Helena’s new Peer Advocate at ILRC

Published 5:12 pm Monday, February 6, 2012

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

The New Year has brought to Helena’s Gwen Brown a new opportunity that she is completely enthused about.

Brown is the new Peer Advocate for Shelby County residents at the Independent Living Resource Center in Alabaster.

“Our office works with individuals who are challenged or have special needs but wish to remain living in their own home,” Brown said.

Brown said she is currently introducing herself to businesses in Shelby County communities and promoting awareness of the program.

Josh Whitmire is the Peer Advocate for Jefferson and Blount counties who will be networking closely with Brown. Whitmire, a young man, works from a wheelchair and is able to drive. He has ‘walked the walk’ to establish his own independence and has done so while retaining his great sense of humor.

Gwen Brown and Josh Whitmire. (Contributed)

“It is our desire to not just be a voice on the telephone but to build a relationship with each person who is seeking help,” Whitmire said.

“And we get back with an individual the same day they call, even if it’s to say we are still researching the answer to their question,” Brown adds.

Both Brown and Whitmire received training in home modifications, vision impairment resources and job placement (Ala-WIN and Projects with Industry Program) at the Independent Living Resource Center in Birmingham.

Also available is a Nursing Home Transition service for those now living in nursing homes who express a desire to return to the community, regardless of their age or disability. This program is called Partnerships to Independence.

“We will ask them, ‘What is it you need to be able to live independently where you want to be?’ We will come up with a plan and review all their options. A legal procedure is required for those already in nursing homes, but it is doable and we are certainly hearing from younger residents who desire to make this change,” Brown said.

Brown says those seeking resource information online will want to be aware of 2-1-1, Alabama Community Resource Directory. This is a statewide network of regional call centers whose mission is to provide easy access to health and human services available throughout Alabama

Brown has a degree in elementary education, but has devoted herself to her family for the past several years. She and her husband, Eric, have three children, Hannah, a ninth grader, E.J., a student at HMS who has high-functioning autism and Jakkob, who is six.

“Once I understood what the Peer Advocate position entailed, I realized this is much what I have been doing all along with my son, E.J.” Brown said. “It was important to me also that I be doing meaningful work, so in that regard, this opportunity is a great fit.”

The ILRC Shelby County office is located at 120 Plaza Circle, Suite C in the same building as Masonic Lodge #462 in Alabaster. Contact info: 685-0570 or gwenbrownilr@bellsouth.net.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by email at labro16@yahoo.com.