PACE is one of 600+ Centers for Independent Living in the country, 22 are in Illinois. We serve 5 Illinois counties; Douglas, Edgar, Piatt, Champaign and Vermilion. Our services support the efforts of people who have disabilities to achieve or maintain independence.
PACE is an organization run by and for people who have disabilities. Our board of directors must be made up of 51% persons with disabilities. This insures our services are designed by people who have disability experience
Persons Assuming Control of their Environment, Inc. (PACE, Inc.) offers services which assists persons with disabilities in achieving and/or maintaining independence. Our goal is the full participation of persons with disabilities in the rights and responsibilities of society.
PACE was incorporated May 21, 1985 under the original name Champaign-Urbana Center for Independent Living. We opened our doors and started providing services November 26, 1986. Our first board of directors were: Jeffrey Dean Hately, Lois Kathryn Bennin, Michael Joseph Budnik, William Jess Goodman, and Robert Nolan Drew. Lois Bennin left the board to became the first PACE Executive Director. Nancy McClellan-Hickey was hired as the first Program Director and Diane Hunt(now Annie Comfort) as the first Deaf Services Coordinator.
The first office was in the Champaign County Bank Plaza, the tall white building across from the county courthouse. The large windows of the office looked over the rooftops of down town Urbana. The bus stop was right there. The office was accessible in a time when many weren’t. If we were going to reach all 7 counties we served at the time, we knew we had to have help. We started a volunteer program right away. At the time Pat Chapel, a national expert on volunteerism, was at the local United Way and she had developed a community counsel on volunteerism that was very helpful. Iroquois and Ford counties were eventually give to CILs Options and LIFE, respectively. Eventually it became apparent our name was misleading and people thought we only served Champaign-Urbana. Our volunteer Barb Pritchard who eventually became our first Independent Living Coordinator suggested the name PACE because she was thinking about who are we what do we actually do and she realized we assist People Assuming Control of their Environment.
After a couple years PACE eventually outgrew the first office and moved to inside Sunnycrest Center near Florida and Philo Road in Urbana, still on the bus line and an accessible office. Another 2 years and we moved within the Sunnycrest Center to the current office with a northern entrance of our own. Our programs and budgets growing all along. We started at $250,000.00 budget in 1986 we were and still are funded through legislation specifically for establishing Centers for Independent Living that is referred to as the Rehab Act and now WIOA. After a few years we acquired PA services through funding by Home Services/DRS and what use to be part C of the Rehab Act – Independent Living Services to the Elderly Blind. For Obvious reasons we changed the name to a more palatable Visual Impairment north of 55 years. Those were the early funding sources and we still receive those funds. The names of people who have made PACE the respected agency it is today are too numerous to mention. We attract good people who want to do positive things. We are members of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living and our Executive Director has a seat on that board. INCIL makes it easier for the Illinois centers to coordinate and work together to continue building the Independent Living Movement and the awareness of the needs and abilities of people who have disabilities.
In the late 80s PACE worked with all the CILs and disability organizations to educate people about the Americans with Disabilities Act before it was passed. We called gave testimony and wrote letters to legislators , informed consumers of the progress and activated action alerts to make pwds, service providers, families and friends opinions known. Before the ADA we would reach out to businesses and schools and medical facilities etc. about accessibility to tell them about the importance of accessibility. Sometimes they didn’t want to know. The difference to PACE after the passing of the ADA was businesses and organizations started seeking the info we were trying to give them before…. a huge difference. Suddenly the law had teeth/consequences and over time we could show the advantages of accessibility and reaching out to customers with disabilities. Our staff had the honor of being on a statewide call with Justin Dart after the passing of the ADA and he said told us that Illinois made important contributions to the passing of this landmark legislation. He said they couldn’t have done it without us.