Special needs recreation may be shifted in Elgin

By Christine Byers

Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Saturday, April 23, 2005

When Elgin’s Jane Shover Easter Seals could no longer provide special recreation opportunities, parents of disabled children and volunteers took matters into their own hands.

They started a nonprofit association of their own in August, the Upstate Special Recreation Association. Operating solely on donations and fund-raisers, the organization grew from 50 to 125 participants from in and around Elgin and offered everything from bowling, basketball, Special Olympic training and karaoke night.

But because the city of Elgin provides traditional recreation programs, it also is obligated to pay for comparable services for the disabled, according to the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Upstate group members said they hoped the city would pay them to run the services. But in February, the group suspended its programs after learning city staffers were leaning toward the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association instead, said Jeff Gocken, president of the parent’s group.

“I think a lot came down to we were a start-up organization as opposed to an existing organization with a track record,” said Gocken, adding that he supports the city’s recommendation. “It really comes down to it’s something that needs to be provided and it’s less important who provides it.”

But there are those, like Jan Furnish of Elgin, who would prefer it have gone the other way.

“These are people who have been friends for years and these are people who don’t have a social life otherwise,” said Furnish, whose 28-year-old son, Andrew, participated in Easter Seals programs and the Upstate group. “If they want to keep it Elgin based, I’m just not sure why this is happening.”

The Crystal Lake-based nonprofit began in 1976 and now offers more than 400 programs to more than 1,000 disabled residents throughout East and West Dundee, Huntley, Hampshire, Crystal Lake, Cary, Marengo, McHenry, Barrington, Wauconda, Harvard and Woodstock. Each community gets a seat on the agency’s board of directors and helps make policy decisions, said Randy Reopelle, a member of the agency’s foundation.

The city’s parks and recreation department will recommend in May that the city council approve about $168,000 for a membership that would begin in October — halfway through the fiscal year, said Reopelle, also the city’s director of parks and recreation.

Regular annual dues depend on tax levies, but would probably cost around $290,000 for Elgin. As with any tax-based agreement, nonresidents like those from Bartlett, Hanover Park and St. Charles who joined the parent’s organization will now have to pay additional fees to participate, said Brian Shahinian, its executive director.

Initially, buses will help bring Elgin residents to programs scattered throughout McHenry County. Eventually, the agency plans to hire a full-time staff member and begin programs at The Centre and other Elgin locations, Shahinian said.

He said he hopes the parents and volunteers will help build Elgin programs. But Gocken said that may take some time.

“These parents have had to fight for everything they’ve gotten for their kids,” Gocken said. “Whether it’s education, jobs, etc. So everything’s a fight.

“They’re a little more, ‘Show me,’ as opposed to, ‘Tell me,’ and rightly so. They just want what’s best.”

New group provides programs for disabled

Sept 2004
By Gloria Carr

ELGIN - Susie Doyens lives with Down syndrome, but it is not a disability in the world of Special Olympics.

Susie's condition does not keep her from repeatedly winning gold medals in her sport.

Her ability to participate in sports through the Easter Seals Jayne Shover Rehabilitation Center's special recreation program opened up a new world for her, said Lynda Doyens, Susie's mother.

Without special recreation, people with disabilities might remain at home doing nothing, Doyens said.

But Easter Seals has had difficulty in recent years funding the programs. Now, the Upstate Special Recreation Association is taking on the task of funding and providing programs for children and adults with disabilities, Doyens said. The newly formed association recently became incorporated and is awaiting its nonprofit status, she said. It already has begun offering volleyball and bowling to the disabled.

Illinois passed a law 20 years ago requiring cities and villages to provide special recreation for the disabled, association president Jeffrey Gocken said. Though such programs usually are administered through some type of association, the Elgin area hasn't had any such organization, so the Jayne Shover center had previously taken on that role locally.

Doyens said parents and volunteers decided to form the Upstate Special Recreation Association after the Easter Seals center had problems funding its recreation program.

"We recognized there were some difficulties and it was time to go ahead and relieve them from the burden of financially supporting that program when we had other alternatives," she said.

Jayne Shover ended its programming last week when the new association officially launched, Gocken said.

Still, the Upstate Special Recreation Association has some barriers ahead, namely obtaining backing from at least two communities, a requirement under law, Doyens said. The association has approached South Elgin and received a good reception. Representatives will approach Elgin, Hampshire and Burlington soon.

Gocken said the association's role would be as a catalyst to bring the communities together to eventually take over the association.

Although the organization may have a nominal fee, Doyens said it will try to reach people without the ability to pay as well by offering a reduced rate or scholarships. There are more than 7,000 people with disabilities in this area, but only a small percentage were enrolled in the Easter Seals program, she said.

A steering committee of 40 parents, which generated support from separate group homes that care for adults with disabilities, has been working on the project for a year, Doyens said.

The association will serve the same area that the Jayne Shover center covered, including Carpentersville, East Dundee, West Dundee, Bartlett, Streamwood, Elgin and South Elgin, she said. Four former Easter Seals staff members, including Gocken's wife, Arlene, are working part time for the association.

Arlene Gocken said the association will have a session about life skills developed through consultation with participants and their families. She also wants to start an arts and crafts program open to people of all ages.

"We want to develop programs they can do when they can't do sports," Gocken said. "Obviously, we can't start everything right now, but we have a lot of great ideas."

Doyens said the association also will try to reach out to people with disabilities who are coming out of school-based programs. The association will provide training for Special Olympics, she said.

A free kick-off picnic is planned on Sept. 18 at 48W475 Silver Glen Road, St. Charles. More information is available from Doyens at (630) 584-5385.