Independent Living Skills & Peer Services with Terri Poucher and Mark Brisbane

Terry Poucher and Mark Brisbane joins us on this episode to talk about two of the five core services that all Centers For Independent Living provide: Independent Living Skills & Peer Services.

SPEAKERS: Terri Poucher, Mark Brisbane, Tony Delisle

Tony Delisle  00:00

Tell me and I will forget, teach me and I will remember, involve me and I will learn Benjamin Franklin. Welcome to another episode of the independent life podcast. Very excited about this one, we are featuring two of the five core services that all Centers for Independent Living do. Independent living skills and peer services. Independent living skills and peer services here at the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida are run by Terri Poucher, and Mark Brisbane. I hope you enjoy the interview. And welcome to another edition of The Independent Life. I am so excited about today’s episode we are bringing to you, Terri Poucher, she is our independent living skills teacher, coordinator, and Mark Brisbane. He’s our consumer outreach specialist, Director of our wheelchair ramps which you have an episode for you all to take a look at and check out. But today we’re going to be talking about independent living skills and peer services. Both Terri and Mark are steeped with experience in this area. Terry has been working at our center for 14 years, Mark 11, collectively 25 years of wisdom to share with everybody here, you know, I come from the field of teaching, I myself have a disability and work with other people with disabilities and peer support. So I’m very excited about the work that they do. So I’m very excited for them to share that work to share their experience with you and what it’s all about and hope for those of you that are listening and want to participate in some of their independent living skills groups or peer supports that you will reach out to us to make sure that you get connected with that. We’re going to dive into independent living skills. And I’m going to start out with asking why independent living skills?

Terri Poucher  02:00

I would say why not? I think it’s fun to learn, and try new things. Maybe remember some things that you’ve forgotten about. And we need many skills in order to be able to keep or gain our independence. And it’s also really important, I think, just for life in general to experience as many different things you can have different things to learn about. And it’s always an adventure and exciting to learn, I think something new. And I try and think of our group as friends doing things together, rather than a class. Because to me a class sounds like school. And I didn’t really care for school. And I think a lot of our people have had a rough time in school as well. So rather than thinking about going to a class and you know, thinking it’s going to be like school, or they might have homework or it’s going to be boring, I like them to think of it as a group. And we just get together and we do things together and just have fun. But we’re learning as well. 

Tony Delisle  03:03

One thing I like about the group that you all have and work with here, Terri, it’s a group of people of all disabilities, all different ages, backgrounds, experiences, the diversity within this group is fantastic. And I can see how you all collectively are just a wonderful connected group of people. So that that is hugely appreciated. And I love that you bring into this the mindset that we don’t want to make it too stuffy to, you know, schoolish, but at the same time, learning things kind of from an education, entertaining edutainment type of way. But again, it kind of drill down into the why, why are independent living skills important?

Terri Poucher  03:44

Well, I think they need to learn a lot of ways to help keep themselves healthy, they’re more prone to illnesses due to their disability. So we’ve talked a lot about making good food choices, doing some exercising, budgeting, advocating for ourselves, boundaries, that you know, we don’t want to cross, we don’t want others to cross. Making good decisions, safety issues. I mean, there’s just so many things that they need to be able to stay safe and to stay healthy. But we want them to learn in a fun way. You know, like is a not like a classroom, do fun, show examples. We do a lot of videos and games and all kinds of things just to kind of reinforce, but in a fun way, so that they’re learning without really realizing that they’re learning. Independent living skills, because of that improve their quality of life. I’ve taught a lot of things like new things like identity theft, you know, a lot of these people, myself included, that was never an issue years ago. And reading food labels, that is so important now because of all the stuff that they put in there that we want to watch out for. And again, that when I was growing up, we didn’t have that and it’s really important for them to help them make good decisions and things that they might have forgotten, like fire safety, some first aid, you know, being safe when you’re outside in the sun, wearing sunscreen and protecting yourself, you know, against skin cancer, and just all different kinds of things like that they need to be taught or reminded of. And we do a lot of creative things, which I think improves our quality of life as using creativity with crafts, painting, music, we have UF interns all the time. And I always if someone has come from another country, or another place, I love to have them do a PowerPoint on their culture. So I bring diversity in and they bring in diversity. And that helps us to better understand other people and accept other people and other cultures. And we learn something for geography, we learn, Where is this place, you know, where is this located, and what kind of weather do they have there, what kind of clothes do they wear. And we also work a lot on community inclusion, trying to get them out into the community. So they’re not just sitting home, all alone isolated, being bored. Of course, now, it’s a little hard with COVID, obviously, but, you know, we used to be able to encourage them to get out and we would go out as a group and do a lot of fun things. We’ve been to all the different museums, we’ve had picnics at the park, gone to the mall for lunch, the planetarium. And a lot of times, if we weren’t able to go somewhere I would have guest speakers come in and teach us about things like the fire department, the petting zoo, Guardian angels service dogs, thatcome in. The bat conservatory came in and brought a bat in. So you know, all of these things. They’re fun to learn, but they also encourage their independence. And like with the bats, I don’t really like that. But when they brought it in, and they told us and taught us about the bat, then I realized, you know, it’s not going to try and kill me. So you learn a lot, and you just grow when you are learning new things. And I think that’s really important to always be growing no matter your age, you need to keep learning new and different things.

