Joel & Alex, Friends for LIFE


When Joel knocked on Stephanie Shelton’s office one day back in 2018, he didn’t know that he was about to impact one of our client’s lives in such a positive way. Joel had recently moved to Bloomington in order to take a new job. In an effort to explore Bloomington, he sought opportunities to volunteer and LIFEDesigns was located a few blocks from his house. Joel was quickly immersed in our LIFEMentor  program which partners a community member with a client for mentorship. The LIFEMentor program places community members in supported friendships with LIFEDesigns clients who don’t receive enough state funding to cover very many staffing hours. This really accomplishes several things:

  1. It teaches community members how they can invite a person with a disability into their life as a friend.
  2. It facilitates the beginning of new friendships for people with disabilities (who so often have few people in their lives outside of staff or family members).
  3. It promotes real community inclusion for people with disabilities.
  4. It fosters independence through natural supports and relationship building.

Joel was matched with Alex. They quickly bonded and embarked on numerous events such as IU football games, scooter rides around town, and even volunteering during IU move in. Additionally, when Alex recently wanted more hours for work, he wasn’t able to get support through Vocational Rehabilitation. But because Joel was in his life, he was able to find a new job at Walmart with Joel’s guidance and support throughout the application and interview process. If it weren’t for this new connection in his life, Alex wouldn’t be able to leave his home very often for fun or social activities. 

Before volunteering at LIFEDesigns, Joel had never worked with the special needs community and believes that his experience as a mentor has helped him “become more humble and self-aware.” Joel believes that volunteering with individuals unlike himself makes you a richer person.

Watch this video on YouTube to listen to a bit more of Alex and Joel’s story:

If you are interested in becoming a LIFEMentor please contact Kristen King at 

William’s Success

William Wolfe IMG_0105

When William moved from Indianapolis to Columbus, Indiana, he struggled to find a job. He had moved looking for a change and turned to LIFEDesigns for support in finding employment.  Although William is a natural homebody, he enjoys talking to people, dogs, and camping. William worked with employment specialist, Ben Garlic in order to find a job that suited his personality and goals. He was not sure that he would be able to find a job, but Ben believed in him and encouraged him to put effort into job hunting.  Within a few months, William began to work as a greeter at Waffle House. He became responsible for assisting customers and keeping the restaurant clean. When asked what he enjoys most he responded, “I like talking to people. I was talking to a lady last weekend for twenty minutes about what we were doing. The other employees didn’t say anything. They like it when I do that.” William enjoys the support he gets from LIFEDesigns and he especially likes that he can snack during meetings with Ben. Ben has enjoyed working with William. He has watched William put effort into first getting his job and now improving his communication skills. William now wants to make his job, a career. “Look at me now, who would have thought I would be here now after a few months,” William exclaims. We are proud of what William has accomplished and how Ben was able to support him to achieve his goals. William’s story is just one of the many stories of success that our clients have been able to accomplish. This and other stories are only possible through the generous gifts from donors like you!   

Driver’s Ed at LIFEDesigns

Driver's Ed Group

The process to obtain a driver’s license can be challenging for many young adults. Coupled with a disability this challenge can almost seem insurmountable. Three young men set a goal to work towards this monumental step for independence, namely studying and passing the driver permit exam. Community Engagement Coordinator, Kristen King, quickly jumped in to help these clients achieve their goals. She began a Driver’s Ed study group which would meet weekly where these clients would take practice tests and quiz each other on topics. Additionally, she recruited a volunteer to assist with studying and teaching driving skills. When asked why, Kristen explained “LIFEDesigns goal is to make individuals with disabilities more independent. I hoped to take away a barrier leading to their greater independence.” After careful study, all 3 members took the test but were unable to pass because the test was conducted on a computer, an element they had not prepared for.  The clients persevered and continued to study diligently while Kristen planned testing accommodations with the BMV. The three clients took the test once again. This time the questions were read to them by a BMV employee. While none passed, two clients scored within a few points of a passing score. The group has not given up hope and although they took a short break to celebrate their substantial accomplishments, they plan to meet once again to work on passing the test! This is a great example of how volunteers and donors combined to make this opportunity possible for these three clients. Because activities like individualized support for driver’s ed are not funded through program reimbursements, we must raise funds to give our clients the opportunities and support needed to successful with projects like this, and to ultimately achieve their highest level of independence. This is our mission put into practice. Our individualized planning process identified these three people who need a little extra support and a few accommodations to have the same opportunity to learn to drive that everyone else does. Thanks to all who support people with disabilities to work toward their goals. 

DSP Appreciation


Every year, National DSP Appreciation week is in September. It was Sept. 8 – 14 this year. We always appreciate our employees, but we try to show them some extra appreciation each year during this week. This year, our Human Resources team with the help of Kristen King our Community Engagement Coordinator planned a fun event for each day of the week. Some examples include watching Forrest Gump at the Starlite Drive In, laser tag, pub trivia, and cookies and canvas. Additionally, they hosted an employee awards banquet and collected nominations for employee awards. We had so many great nominations, it was difficult to choose only one person to receive the award in each category. Pictured above, Hailey Clark (from our Human Resources team) is presenting DSP of the Year (1-4 years) to Jessica Conway.

