Meeting each person where their needs are-- whether six or 60

Oak Leyden empowers children and adults with developmental disabilities


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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Since 1956, Oak Leyden has worked to empower children and adults with developmental disabilities, offering youth services and adult life-long services from its Chicago Avenue bases in Oak Park, as well as residential options in 12 group homes throughout the city and suburbs.

Carolyn Anderson is one adult who has seen her life change through Oak Leyden. The 26-year-old Melrose Park resident recently started a new job at Jewel in Elmhurst and credits the employment services group at Oak Leyden in helping her find meaningful employment.

She says, "I go to the job club, and they teach us how to answer interview questions, how to dress for an interview and how to make eye contact."

Prior to the classes, Anderson says job interviews made her nervous. "When I go on interviews, I'm worried I'll mess up. At Oak Leyden, we practice what to say, and that makes me feel better."

Her job coach at Oak Leyden, James Conyers, says that employment services are tailored to each individual's needs, with the first four weeks of the group spent getting to know each adult in order to best match them to a job that will be appropriate. He says that Anderson needed to work on her confidence.

"We built up her confidence with mock interviews and feedback and talked about using appropriate business language."

Conyers says Anderson learned a lot through the training.  "She sold herself at the job interview at Jewel. When she left the interview, they told me she got the job due to her personal skills."

Anderson also worked on tackling public transportation with Oak Leyden, and now uses Metra and Pace to get to her job. Conyers says expanding her horizons and self-sufficiency was something they worked on in their classes.

Conyers emphasizes that the overarching goal of Oak Leyden's employment program is to help adults with developmental disabilities find the best work environment for each individual with natural supports. "They are looking for long-term careers. We want them to enjoy going to work."

Theo Buhler's mom Karen says Oak Leyden has been invaluable in her toddler son's development.  Diagnosed at an early age with a seizure disorder, Theo faced developmental delays and needs speech, occupational and physical therapy.  Through Oak Leyden, he is receiving the therapies he needs. Karen Buhler says of Oak Leyden, "They are very good at seeing where he still has missing pieces and trying to fill in those areas so that he develops and progresses."

Theo's speech therapist Katie Crehan says her work with Theo, while highly individualized to suit his needs, follows similar parameters that she uses with her youngest clients. "Everything is based in play. We're on the floor all the time. We might work during meal time or out in the community at parks or at the library. We want to maximize the potential for learning in all environments."

Darlene Wyosnick's 54-year-old son Eric is at a different life stage than Theo Buhler, and she says that Oak Leyden has been just as vital to providing the supports he needs to reach his full potential.  In his 19th year in residential services with Oak Leyden, Eric has needed residential care since he was 12. Wyosnick says that when he was six years old, she was told that he would never make gains developmentally.

She reports that Oak Leyden has proved that prediction wrong.  "He would not be the person he is without this," she says of the home where he lives with three other developmentally disabled men and their caregivers.

Eric comes back to visit her most weekends, but she says of Oak Leyden, "That's his real home. Eric is pretty much non-verbal, but he is happy go-lucky. His self-help skills are what's most important. He can do his laundry and can shop for groceries. He can do a lot of things for himself that I did for him."

For Eric and for her, Wyosnick says choosing residential care, while an emotional choice, proved to be the best decision. "I won't be around forever. It's great to have this. I deeply appreciate the decision parents have to make when choosing residential care for their child. He's in a good place. It's the closest thing to home we'll ever find."

At the end of the day, Bertha Magaña, Oak Leyden's CEO, says her agency plays a vital role in providing much-needed social services to many in the community. "People with developmental disabilities often lack access to the therapies, housing, activities, and employment opportunities they need to thrive. Oak-Leyden is proud to empower more than 500 children and adults with developmental disabilities each year living throughout Oak Park and western Cook County. Through a variety of programs and services, we promote the greater inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in the community at large. Our Children's Services, Community Living Services, Lifelong Learning Centers, and Supported Employment Program each help participants meet life's challenges and reach their highest potential. We count on the support of the mission-driven communities we work within to transform the lives of those we serve and the area as a whole."


Updated to fix headline

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