Tony Delisle  07:13

You know, Terri, I really appreciate how you provided a real good snapshot of all the different things that go into independent living skills and what they are between healthy lifestyles, you know, understanding different cultures, being safe. You know, there’s so many different aspects to it, including going out in the community and participating in the different things that are out there within our community, and bringing in people from different types of walks of life to get to know it, what I appreciate about what you do and what you bring to these independent living skills groups is the immersion into this. It’s not just a one dimensional education, it’s immersion into learning that is so important nowadays, because you serve so many different types of disabilities, people learn in different ways, you know, visual, auditory, kinesthetic, musical, you do so much art. So I really appreciate the different ways that you address the multiple types of learning styles and backgrounds and abilities of the diversity of students or members of your group that you work with. And that’s the real art of teaching right there. And that’s something I’ve always appreciated about it. So I think you’ve given a little bit of a good snapshot of the you know, the whys. What can people expect when they do come to your group?

Terri Poucher  08:33

Well, now since we’re virtual, obviously, it has to be a little bit different. But we meet on Zoom every Wednesday at 10:30 for an hour and a half. And I have volunteers as I said, I have UF interns and practicum students, and myself and Colleen, who’s the ILS teacher in the Ocala area. We all work on PowerPoints, and we come up with creative ideas that we want to teach on with PowerPoints. And in those we put videos, songs, Ted Talks, you know, all kinds of different things. A lot of times we try and do a game afterwards to reiterate what we’ve learned or just you know, to talk a little bit more about the subject. So it’s a lot of PowerPoints right now, just because we are virtual, but I’m incorporating for the new year starting in January, I’m going to get more guest speaker type people to come in and talk about different things for them. And we used to do a cooking segment once a month and I’m going to get that kicked off and talk to them and show them virtually and show them you know, on videos and some live demonstrations and or recorded demonstrations too, just some of the different ways to again cook, make good food choices, learn different techniques, and realize that it can be fun and it is something that they can do and they have choices with what they would like to eat and to be able to be healthy and take care of themselves. So I’m hoping that that will bring another aspect in again, that will be more fun for them and, and entertaining and teaching as well.

Tony Delisle  10:11

You know, it has been a challenge, since the COVID pandemic running these classes we used to do them face to face. And there’s a big upshot to that. But as well, there’s also an upshot to now being virtual, and perhaps we can reach more people. So if people are interested in joining this group, what are some ways that they can get involved?

Terri Poucher  10:30

It’s really easy, because we don’t require them to sign up beforehand or do anything, we just want them to come and join us. And we’ll worry about paperwork later, if they really enjoyed and they want to keep going, then we’ll do the paperwork that’s required of us. But just to join us, they just need to go to And then they put in the sign in is the phone number for the Gainesville office, which is 352-378-7474. And then there’s a password, and it’s cil class. And they just put those two things in, and we’ll let them into the classroom, and they join us and can participate. It’s really simple. It’s not hard at all.

Tony Delisle  11:14

I love that, yeah, we’re more accessible now in this virtual space, it definitely as an instructor, as a teacher, as a group leader, it’s a little more challenging, but you know, I know you’re up for the task, for sure. Because you’ve learned so much about teaching and instruction and face to face and all these other kinds of things. So I really appreciate how adaptable you are. And so with that, why do you love teaching? What is it about teaching that seems to endear you into it? It’s very obvious to me and to others, that it’s near and dear to your heart. But, you know, why is that? What is it about teaching?

