weekly to make sure they have food for their apartments. We’ll go on walks through downtown Birmingham.”

“We have lessons based on employment, transportation, home management, personal management, money management, relationships and general education,” Gaffney elaborated. “We make it very individualized. We start with the main lesson that Emily has created the whole curriculum for, but we now can branch out. If two students are working on different paths toward, for instance, money management, I would sit down and work with them apart from our other students.”

Gaffney said that Independence College is already proving successful and students in it are showing incredible growth.

“We’ve had our six current students do one prep weekend, which is this other branch of our programs. They do a full weekend with classes at a hotel. Once they complete that prep program, they can come into this new college program,” she said. “Independence is our goal for students, as the name implies. Everyone is starting from very different levels. We have some students who have started with needing support with basic small tasks around the house. Now we are working on managing transportation and holding a job. Many of them have not had a full-time job. Through the program, they can then go and get a job in a field of their choice. When they start, we even have job coaches out there with them.”

Stephen Eckert is a student in the Independence College program and said he is learning a lot and that it is making it possible for him to pursue his dreams.

“I have learned about mental well-being and money management. We also learned about how to function better with others,” said Eckert. “I want to accomplish my dream goal (after completing the program). I want to be a DJ.”

Those interested can check out On My Own of Michigan online at www.onmyownofmi.org or by calling them at (248) 649-3739.

“They do pay tuition, which is currently $40,000 per year. We do have outside scholarships available,” Lourim said. “We’re currently trying to get more scholarships. Terms run from September to mid-December and January to Memorial Day. Programming is five days a week from approximately 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., in addition to an activity on the weekend.”

On My Own runs several other programs as well.

“Our independent living program was what we were running before,” said Lourim. “It is still running, and it mostly supports those who are currently living independently. It’s more of a life-coaching service. We also have our skill building program, which offers four activities every week but also builds social community by having bowling nights or doing things like going to concerts in the park.”

Lourim and Gaffney both said that helping those with developmental disabilities stand on their own two feet is a tremendous goal, since it helps those who often don’t receive the help they need and allows them to, in turn, better their communities.

“We’re really designed to support (our students) in a unique way,” said Lourim. “All of our students are individuals, and we see them as individuals first. Our program is really designed to make sure each individual’s needs are met in their own unique way.”