When Sue Hetrick moved to Columbus from Toledo in 2005 due to her son's health issues and developmental disability, she assumed she would find a Center for Independent Living where she had worked and he had received services.

Instead, she founded one.

The Columbus version of the nationwide network formed in the 1970s under federal law is called the Center for Disability Empowerment.

Located in offices on the fourth floor of Columbus Speech and Hearing, 510 E. North Broadway in Clintonville, the Center for Disability Empowerment was incorporated in 2012 and now has a staff of seven.

An important aspect of the operations of Independent Living centers, Hetrick said, is that 51 percent of employees and board members must come from that population.

"The whole object of that is consumer control," she said.

That means every center will be slightly different based on client needs, Hetrick said, but all of them must offer information and referral, peer support, independent living skills training and advocacy.

The local center offers these in Franklin and Delaware counties.

The Center for Disability Empowerment has services to help those with disabilities make the transition into the community for nursing facilities, Hetrick said. It also provides Americans with Disabilities Act consulting across Ohio and addresses issues of abuse and bullying under a contract with the state.

The Center for Disability Empowerment is one of a dozen such organizations in Ohio.

"We're the youngest and newest of the 12 centers, but my members and my board have over 100 years of experience," Hetrick said. "Our job is not to fix people; our job is to help people become more a part of the community.

"When we started, there was no name recognition. People weren't walking in the door. Our base right now is still pretty small, but we're getting calls and referrals every day."

"I was in at the very beginning," said Shari Veleba, information and referral specialist as well as a community connector.

She was part of a small group that met to form the organization and to brainstorm names for it. Veleba said she believes the Center for Disability Empowerment tells people immediately what it's all about.

"A satisfying day for me is to provide information and referral to someone with a disability who is maybe stuck in life; they're hitting a barrier and don't know where to turn," Veleba said. "It's their life, their goals. It's a big thing here. We have quite a bit of success with people achieving some of the goals they set for themselves."

"The people we have the hardest time helping are people under senior-citizen age who require accessible apartments," said Debra Petermann, transitions coordinator.

Marly Saade is one of the newest employees at the center, having started in August. The native of Lebanon, who became a paraplegic 10 years ago, is the youth coordinator. Under a contract with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, she provides training sessions through local schools on rights and responsibilities, ways to connect with the community, peer groups and leadership development. Saade said she also gives presentations for businesses that employ people who have disabilities.

"We can't be all things to all people but we've got pretty significant resources in the community," Hetrick said.

Those resources include the center's Power Learning Opportunities 2018 series for those with disabilities, which begins Wednesday, March 21, and continues through Oct. 17.

Courses run from 3 to 5 p.m. Topics include:

* March 21 -- Good Nutrition

* April 18 -- Fair Housing: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

* May 16 -- Protect Yourself from Scams and Frauds

* June 20 -- Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution

* Aug. 15 -- Managing Your Money: How to Budget

* Oct. 17 -- Benefit Basics: Understanding Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

While some of the classes are led by center staff members, Hetrick said, the nutrition presentation will be provided by the Ohio State University Extension Service, and representatives of the Ohio Attorney General's Office will be on hand for the fraud program.

Residents may register by calling 614-575-8055 at least five days prior to each class.