Meet The Arc’s New Transition Mentors

The Arc of Illinois is proud to announce its new Family Transition Project Transition Mentor Program, with the goal of ensuring that families, decision makers and others have the opportunity to hear directly from leaders with disabilities who have lived in institutions and now live in the community.  Mentors will be able to speak to individual families and groups about their experiences of living in state operated developmental centers in Illinois and talk about their transitions to community living. They are mentors because they can teach all of us about what it is actually like to live in an SODC and then start a new life in the community. We have all heard moving stories from family members about their experiences with SODCs, but our mentors can actually speak firsthand. They mentor us, each other, and we hope they will have the opportunity to mentor individuals currently living in SODCs as well as their families.

A few introductions:

Susan O’Connor has lived in Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee and now lives in a CILA home in Park Forest. Sue loves talking to people and when people in public ask her if she has a disability she answers with patient kindness. She has overcome her shyness to speak up for people with disabilities on numerous occasions. With the support of her family and guardian she successfully advocated to live in a home that’s the way she wants it and to make changes in her daily activities that give her the kind of schedule she’s always dreamed of. Sue loves dogs, pizza, shopping, eating out, and traveling. Since she started this job, friends have asked her to advocate for them. She has a lot of ideas about advocacy and future projects. Quote, “All institutions need to be shut down.”

Robert Rowley grew up on a farm in northern Illinois and still remembers driving a tractor. He has lived at Singer in Rockford and also at Murray Center in Centralia. For the last eight years he has lived in a CILA home in Marion. His room is decorated with some of his favorite things, like Cardinals memorabilia, his collection of baseball caps, and his large flat screen TV and comfortable chair. Although he has started to use a walker, he still works in recycling, shops for himself, does his own laundry, and socializes with his girlfriend. He bowls, attends baseball games (usually The Miners), and likes to go out to eat and attend weekly gatherings at his church. He is justly proud of the fact that he quit smoking since he moved out of Murray and has kept on track. When asked what he likes about community living he says, “I can go more places and do more things.”

John Porter has been an active advocate for many years and is also skilled at advocating for himself. He spent six and a half years at Howe Developmental Center in Tinley Park in what was supposed to be a temporary stay. Now he lives in a CILA in Springfield, which is changing to an Intermittent CILA. He is able to keep in close contact with his family, who live nearby. John has changed homes and jobs when he wanted something better. He is familiar with many different agencies and people in the disability field and he knows who to call! He is proud of his years of affiliation with People First, The Arc, and ICDD. John enjoys going out, sports of all kinds, keeping up with the news and social media, and talking on the phone to his many friends and acquaintances. John believes that institutions should close. He once had a letter to the editor published about Murray Center and in it he said, “Murray Center should close. They owe it to the people who live there.”

Robert Peterson is well known in Illinois disability circles as an impassioned advocate for community living. A lot of people don’t know that he lived for several years at Shapiro Developmental Center (also supposed to be temporary). He has been on the board of The Arc of Illinois for years, and is involved with many other organizations including the Going Home Coalition, SABE, UIC, Partners in Policymaking, and The Alliance. He is spotted at numerous meetings, press conferences, hearings, and conferences talking to legislators and movers and shakers in the disability field. He has been interviewed and filmed by a number of Media outlets. Bob likes movies, eating out, socializing with friends, time on his computer, and talking on the phone. Because he uses a wheelchair, transportation always takes planning, but as he pointed out the other day, “I didn’t have to worry about PACE when I was living in an institution because I didn’t go anywhere.”

If you want to connect with the Transition mentors or Katherine Hamann, Program Director, please contact

Meg Cooch Signature

Meg Cooch
Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423
815-464-1832 (OFFICE)