Jessica is just one example of the many outstanding employees that we’re fortunate to have working with us. Here’s what her nominators had to say about her:

“Jessica always goes above and beyond for her clients and puts them first. She puts a lot of effort into working with her clients and has significantly helped one person increase his communication skills. For this particular client he really doesn’t use speech to communicate, so that is a huge deal. His increased skills have helped him to communicate his needs and wants, and reduced the need for him to act out in desperation. It is evident that his happiness level has increased because of her dedication and efforts to teach him alternative communication skills. The amount of thought she puts into how she can work better with him is very impressive. You can tell she truly cares about him and her job. She is reliable and always at work when she’s scheduled. She’s also willing to help in any way she can.”

Other award winners for 2019 were: Braden Kinser (DSP of the Year <1 year), Laurie Norton (DSP of the Year for >5 years), Erin Thurston (Administrator of the year)

We’re so grateful to all of our employees for the time and effort they put into their careers at LIFEDesigns. To see open positions with LIFEDesigns, go to our careers page.


All Abilities Choir

Lauren & Jake Co-directors The All Abilities Choir is a new activity that LIFEDesigns has been able to facilitate for our clients and members of the community. The story about the All Abilities Choir really starts with Jake. Jake is an outgoing young man who loves music and baseball. Like any young person, Jake has big dreams. In recent years, LIFEDesigns has started a new planning process to help our clients identify what their dreams in life are, and set achievable milestone goals to help them make steps toward achieving their dream. Jake participated in this planning process in the past couple years, and through that process, we learned 2 things about Jake: that he really wants to be choir director, and that he wants to learn how to play baseball. In 2014, it was Jake who started our annual talent show for clients. Every year at the talent show it’s been a tradition for everyone who participates to join in together in the very last act and sing a song as a group. They’ve chosen some really fun songs over the years, such as the IU “This is Indiana” song, and the “Can’t Stop This Feeling (Dance, Dance, Dance)” song from the movie Trolls. This annual tradition inspired Jake to ask, “Why can’t we do this more than one time per year? We should practice together more often…” Through this idea and the support of Kristen King, our Community Engagement Coordinator the All Abilities Choir was born. The choir is for anyone who enjoys music. For Jake, “it means coming together and bonding through music”. There are currently 25 members including 5 volunteers who meet every other Wednesday from 4:15-5:15 at Arlington Heights to practice together. Each practice they practice singing 3 songs. Right now they’re giving a lot of time to practicing the National Anthem “Star Spangled Banner” because they’ll be performing that at LIFEDesigns upcoming golf outing, and at a North South Highschool basketball game.

Jake and Lauren (pictured above) are co-directors and help to guide the practices, but everyone involved has the opportunity to share their ideas, and the group tries singing different songs in different ways based on requests from all members. For Lauren, this was a great opportunity to get more involved with the community through volunteering.

“As much as I love studying music in an educational environment, the competitive side of the industry can often bring out the worst in people. There are many musicians both in the educational and real world motivated by self-interest and a desire for notoriety. This has always been a part of the culture of the music world, but I have struggled with this piece of my career and education. Volunteering allows me to reconnect to my own passions and the reason I want to be involved with music—to influence and positively inspire others.” 

We believe this choir is a great example of how volunteers and community members can help to make the community as a whole more inclusive to all people. People with developmental disabilities are so often isolated in society. This choir and LIFEMentor Volunteers are a great way to start making connections between community members and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. To join the choir, email or call Kristen King or (812) 332-9615.

To see upcoming events where the choir will perform, go to our Event’s page.

Friendships for Our Clients


Meet Jason (pictured above with his team manager Layla)

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Jason a little bit over the past couple of months. Jason is someone who is very outgoing, polite, likes to hang out with friends, and really enjoys being around other people.

Jason was born in Bloomington, but grew up hunting and fishing with his “PaPaw” in Bloomfield. He also really enjoyed 4-wheeling and racing go-carts, and always knew the best places to find mushrooms. When he was 15 he was in a very bad car accident and ended up spending the next 5 months of his life at Methodist Hospital in a coma most of the time. When he woke, he did extensive physical therapy and occupational therapy, but experienced traumatic brain injury. After the accident he experienced permanent changes in memory, attention, impulsivity, depression, and anxiety.

I invited Jason to attend the Toast of the Town events at Oliver Winery (June 30), Cardinal Spirits (July 27), and Upland Brewery (August 24), because he seemed interested in attending, and I know he appreciates getting time out in the community to meet new people. He doesn’t have staff supports on the weekends, so I decided to give him a ride to the events myself. During the time I spent with Jason, I learned that he really enjoys his job at Texas Roadhouse, and likes getting to see people from work. He also really wants to be able to meet someone he could have a relationship with. Jason would love to have a family of his own some day.
Reflecting on this, I realize just how important it is for the people LIFEDesigns supports to have friends in their life who aren’t staff. For Jason to get chances to meet someone he might be able to fall in love with, he needs to be able to regularly attend various social activities. Jason is not the only person I’ve gotten to know at LIFEDesigns who feels this way. Our LIFEMentor program is designed to support community members to have positive long term friendships with our clients. It’s such a simple way to have a huge impact. Learn more about becoming a mentor and friend on our volunteer page.