Terri Poucher  11:49

I just like to see how excited they get when they learn something new, or when they remember something they had forgotten about. And you know, that they can relate to it. And it’s something that I think it makes them feel all included, because we’re all going through this together, whether it’s COVID, or if we’re cooking or whatever, everybody doesn’t know everything, you know, and that’s okay. So we just like to get together as a group. And I’ll just enjoy spending time with them listening to their stories, some of the things they come up with, it’s kind of surprising what they’re willing to share. But, but it makes it fun, you know, we and again, I don’t look as me, the teacher in there, the students, I look at us as a group of friends that get together and we just enjoy being together. And we laugh and joke and you know, try and have a really good time, a positive time, so that they’ll want to come back and the class really has been growing. So that’s awesome to see.

Tony Delisle  13:02

Terri, that’s beautiful. And I think it makes a really good segue here to bring in Mark about the peer supports and services aspect of this, again, one of the other core of the five core services that we do here. And so Mark has participated in many of your classes and helps to facilitate this peer interaction based part of it. So Mark, I would ask you, you know, why are these peer supports, and this group coming together an important part of the community of people with disabilities and living independently?

Mark Brisbane  13:35

It’s an Well, first I want to say too, to answer your question, working with Terri, because we both do the classes, special work, you know, on site on, it’s, it’s what, what I’ll say most, there’s most important that there’s been a family environment is created. And in doing peer support with the folks in the community, Tony, it’s, um, it’s a comfort level for them, once they do come in, and they, you know, we discuss different things, different topics, we may have come up and, you know, get into it. It’s not like a school setting, as Terri said. Me and her both, and I really, I’m fortunate to be able to work with Terri, because it’s easy to create that comfort level there with consumers. Because some of them come in there want to attend, you know, peer support or ILS classes. They’re nervous, and we try to break that ice with them, to let them know, Hey, we’re good people. We’re here all together, we support one another. That’s part of peer support. And I stress that to people whenever they meet with me that it’s a family environment totally. We like to keep it like that really comfortable, really smooth, happy. Everybody has a good time. It’s a it’s a place to only you know, not only to learn, but also to come to socialize. That’s a big aspect of it. And thank you, I’m very thankful you know that I do work with Terry because she creates, even not from just our list, but also the peer support aspect of going out in the community all together as one to enjoy being out and socializing, not just in a classroom setting, but also out in the community. So that’s just one of the biggest things to me, there’s probably more I could think of, but that that one element there is huge, because most of the folks in the community are isolated, they don’t get out, they just stare and look at the four walls because they don’t want to be around other people for whatever reason it may be. You know, that that affords them an opportunity to be around folks if they can get comfortable with.

Tony Delisle  15:50

I really appreciate what you’re saying there, Mark, I mean, we are social beings, we need each other. And unfortunately, it’s very common that people with disabilities even before the COVID pandemic, would report on having less quality of social networks, smaller social networks, less friends, less family support, and less connectivity to others in general. And we need that. And if people are listening to this and don’t have a disability, but are experiencing more isolation, and connection from others, they may be getting a window into this world that many of us live in to where we don’t have the connectivity that some other people may have. And when we have opportunities, like an independent living skills group, or peer supports and services that are provided by yourself and others here, that is valuable, that is gold, that is priceless. We are biologically physiologically wired to be socially connected to one another. It is a deep and important part of our well being with our health. And it is wonderful to create a space where people can feel safe and come together and and not feel stigmatized or judged. And it is just a wonderful thing to have that you all have created a fantastic culture. So I’m very appreciative of that, in that, Terri, I’ll start with you. What is it that you would want people to know that you’ve learned about people with disabilities through your experiences through your work with them?

