For 11 years, Joe May has lived in a group home, where his days are structured and his choices are limited. He has to rely on others for many aspects of his life.
It's not an ideal environment for Joe, who loves being independent and active in the community - Joe takes part in a bowling league, and he volunteers his time at Meals on Wheels and the Samaritan Center. True independence, Joe says, will come with the keys to his own apartment.
In April, Joe's dream will become a reality when he moves into an apartment in Elmira.
Joe's journey began a year ago when he started working with AIM Independent Living Center's Self-Directed Services, a program designed to give individuals with developmental disabilities more control of their lives.
"Joe has really blossomed in this last year of working with Self-Directed Services," said Mark Swartwood, who has worked with Joe for 11 years.
The program helped Joe realize the dream of his own apartment, and it's helping him prepare for a more independent lifestyle. Recently, Joe began working toward using the bus by himself. He's in the process of learning the timetable, and he hopes to eventually go shopping by himself.
"It makes my job have meaning to know that we are putting the right supports in place for someone to feel safe enough to take a leap of faith and truly live independently in their community," said AIM employee Sabrina Macomber, Joe's case worker.
What's Joe looking forward to most about living on his own?
"Freedom," Mark said, as Joe's face lights up.