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Garden Center Services - Where Dignity And Independence Grow
By Christine Bowen

For over 50 years, Garden Center Services has provided a safe place for persons with developmental disabilities to learn independent living skills and develop their capacity in vocational areas. Garden Center Services is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1956 by a group of concerned parents. The agency was created to provide services to individuals with development disabilities whose needs were not being met in the local schools. Families continue to play an integral part in the agency and the lives of the persons who receive services.

The main building is located at 8300 South Austin Avenue, Burbank, IL where over 120 individuals attend the Day Program and Work Shop. The Day Program encourages development of basic skills such as, speech, coordination, social interaction and for higher functioning individuals, math and reading. The Work Shop gives the client an opportunity to have a "job," just like everyone else. The clients earn a paycheck and more importantly, they are proud of their accomplishments. Some of the activities in the Work Shop are; packing, light assembly, mass mailings, sorting, collating and labeling, affixing pins to buttons, affixing UPC stickers to Burger King plastic bags, etc.

Also, there are Employment Services for those individuals who are capable of working outside of the Work Shop. Vocational assessment, job coaching, training, resume writing and vocational placement are provided by trained staff. Several clients have been placed in "main stream" jobs thanks to this program.

The development of the client's social abilities is also considered. Clients enjoy bowling, swimming, arts & crafts, exercise programs, fieldtrips (zoo, museums, boat rides, etc.) and weekly Social Night where various games and activities are provided, often with community volunteers.

Garden Center Services also provides residential living for approximately 35 clients. Higher functioning clients live in Community Integrated Living Assistance (CILA) homes. These homes teach the clients how to make basic meals, clean, do laundry and plan a budget (to the best of their ability.) The clients have their own room and are transported daily to the main building.

The more profoundly disabled residents live in the 15 bed Immediate Care Facility (ICF) located at 8345 South Austin Avenue, Burbank, IL. These individuals also have their own room and require 24 hours-a-day assistance for all their basic needs (bathing, oral hygiene, grooming, dressing, etc). Clients help with meal preparation, meal clean-up, laundry, etc. The ICF is where Father Andrew conducts a prayer service on the first Monday of each month.

Father Andrew started visiting the ICF 9 years ago. The clients look forward to each visit and always ask the same question,"when's the Priest coming?" Each month Father reads a short story from the Children's Bible that St. Luke provided for each client. The stories are simple enough for the clients to understand and they have questions after each story.

After the story, Father conducts a short prayer service. The clients sing along and participate enthusiastically. Each month they have some family member or friend that needs our prayers. Father's homily is on the clients' level and often invokes spirited interaction. We have blessed fruit, celebrated Valentines Day, St. Pat's Day, Paska, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and of course, Christmas. St. Nick has visited each year and given out gold coins. Father also brings something to share from his trips. After the prayer service, Father and other members of St. Luke's join the clients in snack time and interact on a social level.

There have been two client deaths over the past few years and Father has been a source of comfort for the clients. In one case where there was no wake or funeral service, Father was asked by Garden Center to hold a memorial service for the ICF clients so that they could have closure to their loss of a fellow resident.

Father Andrew and St. Luke's members, Mary Kincaid, Alex Zimney, John Verderber, Caye Caswick, Stea Zekios, have joined the clients on a regular basis over the past year. I thank them all for their participation - the clients have grown to care for them and our St. Luke family.

I believe that our monthly visits are very important to the clients because attending the service is always their choice and each month, all the clients choose to attend the service. I believe it is also very important to the members of St. Luke's who attend on a regular basis because it is always their choice to attend and they always do. Please join us for one of the monthly visits and enrich your life as well as those at Garden Center Services.

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