PCIL provides living plans for disabled adults
Like most college graduates, Steve Gruzlovic wanted out of his parents’ house.
Gruzlovic, a 28-year-old Hamilton native, has cerebral palsy. After graduating from Edinboro University, he couldn’t leave his house without physical help. Most days, he was confined to a reclining chair.
“I didn’t have a job,” he said. “I didn’t have any place to go. I didn’t have aide services to help me. I didn’t want family to have to take care of me.”
The independence he sought was hard to find. Until, that is, he found the Progressive Center for Independent Living.
PCIL, with locations in the Ibis Plaza in Hamilton and in Flemington, advocates for people with disabilities and helps them live and maintain independent lives. The organization offers five core services: information/referral assistance, peer support, independent living skills, advocacy and transitional services. PCIL serves disabled clients of all ages.
Things started to change for Gruzlovic as soon as he reached out to the center—he got a job, moved out of his parents’ house, arranged social security benefits with PCIL’s help. He also discovered a number of adaptive devices through PCIL, like kitchen tools, a device that allows him to put on socks without bending over, different wheelchair modifications, apps and more.
Living in a home where he couldn’t do much on his own was prohibitive, Gruzlovic said. It was hard to make community connections and even harder to feel independent. He currently lives in Robbinsville’s Project Freedom development, which provides independent housing for people with disabilities.
“I’m in a much better, safer and happier place,” he said. “And more independent. Getting assistance for myself, just to function in everyday life, job or no job, that was super hard. Dealing with insurance companies, that was kind of hard. I came out of school, I didn’t know how to use a microwave until my senior year of college because someone always did it for me. Getting that form of independence was a good thing, but it was scary.”
Gruzlovic now serves on the PCIL board—most members are adults with disabilities—and sometimes volunteers out of the Hamilton office helping other teens and adults with disabilities transition to living independently. He also writes emails and works on the center’s quarterly newsletter.
“I would have never thought five years ago that I’d be where I am now,” he said.
That’s what Scott Elliott, PCIL executive director, likes to hear.
Elliott, 54, has muscular dystrophy. He worked for many years in the corporate world, but the disease started to progress when he was in his 40s, and he ultimately decided that retirement was the best option for his health.
But with retirement came boredom, and that’s what first brought him to PCIL. The Lambertville resident saw an advertisement for a part-time job at the center, so he applied and was hired. After a two-year stint as a legislative coordinator with the Division of Developmental Disabilities (while also serving on the PCIL board), he came on full-time at the center.
“I brought the business perspective to the human services perspective,” Elliott said. “Somebody like Norman (Smith, PCIL board president and Project Freedom founder) was able to help me years ago with the whole advocacy thing, the disability perspective. I was kind of living independently. It was such a help as I progressed. You meet people with all different disabilities. I was in this world that was very different.”
Smith, like Gruzlovic, has cerebral palsy. And like Gruzlovic, he desired independence after graduating college in the 70s. Smith graduated from Steinert High School—incidentally, where he knew Gruzlovic’s father, Mark—and went on to attend Long Island University, where he graduated with a degree in journalism.
‘I couldn’t get a job, so I started this organization and created a job for me.’