Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago: 2019-2020

Easterseals Academy (EA) students face overwhelming obstacles in achieving their goals – they have significant disabilities, they struggle with emotional and behavioral control, and most of them have considerable financial needs, as well. These students’ disabilities require so much support, in fact, they were unable to be served by their local systems. EA students require specialized services and a unique learning environment to be successful. Additionally, 74% of EA students qualify for free or reduced lunch. These students have the odds stacked against them, yet they consistently make gains. Despite their diagnoses, their needs, and their financial limitations, these students show progress each and every day. EA works hard to provide unparalleled services and opportunities for these students to help them to continue to make progress. As part of Easterseals’ mission to continue meeting students’ needs, Easterseals completed a major fundraising campaign that allowed the opening of “Building a Healthier Tomorrow”, a 26,000 square feet Fitness, Wellness and Recreation Center. This center was created to help students build healthy lifestyle habits, learn new communication and social skills, and increase opportunities for community engagement. Once the Center opened, however, there were no materials in it for students to use; the 26,000-foot space had no equipment at all. Filling the space with appropriate, adaptive equipment was essential for addressing three key areas of need for EAC students: improving physical health, developing social skills, and regulating behavior. EA reached out to WSHF to request funding to stock the new gym space with a range of appropriate materials, including multiple fitness machines and sports equipment, that met the sensory needs of, encouraged interactive play between, and promoted the overall physical activity of students with Autism and related diagnoses. WSHF funded a grant request which EA used to purchase a range of materials that enabled EA students to better regulate their sensory systems and build necessary skills, which in turn, has helped them be more receptive to the treatment and training they receive during the school day.