About Independence Rising

I

ndependence Rising, IR, was formerly known as Center for Independent Living of Central Nebraska. We serve 50 counties in Central and Western Nebraska. We are one of two federally funded independent living centers in Nebraska

Independence Rising’s services are offered free of charge, on a sliding fee scale, and fee for service.  We work with consumers to help them achieve their chosen, community-based living goals.  Consumers of the agency have a disabling condition where more resources are needed in order to achieve their chosen community-based living goals.

Independence Rising serves persons with disabilities across the age span with any type of disabling condition.

young woman with hand on shoulder of a man using crutches

Our Staff

We have staff across the state committed to providing quality services.

Irene BrittExecutive Director
Irene Britt is the current Executive Director for Independence Rising. Irene holds a Master of Arts Degree in Education, with an emphasis in Special Education, from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from UNK with endorsements in Elementary, Early Childhood, and the Elementary/Early Childhood Unified Endorsement.

Irene has worked with Independence Rising, cumulatively, since 2000 and she has been the Executive Director since January 2017. She has worked in various positions in the agency including services coordination, resource developer, and as a Program Manager/Supervisor for the DHHS contract for services coordination of the Aged and Disabled Medicaid Waiver. During this time, she oversaw the Waiver program and staff in Independence Rising offices located in Grand Island, Lexington, Ogallala, and Broken Bow. In 2011, Irene assumed the position of Program Manager for Independence Rising’s independent living program which included, at a minimum, working with consumers and involvement in community groups throughout the 39 county territory. Irene is also a certified driving instructor and has conducted driving evaluations and lessons for consumers of the agency. Throughout her career, Irene has also worked as an Associate Public Guardian for the Nebraska Office of Public Guardian, provided family support services for families working with Child Protective Services, as well as worked as a teacher in various public and private school classrooms including as an elementary
and early-childhood educator and substitute teacher.

Irene has been a volunteer for different groups. She has been a CASA volunteer for Lincoln County CASA, a Board Member for L2ForKids for the North Platte Chapter, a Vacation Bible School Director, and a Girl Scout Service Unit Manager and a Girl Scout Leader. Irene is the fifth generation of her family to live on her family’s ranch in southwest Nebraska. She enjoys reading, taking college courses as she works towards getting her counseling endorsement, spending time with her children and pets, creating artwork, meditation, music, and running.

Mary StockwellProgram Manager
Mary Stockwell is the Program Manager in the Gering Independence Rising office. Mary attended the University of Nebraska and has over 25 years of experience in human services. Mary worked in a critical access hospital in south-central Nebraska for 13 years as Social Services Director and discharge planner. Discharge planning was a good fit for Mary as it was satisfying to see patients make a smooth transition home. Mary relocated to the panhandle and worked for 8 years as a Developmental Disabilities Service Coordinator. Mary worked in child and adult protection for 5 years in Wyoming. Mary has spent her career working with the most vulnerable populations of elderly and disabled individuals; and children. Mary is an avid reader, cook, Husker fan and aspiring vegetable gardener. Mary lives with her husband and two dogs. Mary has two adult children and two grandchildren. Mary is a native Nebraskan and finds great value in living in the Nebraska Panhandle.
Vicki AnsonProgram Manager
Vicki Anson works as the Program Manager for Independence Rising in Grand Island, Nebraska. Vicki has worked with IR for 4 years. Vicki has a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural and Social Sciences from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and is a Certified Social Worker in the state of Nebraska. Vicki supervises the Family Support Program, IAH Program and Grand Island office. Vicki works extensively with parents with disabilities that are involved with Child and Protective Services. Vicki co-chairs the NCIL Parenting Task Force.
Vicki was born and raised in Nebraska. Vicki enjoys spending time with her 2 dogs, Rocco and Ginger, her family, attending great nephews and great nieces sporting events and is an avid Husker fan.

Functional Family Facilitators

“Providing facilitation and support for families in transition, with an emphasis on the needs and value of each family member, in order for families to meet their unique community living goals.”

