Park Lawn expands mission to provide 'Choice'

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The staff at Park Lawn wants to offer adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities a choice for more opportunities.

The grand opening and open house of Park Lawn’s “Discovering Choice” that took place Friday afternoon at the new facility at 4715 W. 135th St., Crestwood, drew a large crowd of guests and public officials. Discovering Choice has been created to allow the disabled to receive on-site job training that might result in working part-time or even full-time.

“Discovering Choice is appropriately named,” said Steve Manning, the new executive director at Park Lawn. “This will allow us to go in a different direction. It provides a choice for individuals to go out in the community. It is different than our day program in Oak Lawn.”

This is the third site for Park Lawn facilities in the southwest suburbs. The Park Lawn Administration Office is at 10833 S. Laporte Ave., and vocational services are offered at 5040 W. 111th St., in Oak Lawn.

But Manning mentioned that Discovering Choice is a pilot program that allows these individuals to receive training outside the Park Lawn facilities in Oak Lawn. These individuals will take part in the two-year pilot program at the Crestwood center. They will be given an opportunity to choose a job they would like to work at.

Becky Rush, program manager at the Park Lawn Discovering Choice, said that the individuals will receive a variety of training and will take part in other activities.

“On some days our participants will work and other days they may take part in some recreational activities,” said Rush, who has been affiliated with Park Lawn for about 10 years. “They may work two or three days during the week. This is a community-based effort and we get a lot of help from volunteers.”

Kelly Ewing, the other manager, said the program has been a plus. “This is a great place,” she said.

Rush and Ewing will have five other staff workers to assist them. The participants will be working with a smaller group than the usual larger staff in Oak Lawn. Rush and Ewing said the participants will learn to adapt to working with smaller staffs that will allow more time to teach and train.

Before the ribbon-cutting took place, Manning said that the new facility features modern amenities that include computer technology.

“The space here is absolutely beautiful,” said Manning. “But I would like nothing more than to see few people here. Because that means the participants are out learning and working.”

Discovering Choice has been in existence well over two months. Renovations at the Crestwood building began last spring. Manning said the pilot program is able to sustain itself through the assistance of local businesses who have worked as partners.

With the budget impasse continuing in Springfield, Park Lawn has received a large boost from the Coleman Foundation, which has provided the majority of the funding for the pilot program. The Coleman Foundation is an independent grant organization established in Illinois in 1951. Manning thanked Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta for his support in welcoming the new facility, and Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury.

“I think this is great day,” said Bury, who was looking over information about the new program. “This is an exemplary day for Park Lawn, which does so much for the community. What people have to realize is that what has been done 50 years ago is so much different than what is done 50 years later. This allows (Park Lawn) to do more in the community.”

The Park Lawn Discovering Choice managers said that the ultimate goal is not to find part-time or full-time employment, although that would be an achievement. The greatest gift the program could establish is teaching problem-solving skills and providing the participants a sense of self-worth.

Park Lawn was created in 1955 and has given the developmentally and physically disabled an opportunity to provide services for local companies. Park Lawn initially worked exclusively with children and has since grown to include adult development training programs.

“The business partners they are working with deserve so much credit,” said Bury. “Park Lawn has such a great history.”