From Learning Disabilities to Happily Married Mother of 2…Independence Center Success Stories

From Learning Disabilities to Happily Married Mother of 2…Independence Center Success Stories

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Changing the lives of young adults through fostering positive self-esteem and self-reliance is what Independence Center is whole-heartedly set out to do. Independence Center is a non-profit transitional mainstream residential program in Los Angeles, CA.

With over 30 years of experience, Independence Center is dedicated to developing the full potential of young adults with learning differences and special needs. The program provides a stable environment for each individual to develop the skills necessary to transition into independent living.

Though awareness is growing around learning disabilities, the struggle is still so poorly understood. Parents and educators don’t always agree on the methods that should be used, or even worse, feel at a complete loss altogether. For that reason, it’s not particularly common to hear many compelling success stories.

But, at Independence Center, we do have stories to tell. The stories of many young adults who have suffered through the frustrations of wanting to learn, but just needing the extra help and guidance to do so. 

Emily Stogsdill is a graduate of Independence Center who struggled with reading and comprehension skills as an adolescent. Unfortunately, the testing that’s available today was not as developed at the time she was in school. It was evident that something differed in Emily’s learning capabilities, but it was hard to pinpoint just what that was.

In Emily’s sophomore year of high school, her parents found an all-girls boarding school for her to attend in Maryland. They discovered the school through an educational counselor for learning disabilities who also helped lead them to Independence Center. Emily did well at the boarding school where she spent her sophomore through senior year.

During her first year of college, Emily was “set free.” The problem was, she was missing the structure that she needed and could not stay on track. Emily decided to go back to her counselor who then recommended she visit Independence Center. Her counselor was advising another individual at the time who was in the program and having great success.

Emily and her parents decided to go for a tour of the center and see if it would be a good fit. After the first appointment and initial interview, she went back for a three-day stay which prompted her decision to join the program.

Emily was able to gain many skills and life experiences through her time at Independence Center. She joined the Job Club where she learned how to make a resume, prepare for an interview, and get a job.

Through the program, Emily also volunteered at a special education elementary school. She then took a job shadowing and working with a ten-year-old girl at an after school care program. Emily had never had a job outside of Independence Center, which made this experience all the more beneficial for her.

What Emily enjoyed most about living at Independence Center was the social environment. She got to know the other people in the program as they all learned how to adapt to one another. Emily took part in many social activities including field trips, weekend socials, and interactive groups that she joined.

The relationships that Emily developed during her time at Independence Center stuck with her long after she left. She still keeps in touch with several people from the program, and one just so happens to be her best friend. Coincidentally, that same best friend also introduced Emily to her husband!

Since graduating from Independence Center, Emily has been motivated, independent, and self-sufficient. She and her husband have been happily married for 18 years and have two wonderful daughters. Along with being a wife and busy mother, Emily is also studying to become an Esthetician.

Emily’s advice for any parents or young adults considering Independence Center as an option is to go in with an open mind. She encourages taking in the experience and all of the information given – it has changed her life.

If you or a loved one are struggling with learning disabilities, social or vocational skills, and obstacles blocking the growth of full potential, contact Independence Center.

If you’d like to arrange for a tour or get more information, please contact us at 310-202-7102 or visit our website

We are a nonprofit and are always happy to accept donations. If you’d like to contribute to the success of the next Emily, please contact us today!


Video Transcript:

Melissa Tucker: [00:00:00] Hi! I’m Melissa Tucker and I serve as a volunteer on the board at Independence Center. Independence Center is a Nonprofit, Transitional, Mainstreamed, Residential program in Los Angeles, California. We are dedicated to developing the full potential of young adults aged 18 to 30 with special needs. Watch this short interview with Emily Stogsdill. Emily is a graduate of Independence Center, who is happily married and has two amazing kiddos! She and her husband even named their coffee shop after their oldest daughter.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:00:32] My name is Emily Stogsdill. I’m from Orange County, California. I live in L.A. now. I have two daughters and I’m married.

Melissa Tucker: [00:00:41] Awesome! And…I love the story of, so your husband, you guys own a coffee shop and you named it after your oldest daughter. Is that right?

Emily Stogsdill: [00:00:51] Correct.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:00:51] All right. Tell us the name of the coffee shop.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:00:53] It’s called Alana’s Coffee Roasters. And he started it at local farmers markets in L.A. and he found a business partner. Now in May, they opened their own coffee shop.

Melissa Tucker: [00:01:07] That’s phenomenal. I didn’t realize it was just in May. I think I liked your Facebook page.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:01:13] Oh, OK.

Melissa Tucker: [00:01:14] Yeah. That’s great.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:01:15] Thank You.

Melissa Tucker: [00:01:16] And you’re currently a very busy mother and going to school to be an esthetician. Do you ever work in the coffee shop as well?

Emily Stogsdill: [00:01:27] I don’t.

Melissa Tucker: [00:01:28] No?

Emily Stogsdill: [00:01:29] That’s his baby.

Melissa Tucker: [00:01:31] That’s awesome. All right. So tell us…when we were talking before, you were explaining how – when you were in school back in the 80s 90s they didn’t really have a test but… tell us about the differences.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:01:47] They had tests & I was tested, but the knowledge there. I don’t think they have what they have now. So I think if I were tested now it would be a different story. They knew something was there. They just couldn’t put their finger on what.

Melissa Tucker: [00:02:08] Yeah, what were some of your experiences or challenges that you were having?

Emily Stogsdill: [00:02:12] Comprehension. I didn’t – like my reading. I didn’t learn how to read until I was a little bit older than I should have been. Comprehension, like my daughter, was diagnosed with auditory processing [disorder] and maybe there’s some of that. You know?

Melissa Tucker: [00:02:35] Yeah but they didn’t really have it at that level back then the tests were done.

