RAMP CIL Executive Director Jackie Sundquist admittedly “talks fast,” keeps facts at her fingertips, and engages others with her enthusiasm, dedication, and expanding vision for meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.

Her team’s results tell the rest of the RAMP CIL story.

“What sets RAMP apart,” Sundquist began when we spoke this week, “is all the services we provide beyond the five cores [skills training, peer counseling, individual and systems advocacy, transition.] We are consumer driven for our community and our creative staff goes over and above,” finding ways to meet consumers’ needs.

Sundquist outlined several areas where RAMP dedicates time and energy to expand services in addition to the usual services CILs offer. These activities are largely funded from RAMP CIL’s unrestricted funds.

* Disability awareness trainings include such topics as ableism, service dogs, micro agressions in the workplace, and more.

* Employment services, provided by braiding funding sources SSI Ticket to Work Program and DHS youth and adult contracts. In this performance-based program, RAMP is paid if consumers’ employment goals are met.

* Curriculum resources, three copywritten programs for early childhood through elementary-age classes, are sold to schools for their own use and are also offered as trainings for school staff. Topics include anti-bullying training, how to decrease separation and isolation, and much more. RAMP also helps high schools write grants for trainings.

* RAMP’s IGNITE program for middle-school students details the provisions of IEPs and 504s, high school preparation, self advocacy, enforcement of accommodations, and more.

* Teens in Transition, TNT, offers 14 practical life-stills sessions and involves business and community partners who are experts on program topics to teach alongside RAMP staff. For example, a banking representative will teach banking skills, use of credit, how to save money, and more. These community partners get more than the feeling of a job well done; they get “good will” credit for serving a marginalized population.

* Project SEARCH provides on-the-job training for high school seniors – primarily students with developmental disabilities who will find it difficult to get a job after high school.  Three area businesses – Mercy Health in Rockford, Northwestern Medicine at Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb, and Embassy Suites in Rockford – offer this school-to-work program with on-site special education classes and three 10-week department internships. This braided funding, performance-based revenue source for RAMP is paid when students meet their employment goals: a job where they are paid at least minimum wage, for at least 20 hours/week, in an integrated workplace setting, for the target milestone amount of time.

“Our goal is 100 percent of interns employed post-graduation,” says Sundquist. “The impact has been great. Transition programs in schools are not getting the job done.” And the effects go beyond simple participant employment. “One of our students was hired where he served his three internships. He not only has a cool job title and a lot of responsibility, but he has also become a mentor to other students coming into the program, and spoke at our annual board meeting in 2021,” says Sundquist. “There are tons of amazing success stories.”

* Youth Advocacy — “We have a pretty strong youth advocacy program that isn’t funded by anyone,” says Sundquist. “We hire and train adult and youth advocates who are passionate about eliminating discrimination and breaking down barriers to education – such as families whose children are being inappropriately suspended or not getting the needed accommodations. We spend time helping get evaluations and diagnoses, and establishing eligibility, for special education services; increasing the services provided; and helping ensure that students become independent in their communities as adults,” Sundquist says. “We have a wait this for this program, and the State doesn’t pay for it, so we self-fund the program.”  

So how does RAMP do it?!

“State and federal funds don’t cover costs, and don’t allow for growth. We have a Development department. Combined with the Marketing team, they raise approximately $.5 million a year through foundation donations, annual appeals, special events, and grant writing.”

This money is crucial. “For CILs to ever grow and truly meet the needs of their consumers and their community, they need to invest in self-funding programs and services,” says Sundquist.

Among other things, RAMP writes to foundations and community partners who have funding ability and a personal tie to the disability community. “There are funding sources out there,” Sundquist explains “who appreciate the impact CILs can make. They get to put their name and business on their program involvement, and they hear the true stories of the disability community.”

One of the main things is, in fact, listening for, and learning how to tell, a story. “It’s the stories people remember.” And we tell prospective donors, truthfully, “If you invest in us today, it’s an investment forever.”

CILs across Illinois can start small and grow one step at a time. Want to learn more? RAMP provides consultation and training services for groups to develop their own self-funding sources and success stories. For more information, visit www.rampcil.org.

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