Dr. Charlene Bennett

What people would call a typical day does not exist in my field of work. You are dealing with human beings.


Dr. Charlene Bennett is the co-founder and CEO/Executive Director of Individual Advocacy Group; a CARF accredited, non-profit organization, that is based in Romeoville, Illinois. She strives to help those with disabilities of all types achieve independence, by providing ongoing support. Whether it’s living arrangements, activities or jobs, she comes up with creative ways to accomplish these goals. They oversaw more than 10,000 individuals with developmental disabilities who were in residential settings for the Illinois Medicaid System. Before that, she worked as a school director for special needs students in Chicago.

Dr. Bennett received her Bachelor’s of Education and her Master’s Degree in Special Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago and then proceeded to obtain her Doctorate in Educational Administration from Loyola University Chicago. She put herself through school because Dr. Bennett had a passion for helping those who had intellectual/developmental disabilities (ID/DD) with the most complex needs. She’s worked diligently to create customized supports for people with ID/DD to help them thrive and live independently in community settings, since 1995. She currently lives in Illinois and is working hard to empower those with special needs that live in Illinois and the District of Columbia.

Where did the idea for the Individual Advocacy Group come from?

The idea all began with a phone call from the state to assist them in supporting parents that had children living with special needs with wraparound services so that they can remain living with them in their home. The needs of individuals, especially those with disabilities are great. So, I had to come up with a creative solution that would meet each person’s needs based on a set of person-centered principles. With that, I started Individual Advocacy Group with Dr. Brooks and it has evolved into the organization that it is today.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Every day is different because there’s just a wide range of different challenges that our organization manages to solve. So, my days revolve around preventing any type of risks and we’re always striving for excellence. Thus, I am always making sure that the members of my staff are doing an exceptional job and that I am creating situations that improve the quality of supports and services for the individuals.

What people would call a typical day does not exist in my field of work. You are dealing with human beings.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have been described as an innovative thinker that thinks outside the box to come up with new and creative approaches.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Finding a way to get to know each and every person so that we can develop the type of supports they need so that they can live a happy and productive life in the community integrated with everyone else.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Even when I accomplish something, I am never quite satisfied with the results. So, I try other ways to improve the solutions that my staff or I come up with until I am happy with the results. I strive to achieve higher excellence in everything I do with my work, and from that, I become more productive. I’m not blinded by fear and I’m always taking risks to achieve a higher purpose.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The one thing I would have told my younger self is not to take things too personally and to be true to your internal convictions. Sometimes people are jealous of one’s success. They will say things that you may not like, but everything has to be taken in stride and be the best person you can be.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

I never give up and many people believe that we should cut our losses by giving up on the people we support.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The one piece of advice I would tell someone who is getting into any business is, to be honest, and direct. You should not have hidden agendas, or you will lose the trust of those that you are trying to work with or help. Transparency is a principle that I hold strongly.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The one strategy that has helped us grow is that the focus we put our efforts on is to help those with disabilities gain a sense of independence. Parents recognize our success and determination in supporting those with complex needs and they would like us to do the same for their loved ones. We don’t give up.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The one challenge I have come across in the years I’ve been doing this line of work is finding the right people to help me make my organization a success. I’ve tried hard to work with folks and give them the support they need, but sometimes it does not work out. For me, it was a foolish mistake, because I could have invested in individuals who had the same goals as I have. So, I am more careful about who I take on to work with these families and their loved ones.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Well, the one thing that I think is interesting is that I can find talent in a variety of individuals. Though many places may not give them a chance to show their individual strengths and talents, I try to give that person a chance, because you can always find a diamond in the rough. So, my advice is never to overlook those around you because you’ll never know what talent you’re missing out on.

When you are passionate about something and love doing it, you will find success.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best hundred dollars I had spent recently was for someone who did not have clothing to their name. So, I went out and bought $100 worth of clothing to help. It was exciting because you know people feel great about themselves when they realize they have things that match and can wear something that boosts their self-esteem. Our residents only get $60 a month total to provide them with everything, so we spend money out of our pockets to make sure that these individuals can get a new pair of shoes or an outfit or do something fun for themselves.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Microsoft office is one piece software that I use frequently and it helps me to accomplish several tasks. However, on a more personal level, I tend to look on my phone a lot, and there is an app called News where you can read different news stories from major papers and networks like CNN. There also is one called Countable, where you can see how your national legislation votes on different issues. These apps keep me up-to-date on the issues that are most important to our organization and how it affects the country in general.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The type of books I like to read are historical fiction books and learning about what life is like in the past. I also love reading biographies and things of that nature. I like them because it’s good to learn how humanity had evolved over the centuries or decades and you learn about various patterns and trends. You learn about human nature, and it’s just overall enjoyable to read and learn about how people are.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is from The Dalai Lama:
May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.

Key learnings:

● I don’t judge people based on their hierarchal position.
● Be determined, be strong, and follow your convictions.
● Be empathetic and show kindness by putting yourself in other people’s shoes.


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