Terri Poucher  17:23

Biggest thing I think I’ve learned to appreciate is the fact that regardless, everyone is an individual, they could all have the same disability. But they don’t all have the ability to do the same thing. You can’t look at a person say, well, you have a learning disability. So you can’t do this, or this, or you should be able to do this or that. Because it’s not true, everybody is still an individual. So even though they have a learning disability, they might be super good in math, but they don’t read very well. Or the other way around for someone else. So I have really learned to take a look at the individual and look at their abilities, and take everybody for what they can do and understand them as a person and not lump them all together and look at them as just a group of people with a problem in are things like that, I want to look at them as individuals. And I want all of them to realize that I care about them as an individual, and I see them for who they are. And I don’t see them and take pity on them or anything because they have a disability. And I try and understand them. And I try and work with them and what they need and just realize you know that I love them for who they are. And their disability doesn’t matter to me.

Tony Delisle  18:41

I love that, Terri, how you approach everybody as an individual. I love that point that you’re making about we are not to be pitied. It’s so heartfelt as you ended there. One of the things that I want to acknowledge about you and then I’m very grateful for is I do have before I came to the center, a good amount of professional experience in teaching. I’ve taught basically kindergarten through college, I’ve been witness to many great teachers out there and you are among one of the best that I’ve seen in terms of the planning that you do for each of your individual classes. You are so well prepared going into them. It is phenomenal. And that’s of course is a core trait for teachers. But beyond that you’re adaptable. So many of us that have been in the teaching world know that you can be extremely planned and well rehearsed. But then things out of your control will happen and lesson plan goes out the window and you got to be able to sing dance on your feet or be able to do whatever it is to adapt to the circumstances that are unpredictable and you are so adaptable. I know you’ve said sometimes you pretend to be Gumby. Some people may even listening know what Gumby is, Google it, but very flexible basically and adaptable in being able to do that. And I also want to acknowledge you for, to me the art of teaching is to be able to present something in a way that people can understand and act on. So part of its education and part of its skill. And to be able to do that with a group of learners that have multiple learning styles, different abilities, different ways of understanding and processing information is an art because you so many different people in there, you know, you don’t want to make something that’s too hard, too easy. And it’s just a pure art and one that you know, is in your DNA. So I just wanted to acknowledge you for having those core traits. And as a senator, honor to have you among the family and among the staff here. So Mark, I’m going to turn this same question over to you and ask you, what is it that you’ve learned through your work and your peer support, and then within your participation in these ILS groups, about people with disabilities that you would want other people to know about?

Mark Brisbane  21:03

Those folks are genuine, they have a heart too, they’re just like me, just like you. Their disability doesn’t define who they are, as a person. They all got big hearts, man, I’ve learned after I came here, 11 years ago, coming from where I came from, I didn’t know much about disabilities, other than spinal cord injuries. But once I got to be around the varying types of disabilities, I started learning about the person not looking at the disability in itself. And it just was amazing to me, you know, these people have overcome a lot of trials. And it’s just you, you just genuinely care for them people you love like a family. And I have learned so much over these 11 years, Tony, with the different ones that have come and ones that’s been there for a long time I look forward seems like a family here. Our classes are like, and I tell him and Terri does too, it’s a time to spend time with them. It’s like getting together on the front porch. Just enjoying some good time. Terri makes it easy, because she is the consummate Pro, I call her Mojo, she brought her Mojo man she can, she can make it happen, man, it’s just I know, if the day ever comes that I retire or whatnot leave, I’m going to miss her. Because it is family. We feel very blessed to be able to be around those folks and share a conversation with them. You don’t see anything with this family, you don’t see a wheelchair or a walker, you know, or maybe a mental disability, you don’t see none of that, you just see the person. That’s the best way to describe it Tony, for me. I told Terry I miss being in the classroom with them I’m looking forward to spending time with them.

Tony Delisle  22:55

Again, as do I, this time shall pass and we will be there. And I’m just thankful that we live in an age where we have the type of technology that we can still stay connected, it’s not as good as being there face to face, we certainly look forward to when we get to that time, but are very thankful that we have the technology to be able to still continue these services, and open it up to other people that you know, have barriers. Again, we serve 16 counties. It’s a very big catchment area and rural areas and you know, certainly access to this technology and is an issue for people with disabilities. But nonetheless, we’re very eager to explore how we can reach more people. And, you know, Terry gave some real good information that we’ll have listed in the show notes for how people can get involved with these great groups in classes. One last thing, and we’ll end there. It’s a question that I like to throw out there is closer to people. But the question would be, what is the independent life to you? What does it mean to live independently?

