Services for all: South Suburban Special Recreation Association at 45 years

  Kevin Curran gets ready to block Daniel Simpson
  in an SSSRA-sponsored basketball game.
(Provided
  photos)
 
Isabella and Connor Miller were excited to show off the trophy their Stingrays softball team won in a Special Olympics area softball tournament in 2017.
 
Their joy playing on a team is possible because of the staff and volunteers with South Suburban Special Recreation Association (SSSRA). For the past 45 years, the agency has been bringing delight through inclusion programs to thousands of special needs people in Homewood and Flossmoor. 
 
  SSSRA assistant Bridgette
  Bova had fun with Copley
  Eisenberg of Homewood at
  summer day camp.

 
The camaraderie of the participants extends out to families and friends as well, forming a big supportive network, said Cathy Davis of Flossmoor who described it as “a really nice community of kids and young adults and a great community for us parents to become friends.”
 
In 1969, the Illinois Legislature passed a law allowing park districts and villages the right to levy a tax for special recreation associations to provide services for residents.  The Homewood-Flossmoor Park District was one of the founding members when SSSRA organized in 1973. Today seven park districts and three villages make up SSSRA serving residents in Country Club Hills, Hazel Crest, H-F, Lansing, Matteson, Oak Forest, Olympia Fields, Park Forest, Richton Park and Tinley Park.
 
  South Suburban Special
  Recreation Association
  participant Ashley Peoples
  gets excited when introduced
  to Bruce Berg's trained,
  registered therapy dog
  during a Rainbow Animal
  Assisted Therapy program.

 
“We started with a handful of programs and a handful of participants,” who enjoyed bowling, swimming and horseback riding, said Janet Porter, SSSRA executive director. “We still have those things, but now we have more than 50 other things as well.”  SSSRA services are called therapeutic recreation. While many center around sports, SSSRA also hosts a wide variety of programs, including Saturday Night Social Club, a drama club, cooking lessons and camping trips.
 
This year, 245 households in the H-F community registered with SSSRA. The participants were able to select from 60 offerings available each week and 30 special events each season, such as trips to sporting events and dances. There is no limit to the number of programs a participant can sign up for.
 
Participants are grouped by age and ability level. SSSRA services are offered from birth through adult and for persons with any type of disability, whether that’s a three-year-old with autism or a 70-year-old stroke victim. It has served H-F veterans through its Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program.
 
  Stephanie Wolf and Charlotte
  Miggenburg are ready for
  their paddleboat adventure
  while at Camp Duncan in
  Ingleside, Illinois. The week
  at camp is one of the many
  programs offered by South
  Suburban Special Recreation
  Association.

 
“Our programs are organized and designed with everyone’s needs in mind,” Porter explained. “People with disabilities can do anything with the proper support.” 
 
“(SSSRA) changed our lives almost immediately,” said Kim Miggenburg of Flossmoor whose daughter Charlotte, 42, has been a part of SSSRA for nearly 30 years.
 
“The first thing she did was Girl Scouts. While that worked out nicely it led her to doing a lot of sports connected to Special Olympics and she’s been doing it ever since. It’s her form of entertainment. She does all their outings in addition to sports. She made friends. Honestly, it was just a lifesaver for her,” Miggenburg said.
 
  Anthony Pitts, SSSRA part-time
  staff member Michael Carr and
  Thaddeus Simpson.

 
There are hundreds whose lives have been touched and enhanced by SSSRA. Davis’ daughter Kailen, 32, has been part of SSSRA for 20 years. She first was involved playing sports and participating in Special Olympics. Now she’s enjoying bingo and going on outings.
 
“Words can’t express my gratitude. They are such good spirits and kindred spirits. They know your child’s strengths and they strengthen your child’s weaknesses,” Davis said of SSSRA staff members.  
 
“You need programs and the people who organize and run these programs, like those who are part of SSSRA and Special Olympics. Schools can only do so much,” she believes. The participants “need a holistic picture for their life, no different than you or I would need.”
 

  Isabella and Connor Miller
  of Homewood, participants
  in South Suburban Special
  Recreation Association
  programs, proudly display a
  softball trophy their Stingray
  team won in a Special
  Olympics competition.

 

Marilyn McGannon’s daughter Kathy has been a 30-year member of SSSRA. She was on a softball team for years. Now she is enjoying bocce, as well as the dances. She’s going to the Monster Mash at the end of October and the Oktoberfest celebration in Lansing.
 
“I don’t know what we’d do without it,” McGannon said. “The programs have really helped build up her self-confidence.” 
 
SSSRA offers bus service to an SSSRA program, an aide for special assistance or training in sports to prepare for special recreation leagues or through Special Olympics.
Five-year-old Copley Eisenberg of Homewood got to attend the SSSRA summer camp. 
 
“It’s nice to have this resource where they have this extra adult for the kids,” his dad Josh Eisenberg said. “I don’t have to worry about certain things because they know what they’re doing” with children like Copley who has Down syndrome. 
 
Eisenberg said SSSRA provided an aide for free when Copley participated in an H-F Park District program. “I thought that was just amazing.”
 
  Hitting the links are, from left,
  Leigh Metrick, Kailen Davis
  of Flossmoor and Linda Dasey
  of Homewood.

 
Copley has been part of SSSRA’s gymnastics class enjoying an hour a week of tumbling, climbing and balancing. Eisenberg said it matches the physical therapy Copley gets but SSSRA’s program “is more fun and he’s with other kids so he doesn’t think he’s working hard like (in) his therapy, but that’s kind of the point of it.”
 
SSSRA is headquartered in Tinley Park. It has a 12-member full-time staff and 150 part-time staff in addition to many volunteers. It doesn’t own or operate any facilities. 
 
“We rely on the park districts and villages to (allow SSSRA to) use buildings. That’s really important to our success — that we can access the gyms, pools, ice arena,” Porter said. 
Its 45 years of service has touched many, yet Porter said there are new families learning about SSSRA services every week. She has been with the agency for 33 years, and “families I met in the beginning in parent and tot swim now have adult children. It’s so gratifying to see the lifelong friendships that have developed through our programs.”
 
Porter is also gratified by the increase in agencies and services offered for people with special needs. 
 
“I view this as a positive. I think there’s an expectation now that these services should be available, and I think that’s a good thing. 
 
“Maybe back in the early ‘70s no one thought of it that way as an automatic expectation that people with disabilities deserve these services, and that they should be quality services,” she added. “And now I think those expectations exist. I view that as a positive: What parents expect and what the world in general views as normal.”
 

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