entrepreneur Kay Branz '87 is finding ways to meet the resource
crisis facing developmentally disabled adults
Northwestern University's main campus in Evanston, three young
men and three young women live comfortably in an older red
brick three-flat on a residential street.
and women, who live on separate floors, each have their own
bedroom; they share chores, and enjoy group outings to Ravinia
for concerts and Six Flags Great America for amusement rides.
is deceiving, for it masks a bold model for what social entrepreneur
Kay Branz '87 hopes is a more promising, independent future
for young adults with developmental disabilities.
a business framework and superimposed it on a community-organizing
process," says Branz. In other words, the residence is not
a "group" home. It's owned by a private investor, and the
Center for Independent Futures (CIF, which Branz cofounded)
contracts for services needed by the residents. Rent is a
reasonable $620 per month.
mission is both personal and professional, since her daughter
Elise Hylton, 26, is one of the residents. Elise has Asperger's
syndrome, generally considered a less severe form of autism.
model — Community Living Option (CLO) — grew in part out
of Branz's frustrations in finding "zero" support for Elise
after she graduated from high school. Branz says that Illinois
agencies and institutions "had a finger in the dike of a crumbling
system," and that the state ranks 48th in services for adults
with developmental disabilities.
she says, there is limited future planning or direction, sources
of financial support or community-based resources available
to these families. And that's the void Branz wanted to fill.
has a program coordinator, and a resident "community-builder."
Most of all, the CLO carries a vastly reduced price tag of
about $25,000 per person — as opposed to more than $100,000
per person for institutional care.
a self-described child of the '60s and graduate of Smith College
in Massachusetts, is married to Glen Hylton (pictured above
with Branz and Elise), senior program officer with Chicago
Area Project, a statewide community youth agency. They have
another daughter Jessica, who recently graduated from Indiana
met her husband, a Jamaican, during a junior year abroad program
at the University of Leicester in England, and the couple
lived in Jamaica for four years, where Branz helped start
a preschool and worked with children with disabilities.
Kellogg, she worked in marketing communications for diverse
groups such as the American Dental Association, a variety
of health-care agencies and hospitals, and helped establish
a foundation for the Society of Actuaries.
Branz cofounded the nonprofit Evanston-based CIF along with
Jane Doyle, who is the executive director.
call Branz a visionary and an idea person who excels at building
relationships. "She doesn't just look in her own household
and say, 'How can I solve this for myself?'" says Carol Zsolnay,
assistant director at the Kellogg School's Center for Family
Brewster, vice president for communication at Easter Seals
and another long-time friend, says, "She sees it, organizes
it in her head and is ready to go."
helped 13 families purchase another property near downtown
Evanston for $1 million; 10 of those families have a child
with disabilities. At the same time, Branz is stepping down
from formal ties to CIF, in part, because of the tension between
doing good — and needing to earn a paycheck.
been struck as a Kellogg alum as to how different the female
MBA journey has been and how non-corporate the typical journey
has become," she says.
of the journey is stepping away from her creation and looking
for new challenges that also engage her. Branz says, "I can't
imagine doing any work that my heart wasn't in and in which
there wasn't some social value."