Pauline Nelson turned to The Independence Center after suffering three brain injuries in three years that affected her balance and vision. She also has a history of back problems and bone and nerve damage that altered the feeling in her legs and feet.

So when The Independence Center, in partnership with Achilles Pikes Peak and CityROCK Climbing Center, offered her and other clients an opportunity to scale a climbing wall, “it was something that in my wildest imagination I could not picture myself doing,” Nelson said.

But she thought she’d just go to one of the rock-climbing sessions and watch.

“I saw how much fun they were having,” she said, and decided to give it a try.

On her first attempt, she climbed to about 12 feet. By the time she left that day, she had climbed 30 feet, to the top of the wall.

“It gave me so much joy, and it also gave me a huge sense of freedom,” Nelson said. “Now I see challenges like that wall. If I could climb that wall, then what else can I do? It changed the way I look at possibilities.”

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Giving people new hope and decreasing isolation are two of the things The Independence Center does best, CEO Patricia Yeager said.

“That’s the secret sauce — helping people see that they can overcome things,” Yeager said. “When you see other people who have a disability getting married, going to school or rock climbing, you realize you can do whatever you set yourself up to. We are teaching people to fish; we don’t give them a fish. That’s really what independence is all about.”

The Independence Center was founded in 1987 by people with disabilities who saw a need for independent living and home health care services in the community.

The center’s home health agency provides skilled medical and personal care that enables people with disabilities to remain at home and out of a nursing home or rehabilitation facility.

The Center for Independent Living provides information, coaching, training and support that enable clients to create the life they want and accomplish their goals.

The center also advocates, mentors, organizes and lobbies to assist individuals and the community in identifying and addressing barriers to independence for people with disabilities.

Yeager joined the center seven years ago.

“When I first got here, we had 160 people working,” she said. “Our Independent Living Center has grown from three people to a staff of 42. … Home health has grown tremendously, from 125 clients to 230, and 250 staff.”

In total, the center serves more than 1,200 people in six counties. The home health agency is a social enterprise that is at the heart of the organization.

“We have found a lot of work we can get paid for,” Yeager said, “but all of that money goes right back into our programs.”

In 2015, the center purchased a certified nursing assistant training program to help fill the critical shortages of those caregivers in the region, as well as to provide staff for the home health program.

The center bought a 14,000-square-foot building next to its main building in January to accommodate the growing CNA program and the expansion of all of its services.

The Vets in Charge program, which provides home- and community-based services to 90 veterans, has a goal of 170 recipients. A hospital-to-home program offers support to people who might otherwise be headed for a nursing home.

“Separately, we do a program transitioning people out of nursing homes,” Yaeger said. “We see a lot of people who don’t need to be there, but it’s difficult because they can’t find affordable, accessible housing. If they still have housing, we can keep them there, and it’s much less expensive.”

All of these programs are going to expand in the future.

Givers to The Independence Center “are investing in the idea that people with disabilities can participate in the community, can work, can have a life, and not be dependent on society,” Yaeger said.

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