The beginning of Independent Living Services is rooted in the Arkansas Children’s Colony, now called the Conway Human Development Center. Built in Conway, Arkansas in 1959, the purpose of the colony was to serve children with developmental disabilities.
With the idea that young adults with lesser disabilities could be taught and transition out of an institution, the concept for Independent Living Services was born.
With the initial goal of turning people around within a year or two, Independent Living Services would be a way station to help people find and maintain jobs and homes of their own.
Then in 1970, Title XIX was introduced, which established, as law, that “everyone has the right to live in the least restrictive environment possible.” Through Title XIX, federal funds were distributed to state agencies.
It was from them that Independent Living Services received their first grant in 1970 to put their theory to the test. In less than a year, they opened their doors to their first residents.
The founder of Independent Living Services and first Executive Director, Peggy Schneider, reflects, “We opened our doors in July of 1970. All of the people who lived there came from the Arkansas Children’s Colony. It was a men’s home. It was a two story old house that we renovated on a very small amount of money we received.”
With that small amount of money, Independent Living Services grew. With the success of the men’s house, Independent Living Services set their sights on a similar house for women and by 1977 was opening the doors of Reynolds House.
But with this growth came new challenges. Individuals with more severe disabilities being accepted by Independent Living Services.
The Arkansas Children’s Colony, now known as the Conway Human Development Center, realized if they were to see their residents successfully transition from institutional to independent living they would need to make some changes of their own.
“We began to focus, from our perspective, on training folks how to become more independent in brushing their teeth, going to the bathroom, preparing their meals, and cleaning up after themselves,” said CHDC Superintendent Calvin Price. “As a result of that those people learned a certain level of independence that allowed them to move out into community programs such as Independent Living Services, a program that required that level of independence before they could be accepted into that program.”
“There wasn’t anything written anywhere about how we were supposed to do things so we just kind of made it up as we went along,” said former Executive Director Peggy Schneider. “Whatever worked, we did it. We always took the position that if you treat people the way you would like to be treated then they will respond likewise. That was about it. With the good Lord’s help and some intelligence, we muddled through.”
In the late 1970s, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) expanded their rules for the types of housing they would fund, which opened a door for opportunity for Independent Living Services.
With funding from HUD, Independent Living Services pursued two ambitious building projects. The first, a 17 unit apartment complex that would allow residents to truly live on their own with the help of an apartment manager. The second project was to replace the original house on Independence Street with two new group homes. One for men. One for women.
Then in 1990, Schneider House, also known as Creative Living, was added. Schneider House represented another expansion in the services provided by Independent Living Services, as it provides a group home environment for people with more involved disabilities and has nursing staff available. Schneider House is an ICF/IID (intermediate Care Facility for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities).
In 1996, Independent Living Services expanded it’s services even further with the opening of Profiles Enrichment Center, an adult development program for individuals with developmental disabilities.
The next project in the growing world of Independent Living Services was in 2001 with the addition of a 17 unit apartment complex in Greenbrier. Another apartment complex, Florentz Estates, was built and opened in 2007. Florentz Estates is located in Conway and provides 24 hour awake staff to all residents.
In 2011 Independent Living Services purchased a 32,000 square foot property at 615 E. Robins St. in Conway Arkansas. Profiles, Profile Productions, Waiver Services, Human Resources and Executive offices are all working out of that location.
In 2014 Independent Living Services expanded to start providing Supported Employment Services. They have three certified job coaches and have helped over 30 individuals with disabilities find jobs in the community.
In all, Independent Living Services now provides homes and support to over 200 people in central Arkansas.