"In thinking about this project, I can't get over the support" said Brian Klene, Lincoln-Way Area Special Education District 843 governing board president, to the smiling crowd gathered Saturday for the dedication of a new transition house at 301 Colorado Ave., in Frankfort.
"The entire community rallied around it. This is something that is going to help so many kids for so long," he added.
The dream began three years ago when the District 843 parent advisory council looked at the biggest parental concerns and agreed that those concerns focused on the transition period after high school. The council asked the district to establish a transition committee, which it did. Soon after, the committee began to research how other districts prepared students for real life after high school.
Members visited programs in rented condos, church basements and old schools. One program viewed was located in an actual home in the western suburbs. That home became the model for the non-residential Lincoln-Way Transition House, which was built on land already owned by the district at the corner of Willow Street and Colorado Avenue.
"I was for rehabbing (the existing farmhouse). I was dead wrong," District 843 Director Sally Bintz told the crowd, chuckling.
The new home was funded through a grant, in addition to District 843 selling some of its land to Lincoln-Way School District 210, along with all six co-op districts contributing financially. District 843 provides services to about 3,000 children, ages 3 to 22, in a 100 square-mile area.
"Our list of partners is so large, I'm afraid I'd leave somebody out if I started naming them all," Bintz said. "Just know that we thank you all for whatever level of help you provided."
The transition house received more than $150,000 in donations of labor, material and gifts to build and furnish the home. In addition, some of the local unions used the home to teach their students in the apprentice programs, said Melinda Green, District 843 transition specialist.
"So ... long before it would even be used for our students with special needs, it was being used to educate future tradesmen," she said.
State Sen. Renee Kosel (R-New Lenox), who attended the dedication, praised District 843 for wisely using taxpayer money.
"The whole philosophy of the co-op, of working together, is something we need to duplicate throughout Illinois," she said.
The transition house will offer a Transition Academy for six weeks this summer and will officially begin receiving daily students in the fall. The transitions curriculum focuses on life skills that these young adults will need like budgeting, meal planning and cooking, as well as community-based tasks like going to the bank, grocery shopping, ordering in a restaurant and tipping after a meal, explained Green. The curriculum also encompasses social and recreational skills that young adults will need to function at home, at work and in social settings.
In addition, younger students from the district have already begun taking field trips to the house to work on things like doing laundry or cooking lessons.
For more information on the Transition House, click here.