GERING – A longtime advocacy group for persons with disabilities across the Panhandle area has closed its doors and the future of those services is still unknown.

For the past 22 years, Panhandle Independent Living Services (PILS) has been providing information and referral advocacy, peer support and independent living skills training for disabled persons in all 11 Panhandle counties. Their mission was to help the disabled and the handicapped live independent lives.

“It is unknown at this time as to where the programs we have developed and administered will go,” PILS Board President Jennifer Diodene said in a prepared statement. “We are hoping that another community agency will take them over.”

PILS administered a durable medical equipment loan program, their People First Program and a peer advisory group program. The group also published and distributed the Panhandle Disabilities Directory, which served as a resource to other agencies and consumers in the Panhandle area.

Each year, PILS would host a joint agency meeting they called JAM. It was a conference where other agencies would showcase the services they offered for disabled persons. It gave consumers the opportunity to access the information they needed to meet their specific needs.

Most of the programs offered by the nonprofit PILS agency were made possible through public and private grants. Consequently, they found that consistent funding from other agencies and the government was not always reliable.

Diodene said another obstacle was a lack of support and guidance from their oversight agency, the Nebraska Statewide Independent Living Council.

“We could no longer conquer each hurdle in order to keep our doors open for the sake of our service communities,” she said.

Over the past two years, PILS had pursued aggressive improvements to its service. They included adding programs and services, developing a better system to track how it helps clients, and expanding its collaboration with other transitional service agencies. They also hired a new executive director.

Diodene said that despite many improvements, PILS remained in an ongoing battle dealing with their oversight agency. They also wanted to improve and build their services to meet future needs.

“We wanted to overcome the past and build a new future,” she said. “Since we were not recognized for our effort to maintain or retain much needed services in western Nebraska, we ran out of options.”

Diodene thanked all the communities and agencies for their support over the years and hoped the programs they offered will continue under the aegis of another agency.

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