SWSRA in Worth opens a room ‘where fun happens’

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

hannah brancato photo 1-12

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Hannah Brancato, 9, of Worth has fun with the fiber optics wires during last Thursday’s grand opening of the SWRSA Sensory Depot.


Imagine a room filled with soft, soothing music, a sweet aroma, a sandbox and squishy toys to help relieve your stress and a beanbag chair to snuggle in and just relax.

 No pressure.

 No demands.

 Just you and the relaxing environment.

 This room became a reality last Thursday with the opening of the Sensory Depot at the South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA), located at the Helen Goy Center, 10707 S. Oak Park Ave., in Worth.

 “This is really exciting,” said Worth Mayor Mary Werner. “I saw this under construction and I didn’t know what to expect. It is truly impressive!”

 The Sensory Depot is a multi-sensory room “where fun happens,” said Susan Vinyard, superintendent of recreation at SWSRA.

 “It is a specifically designed environment for people with special needs and various ability levels where they can experience a variety of senses which can also assist in developing specific skills,” she added.

 The Sensory Depot contains equipment to activate every sense; smell, touch, sound, sight and taste.

 “The sensory sessions are participant led to accommodate individual needs with SWSRA sensory staff supervision at all times,’’ said Vinyard.

 Vinyard explained there are many benefits of the Sensory Room.

“It calms, de-stresses, reduces anxiety and pain and helps develop self-regulating skills,’’ she said. “It teaches cause-and-effect, color recognition, and eye-hand coordination. Using the equipment increases concentration, improves alertness and improves mobilization, creativity, social relations and communications.”  

 Currently, equipment in the room includes a five-foot long piano keyboard on the floor that participants can walk on to create musical sounds. By stepping on certain buttons, the sounds of various instruments can be heard.

 A skill-building wall includes workable zippers, snaps, button-holes and shoe-laces for participants to work with to their hearts’ content.

 There are also fidget toys including musical balls, soft-spaghetti-like threads that can be mashed, pulled, bunched-up, etc., and crunchy mats to step on.

“All participants leave their shoes at the door, so they can experience the touch and feel of all the equipment,” said Vinyard.

 The Sensory Depot will be open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Each sensory session is 30 minutes long. Occupancy of the room allows up to four children per session. For adults, it is no more than three per session. Tickets are $20 for five visits or $36 for 10 visits. Without a ticket, the daily fee is $5 per visit. Further information on the hours of operation is available at (708) 389-9423 or the website:

 Lori Chesna, SWSRA executive director at The Helen Goy Center, recognized the Worth Park District for its efforts in constructing the Sensory Depot.

“Without their assistance I don’t know how we could have accomplished the addition of this room to the center,’’ she said.

 She also thanked Steve Werner, president of the Park District Board, and Brad Urban, a board member.

“They were here nearly every day, putting up wallboard, doing electrical work and painting.

Without them, the labor costs would have eaten up our budget for the Sensory Depot,’’ Chesna said. “We are very grateful for all they did.”

 On prominent display at the event was a poster outlining a wish list for the Sensory Depot, reflecting a goal of $30,000 to be raised for equipment. Topping the list was a $15,000 Gesture Tek Cube, an interactive projection on the floor, which simulates various actions such as walking through fall leaves, offering the participant the sensory experience of hearing the crunch of the leaves. Other items on the list included rotating rainfall panels and a learning chair (which vibrates to the beat of music).

 For anyone wishing to donate towards the $30,000 goal, checks are payable to SWSRA, 12521 S. Kostner, Alsip, IL 60803 or,

 SWSRA is a special recreation agency comprised of the Alsip Park District, Blue Island Park District, Village of Merrionette Park, Midlothian Park District, Palos Heights Recreation Department, Posen Park District, and Worth Park District. SWSRA was formed in 1981 to provide year-round quality recreation programs and services for individuals with disabilities or special needs. SWSRA programs are designed to increase independence and enhance the quality of life for each individual.