Michael’s Story

At Aspire, even the smallest achievement can be a stepping-stone to future success.

Just ask Barbara Smith, a parent at Aspire whose 26-year-old son, Michael Hazinski, has lived with a significant developmental disability since birth. Michael lacks the muscular strength and physical dexterity needed to do many everyday tasks, such as removing his plate from the dinner table, or putting on his shirt in the morning. “And because of his seizures, he also needs supervision on a 24/7 basis,” said Barbara.

Despite his physical limitations, Michael is a voracious reader, devouring books almost as soon as he gets them. When Michael was young, Barbara and her husband, Tom, took advantage of day programming at other local nonprofits until a high school program director mentioned Aspire. Initially, he participated in Aspire’s Life Skills Enrichment, a program helping adults pursue and build upon activities they find interesting, meaningful, enriching and helpful for everyday living. Michael, however, had an interest in living more independently. “It created anxiety for all of us,” said Barbara, “but we knew it was time for him to find more independence. He was ready for the next phase of his life.” She and her husband found that next phase in one of Aspire’s Community Homes in the western suburbs.

The transition was not easy for Barbara. “I’m embarrassed to say it took almost four months until I was confident of Michael living at the home,” she said. It was Wanda Turner, a direct service provider at Aspire, who really put her fears to rest. With years of experience and training in working with adults who have special needs, she told Barbara she’d be able to help Michael become more self-sufficient. Within weeks, Wanda helped Michael learn how to manage aspects of his own self-care, which was “a huge success”, according to Barbara. For the first time in his life, Michael was able to hang up his coat, remove his dishes from the table and put on his t-shirt by himself. “Wanda helped me realize that hovering over Michael wouldn’t make him more self-sufficient,” said Barbara. “He has proven to be much more capable than I expected him to be, and that has been amazing to experience.” She credits these victories to Aspire’s dedicated team. “Living at the home has changed Michael a lot, and we could not be more proud of him,” she said. “We love Aspire.”

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