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Our History

The History of Willows Way
Founded in 1990

Willows Way began as Home Assistance Services in 1989 in the home of Kathy Williamson and Mary Owens, co-founders. Continuing a lifelong commitment to enhance lives with dignity, Kathy and Mary designed personal care services for elderly citizens and respite care for individuals with developmental disabilities. In the spring of 1990, the agency was asked by the Department of Mental Health to support a young adult temporarily until permanent placement could be found. “Fitting in” to an existing placement was difficult for the young man. So, after 14 months and numerous placement attempts, the agency was then asked to develop a residential plan specifically designed to meet his needs. The plan focused on his needs, his choices, desires, hopes and preferences. This was the beginning of “Individualized Supported Living” and the birth of Willows Way.

As the concept of person-centeredness began to grow, Willows Way did likewise. People sought to build supports around themselves, their family members or friends that afforded an opportunity to successfully live in their communities of choice. The first arrangements involved live-in staff that could offer 24-hour support to individuals. In 1993, Willows Way expanded its scope of operations to include people needing less than 24-hour support. Independent Living Skills Training was offered to support individuals living independently, but needing some assistance (2-12 hours a week). Today, the Realities program supports each individual’s needs, choices, desires, hopes and preferences through person-centered Independent Living Assistance services.

In 2004, Willows Way developed a cutting-edge program called Project HEART that provides stimulating, person-centered health education classes, skills training and resource information to people with developmental disabilities and those supporting them. Project HEART is funded by the St. Charles Developmental Disabilities Resource Board and offers classes throughout the St. Charles community with the goal of promoting self-direction of personal healthcare and lifestyle choices for people with disabilities. 

Reaching Independence Through Social Engagement (RISE) is Willows Way’s newest program launched in early 2010 as an alternative to the traditional day habilitation program. The program is designed for participants to be involved in community activities and volunteering the majority of their day, as well as engaging in organized activities at the program site. Participants are matched with one or two others in the program to share activities, work toward personal goals and enjoy the social benefits of being part of a group.