Terri Poucher  24:12

I think that being independent, and I think of these things all the time when I’m creating classes, and working with my consumers, being able to do things on your own, and not but not without help. No, you can do it on your own. But you need to be able to ask for help when you need it. You need to know that you need that help, just like any of us do. And being able to do realize you can do anything with your life. You know, it’s your choice. It’s not up to your disability. It’s up to what you want to do with your life. If you want to live on your own or get married or get a job or anything you know that anybody else can do. You can’t let your disability define you. You have to go for that and become independent and not depend on others. Sometimes it’s really easy, I think, to depend on someone else to do things, you know, especially when you’re a kid, you depend on mom to do everything, well, mom’s willing to do it, then I don’t have to do it for myself, and you don’t learn that way. But hopefully, you know, with taking ILS classes, too, they can learn that they can do things on their own, and they can make decisions that affect their lives, and they can better themselves if they want to. And that would mean that they have their independence.

Tony Delisle  25:29

Thank you, Terri. Mark, how about you? How would you answer that question? What is the independent life mean to you?

Mark Brisbane  25:36

It’s tremendous. It affords you the opportunity to, to chase after your dreams to accomplish any little thing. You can do any small thing, any big thing, it enhances your abilities, and it doesn’t put them all in a box, you just don’t feel like I can’t you, you don’t feel like the word I can’t is there anymore. The word I can is now in place. Now you ready to roll, do one thing, get it done, you can move on to the next big thing. I’ve learned that from own disability at the age of 17, that once I learned how to do this, or that I can do this and that. And in my life now, from 17 years old, I’m using me as an example of what the independent life means. Now the age of 54, married, work at a job helping folks with disabilities, have three children, there are a handful, and I drive and do all the things I was told when I got hurt, it’s probably not a possibility. So the independent life to me is go for it. You know, give it your best shot and see what comes out. Yeah there’s going to be tests, there’s going to be trials, but there’s gonna be hills and valleys, but just keep pushing, just max as hard as you can to get everything you can out of it. That’s the best way I can define it.

Tony Delisle  26:58

wonderful answers from both of you. And and you know, I totally agree about you know, Terry and making informed decisions and choices and having that autonomy in your life and to acknowledge to while we do talk about independence, there is some level of interdependence. You know, even people without disabilities rely on other people. And that’s a very important part of those kinds of things. And, and Mark, I love how you bring into, well, if I can do this, maybe I can do another thing or anything. And that inertia, that momentum of learning something doing something can lead into so many different areas. And, you know, I harken back to your comment about, you know, potentially retiring one day, and as you mentioned, having three little little ones there, I don’t think you’re ever going to retire, man. So put that out of your head. We need you so and they need you. So But anyways, all kidding aside, one thing that I want to mention before we hop off here is that some of the most meaningful times of myself in here as director is when I’ve been able to come in and meet and talk and you know, converse with the class, the group that you have there. And it’s been wonderful to get to know that the different personalities that are there. And I was very moved one time when in satin, when when one of the members of the group had passed away. The group got together for the funeral of this person. And Terri and I went to this funeral and the group, you know, showed up and large numbers. It was very touching, and healing for me to participate in a funeral where the vast majority of people that were there at the service and in attendance were people with disabilities who knew each other I mean, it was just a true sense of not just community, but family. So many of them got up to speak and share words that provided comfort for everybody. I’ve never been in a service where I was so moved by the words that were spoken and the words that were shared, and it was just so heartfelt, certainly a time of grief and sadness. And the silver lining in that was I’ve never been to a to a service that was so diverse, and shared so many different things that he said, Mark from the heart, and it’s something I’ll never forget. It was the most inclusive funeral I’ve ever been to. And for them to have the confidence and articulation. And to get up there in front of other people and to speak is a true testament to the work that you both do. Thank you both for your time here to share some of the insights and wisdom that you have, the work that you do for the community of people that have disabilities that are out there. It is priceless. So thank you all. Thank you for listening, tuning in and watching and we look forward to receiving any inquiries about how people can get involved. The wonderful work that these two beautiful people do on the behalf of not just our center, not just people with disabilities, but for our community. Thank you, Terri, and thank you, Mark. 

Terri Poucher  30:11

Thank you, Tony.

Mark Brisbane  30:12

Thank you Tony. 

Tony Delisle  30:13

Take care.