P.A.C.E. program teaches independence to youths with disabilities

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P.A.C.E. teaches young people with disabilities to live full and enriched lives independently. (WLS)

It's a program that's been around since the late 1980s, and it has helped hundreds of students go from living at home to living in a dorm to just simply "making a living" - a transition just like any other young adult.

Hallie Puttrich loves her part-time job at the high-end Mario Tricoci salon on the Magnificent Mile. She works here three days a week earning while she's learning.

The most important lesson for the 23-year-old is "that it's okay to be myself," she said.

The young Buffalo Grove woman is disabled, but the people say that's not getting in her way.

"She comes in and introduces herself and walks up and says, 'My name is Hallie and I'm going to be here helping,'" said Mallory Fritz, assistant general manager of Mario Tricoci Salon and Day Spa. "It's just been a delight to have her around."

Puttrich is so confident because of a program called Professional Assistance Center for Education (P.A.C.E.), at National Louis University.

"They work alongside typical workers because we set up the expectation for them that when they actually go into a work setting, they will be held to the same expectations as anyone else in the workplace," said Selima Hargadon, P.A.C.E. executive director.

Twenty-seven students live in dorms, go to class two days a week and work three days. On the weekends they are just like any other young adults, learning what it's like to live on their own.

"We teach them basic life skills that they need to operate in their own living space as well as how to get to work, what's expected of them at work and how to manage their balances between work and play," Hargadon said.

Jacob Scott says the program has expanded his horizons, teaching him how to be like any other 22-year-old.

"I'm learning it by doing new things by trying new things," Scott said. "By pushing myself to go to work, by pushing myself to problem-solve."

By the time they finish the two-year program, students say they are more than ready to take on the world.

"I'm hoping to get a job to move on with my life and hopefully sustain an independent living," Scott said.

The P.A.C.E. program has been so successful that it has become the model for other independent living programs all over the world.

In fact, right now there are students from as far away as South Korea and Saudi Arabia studying right here in chicago.

To learn more about P.A.C.E., visit www.nl.edu/pace/.
Related Topics:
educationeducationdisabilitydisability issuesChicago - Gold Coast
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