For more than forty-four years, Over the Rainbow (OTR) has helped to provide independent living solutions to countless numbers of individuals who are not only dealing with income issues, but also with physical disabilities.
One of those individuals goes by the name of Chris.
“Chris has not only been able to live in an accessible barrier-free apartment independently, but has also improved the quality of his life through securing a job, participating in adaptive sports, traveling, writing and publishing numerous books of poetry, and holding his own art show,” explains OTR Executive Director Eric Huffman. “Through his success at OTR, Chris has become an integral part of his community and is also empowered to advocate for others with disabilities to live independently, have improved access to services, and choose how they would like to spend their day.”
Of course, it cannot go understated what might have happened to Chris if OTR was not there to offer the helping hand he needed.
“One out of three OTR residents would be forced to live in a nursing home or state institution if they were unable to live with us,” says Huffman.
The story of OTR began all the way back in 1974, when a group of parents were looking for a housing solution for their physically disabled children as they got older. Through the years, OTR would open housing developments such as Belden Apartments in Lincoln Park and Hill Arboretum Apartments in Evanston.
Today, OTR has 11 barrier-free apartment communities across Northern Illinois with the 12th, 13th, and 14th buildings opening in the next year.
“Demand for our newest development was five times the available number of apartments,” explains Huffman. “The need for the type of housing and services OTR provides goes far beyond what we are able to accomplish due to funding, land availability, and community support. OTR believes every municipality with 10,000 or more could benefit from an OTR-style apartment community.”
Yet, OTR goes far beyond providing housing. Indeed, the group puts as much emphasis on their residents’ daily life within the building as they do outside of the building. OTR is known for its vast offering of person-centered services and enrichment programming.
“These services include but are not limited to advocacy, health care management, budgeting, conflict resolution, and monthly programming classes such as, art, yoga, sign language, cooking and nutrition, and many more,” Huffman says. “OTR is able to give our residents the skills and resources they need to be active members of their community.”
In fact, residents of Evanston in particular have long known the contributions that OTR residents, such as Chris, offer to the community with each and every passing day.
“Many of our residents at the Hill Arboretum apartments in Evanston volunteer, have jobs within the community, attend city meetings, and have sat on city commissions,” says Huffman. “Plus, just being apart of OTR brings an incredible joy. It’s just such a great cause.”
Over the Rainbow Association is located at 2040 Brown Avenue in Evanston. For more information, call 847.328.6633 or visit otrassn.org.