Melissa Tucker: [00:02:42] So you’re saying when you were in school your father and your stepmother helped you find a boarding school that would be really good for you…

Emily Stogsdill: [00:02:51] Yes.

Melissa Tucker: [00:02:52] And you were doing well there. Tell us about that a little bit.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:02:55] OK. So I went to boarding school in my sophomore year high school in Maryland.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:03:00] And they found the boarding school through an educational counselor for learning disabilities named Paula, who found Independence Center for me. So it was an all-girls boarding school in Maryland and I was there my sophomore through senior year of high school.

Melissa Tucker: [00:03:22] And then tell us about your experience of your first year of college.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:03:27] So my first year in college I was kind of set free. I needed the structure. And I don’t think it was there for me. So I was just off having fun.

Melissa Tucker: [00:03:45] And you guys went back to your counselor, right? Your Dad didn’t want to pay for you to just go have fun for college. And she recommended Independence Center?

Emily Stogsdill: [00:03:57] Yes. She’s the one who found Independence Center. She had, I believe, another person/client that was going there at that time who it was it was working for, successfully. So she found that for me.

Melissa Tucker: [00:04:13] And then take us through the application process.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:04:16] OK. So my parents found it. We went in for a tour. They interviewed my parents. They interviewed me. And then, after the first appointment, I went back and had a 3-day visit for a weekend and ended up at an Independence Center.

Melissa Tucker: [00:04:42] And so when you were there… Walk us through some of the life experiences that you learned or some of the skills that you were we always talking about getting a job and volunteering.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:04:59] I did the “Job Club” which teaches you-you know how to make a resume, set up a resume, go in for that interview. And so I ended up volunteering at a special education elementary school. After that, I got a job with a girl who was 10 years old at the time and I worked with her for a year & 1/2. And I shadowed her at an after-school care.

Melissa Tucker: [00:05:28] That’s awesome. OK talk to us about what it’s like. You know, what is it like to live at Independence Center?

Emily Stogsdill: [00:05:39] The social aspects are a lot of fun. You know you’re here with a group of people that you get to know and learn how to adapt to each other. They had social, on the weekends they had social activities we could do. Like field trip type things. Then you know, they had the community… they had different groups that we can go to. Cooking class. We also would cook for each other, our roommates. We had nights that where our turns [to cook].

Melissa Tucker: [00:06:20] Are you still friends with anybody that [you were at IC with]?

Emily Stogsdill: [00:06:24] I have several on my Facebook account that I talk to through Facebook. I’ve seen a couple. One of the girls, Mary-Kate (I mentioned earlier) is my best friend.

Melissa Tucker: [00:06:35] You were saying that she also introduce you to your husband.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:06:39] Yes she did. They went to middle school together. We’ve been together for like 18 years. And through Independence Center, through meeting Mary-Kate. She was the outreach program. We became friends and then she introduced us.

Melissa Tucker: [00:07:00] That’s so cool. I love that story. OK. And then tell us a couple life skills that you learned at Independence Center that you use today.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:07:15] How to get a job, keep the job. That was, you know one of the most important things – I think – aspects. I had never had a job outside of Independence Center. So that was very helpful. Doing those interviews. You know, going shopping, how to save money, how to pick out the right [food] items.

Melissa Tucker: [00:07:47] So your meal planning. I need that one.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:07:51] Yes.

Melissa Tucker: [00:07:53] And then we were also talking about how you’ve been independent ever since you graduated.

Melissa Tucker: [00:07:59] I have not lived with any of my parents. My husband and I have been married for 18 years and have done it together on our own.

Melissa Tucker: [00:08:10] That’s amazing, congratulations!

Emily Stogsdill: [00:08:12] Thank you.

Melissa Tucker: [00:08:13] Was there any… You know what – What advice do you have to either parents or young adults who are looking at Independence Center as an option.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:08:28] Um…(that’s a hard one) I would go in with an open mind. Go in with an open mind and take that experience in. Take that information and feed it to your brain. You know?

Melissa Tucker: [00:08:53] And what advice or what life advice do you have for someone that might have a learning disability? Maybe they’re not diagnosed either…

Emily Stogsdill: [00:09:05] For sure, if you have the accessibility to get yourself tested, do so.

Melissa Tucker: [00:09:12] If you could give advice to your younger self what would you say? Would you…?

Emily Stogsdill: [00:09:18] I wish I learned – knew then what I know now. I’m going to Santa Monica College. I’m going back to school to become an esthetician and I am about halfway there, probably three-quarters of the way there. With my girls, with my husband having his store, I’m the one who is taking care of the girls right now. I’m like the main person. So, I’m slowing down my classes in the process so that I can get the knowledge I need through my schooling. Because I feel like I’m doing well, but I’m not learning what I need to learn. So I need to slow the process down a little bit. But you know…

Melissa Tucker: [00:10:06] Smart, take care of yourself and what you need to do.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:10:09] And I need to focus on those girls, too.

Melissa Tucker: [00:10:11] For sure, they’re only young once.

Emily Stogsdill: [00:10:14] Exactly.

Melissa Tucker: [00:10:16] All right. So everybody should go check out the coffee shop and as soon as you have your esthetician license, you guys should go get facials from her! You’re a rock star. Thank you!

Emily Stogsdill: [00:10:29] We’ll talk later for you.

Melissa Tucker: [00:10:32] So next time you’re in L.A. or if you’re in an area swing by Alana’s Coffee Roasters and say Hi! They’re on Venice Blvd. between the 405 and Lincoln. If you’d like more information on Independence Center, please give us the call 310-202-7102. Or check us out online at our website, We are a nonprofit and we’re always happy to accept donations. So if you’d like to contribute to the success of the next Emily, or whoever else might be next, please contact us today.

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