Christine Howlett, ScottsbluffFunctional Family Facilitator
Brittany James, ScottsbluffFunctional Family Facilitator
Brittany was raised in a home that did in-home daycare for over 20 years. Over the years, Brittany has learned how to care for and interact with children of all ages. Brittany has worked at a daycare working with infants up to school aged children. Brittany’s priority in both these jobs was to make sure the children were healthy, safe and well taken care of.
In 2012, Brittany received her Associates Degree in Criminal Justice from ITT Technical Institute. Over the years, Brittany has dealt with many conflicting problems while learning and teaching positive ways to overcome them. Brittany does work calmly under pressure and uncomfortable situations.
Brittany has taken classes such as Circle of Security and Women’s Trauma to learn and implement things into her working career and personal life. These have helped her to interact and understand children and adults better and to understand the needs children present.
Jami Olsen, ScottsbluffFunctional Family Facilitator
Jami attended school at Western Nebraska Community College from 2000-2002 and then again in 2010 where she took classes for the pre-med program. Jami ran an in-home daycare for 6 years, where she cared for children from birth-12 years, during this time Jami gained experience with working with special needs children. In 2016 Jami worked as an in-home caregiver for adults with disabilities who lived in a group home setting. During this time, she also became a med-aid which was useful as she administers the medicines throughout the day and night to the adult individuals she was caring for. Through this employment Jami gained very helpful and rewarding experiences in working with the disabled, such as documentation and administering of medicines. In 2016 Jami also became a kinship foster parent to a 16-year-old female, whom lived with her until she turned 18 in July of 2018, in addition, Jami also has four children of her own ranging in age from 8-20.
Jami is currently employed as a Functional Family Facilitator with Independence Rising where she works with cases including supervised visitations, family support, drug testing and assistance with independent living.
Joni Devries, OgallalaFunctional Family Facilitator
Billie Taylor, ArapahoeFunctional Family Facilitator
Billie Taylor, has been a Functional Family Facilitator, with Independence Rising for the last 2 years. Billie has worked with a number of families, with kids of various ages. Billie has done Family Support with a number of parents, single Mothers, single Fathers. Billie has worked on budgeting, and parenting with these families. Billie also does drug testing for Independence Rising, we have 3 different forms of testing. The patch, UA’s and the swab test.
Billie and her Husband have been married for going on 28 years. Billie is a step Mom, a Foster Mom and has 2 kids of her own. Billie also has 3 Granddaughters. Billie coached swim team and also her kid’s basketball teams, for a number of years, as her kids were growing up. Billie was also on the Ambulance squad, for 5 years. Billie loves to help feed cows, on the weekend, when able. Also helps her Husband on the farm. In the summer, Billie and her family like to go to the lake and go camping. Billie and her family also have been involved in racing, dirt track, Billie also runs the Club House at the Golf Course, in the summer.
Life is not always fair, and Billie has had up and downs just like anyone, or any family. Billie can relate to families going through hard times, and will work to help these families as much as Billie can or that the families let Billie. Billie is straight forward and will not sugar coat anything. Billie will tell you where you stand, and what you need to do, to get the help that you need. Billie will go the extra mile as long as you are willing to do the work needed.
Mariah Reeves, GothenburgFunctional Family Facilitator
Calida Olguin, GothenburgFunctional Family Facilitator
Shelisa Brooks, KearneyFunctional Family Facilitator
Michele Winkelmann, KearneyFunctional Family Facilitator
Meshayla Appelt, KearneyFunctional Family Facilitator
Kimberly Mohlman, Red CloudFunctional Family Facilitator
Christian Valentino, KearneyFunctional Family Facilitator
Kellie Matthewson, KearneyFunctional Family Facilitator
My name is Kellie Matthewson. I am originally from North Platte, Nebraska. I recently graduated in May of 2018 from University of Nebraska at Kearney with a Bachelor’s of science in criminal justice. Within those four years I studied in Ireland, was a part of Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), now known as Office of Student Diversity Inclusion (ODI). During my time there, I was the freshman delegate (2014-2015) for the Social Justice League (SJL), and the secretary for two years (2015-2017). I have always had a passion for helping others, and to help them realize they are not alone in whatever they may be going through. In my last year at UNK I mentored at YRTC-Geneva (2017-2018). That alone was very eye opening to me. I am very excited for this opportunity to continue to work with the youth in the state of Nebraska.
Megan Peyton, KearneyFunctional Family Facilitator
Megan Peyton is currently attending school at the University of Nebraska at Kearney pursuing a degree in Social Work with a minor in Psychology, she will graduate with a Bachelors in May of 2020. Megan received her Associate of Arts Degree from Southcentral Community College in May of 2018. Megan has previously worked in the daycare setting for over 10 years, most recently she was the lead teacher in an infant room for three years. Megan implemented the importance of learning through play, via sensory tubs, and various activities that help increase fine and gross motor skills. Megan has taken early childhood development classes in college and early learning guideline courses in ‘Approaches to Learning’, ‘Social & Emotional Development’, and ‘Science’. Megan has certificates in ‘Nothin’ but baby/Shaken Baby Syndrome/Power to Protect’, ‘Mental Health First Aid’, and ‘Trauma 101’. Megan has volunteered for The Arc and The Agency on Aging.
Laurann Milburn, HastingsFunctional Family Facilitator
Laurann is an online student at the University of Nebraska Kearney majoring in Family Studies with a Minor in Early Childhood Education. Laurann grew up in a small town in Nebraska where she constantly interacted with people in her community. She is very social and has a huge heart for others. Laurann just accepted a Functional Family Facilitator position.
Laurann has worked mostly with children and elderly adults in her career. Laurann has encountered/worked with victims struggling with alcohol abuse, mental health struggles, and separated families. Much of Laurann’s time is spent helping others live their best quality of life. She is constantly putting others before herself because she loves how helping others makes her feel. Laurann is constantly advocating for people who struggle to advocate for themselves. Everyone deserves the ability to fully Live, Laugh, and Love.
Drew Steinhauer, KearneyFunctional Family Facilitator
Drew Steinhauer is a Functional Family Facilitator for Independence Rising and is based out of the Grand Island office. Drew is currently studying Social Work as a Junior at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and plans on graduating in May 2020. Drew has been working with Independence Rising since February of 2019 and is able to apply his learned knowledge from school to his work every day. Drew has always been a hard worker and values the importance of family in which in his free time, he works on his family farm and ranch and babysits his nieces and nephew. Drew has volunteered at Project Homeless Connect, The Catholic Newman Center, and Head Start in Kearney. Drew hobbies include hunting and fishing with his dogs and wife and farming with family.
Cassidy Cahill, Grand IslandFunctional Family Facilitator
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