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updated: 11/13/2012 10:52 AM

Take a Break program gives parents of children with special needs a few hours off

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  • Maika Manalastas holds 10-month-old Lilly Myra of Glendale Heights during DuPage County's new Take a Break in the Afternoon program sponsored by Clearbrook, an Arlington Heights nonprofit organization that serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

       Maika Manalastas holds 10-month-old Lilly Myra of Glendale Heights during DuPage County's new Take a Break in the Afternoon program sponsored by Clearbrook, an Arlington Heights nonprofit organization that serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Austin Payne, 2, of Wheaton, spends time with Jack Gende during a recent visit to the NEDSRA headquarters in Addison as part of the Take a Break in the Afternoon program.

       Austin Payne, 2, of Wheaton, spends time with Jack Gende during a recent visit to the NEDSRA headquarters in Addison as part of the Take a Break in the Afternoon program.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 

The first time Wheaton mom Mireille Payne left her sons, Noah, 3, and Austin, 2, at DuPage County's new Take a Break in the Afternoon program, she went to run errands, take an hour's nap and spend some time with her husband.

Those aren't things she normally gets to do easily.

"Both my kids are developmentally delayed and have so much energy and I'm a 45-year-old mom," she said. "I can't get anything done when the kids are trying to run outside."

Clearbrook, an Arlington Heights-based nonprofit organization that serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, this fall brought its Take a Break in the Afternoon program to DuPage County.

Offered in partnership with Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association and PACT, Inc., the program invites parents to drop off their special needs children up to age 5 and their siblings from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the third Saturday of the month at NEDSRA's headquarters at 1770 W. Centennial Place, Addison.

For those three hours, Clearbrook staff and volunteers play with the children, make crafts, take them to the playground and give them lunch and lots of personal attention while the parents do -- well, whatever they want.

"I'm very grateful for it," Payne said. "It's helpful to me because I don't have to be there. I can get personal things done and I know the kids are in good hands."

New in DuPage

Tina Yurik, Clearbrook's Take a Break program coordinator, said the organization decided to offer the program in DuPage after launching it in Rolling Meadows in 2007 and in Waukegan in 2010. Families and special needs service providers in DuPage began calling after they heard about the program.

"We have four families that are interested in participating in the program," Yurik said. "There's nothing like it in DuPage."

Even a once-a-month break can be a godsend to parents caring for special needs children, Yurik said. She recalled that a grandmother who was raising her grandson told her she went home and read the newspaper the first time after she left her grandson at Take a Break.

"For the past 17 months, this is the only time I had any time alone," the grandmother told her.

Yurik said the children benefit as well. "It gives them the opportunity to learn turn-taking, sharing and even trust," she said.

Fun for volunteers

With enough volunteers, Clearbrook would like to expand the program to twice a month in DuPage and offer a Take a Break in-home program, Yurik said. Many of the 17 trained volunteers for the DuPage location are college students who appeared to be enjoying the program as much as the kids one Saturday in October.

"It's a lot of fun," said Robert Myers, who was there with several of his fellow students from Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University in Downers Grove. "I know I'm doing something that directly helps people out."

Jeanne Devita of Westchester said she has been a Clearbrook volunteer for seven years. She's served as both an in-home volunteer, giving families four hours a week of support in their own homes, as well as a Take a Break in the Afternoon volunteer.

"The work is so rewarding for me," she said. "The families are so grateful."

Elmhurst College student Colleen Dhamer said she first started volunteering at the Take a Break in the Afternoon program in Rolling Meadows more than a year ago as part of a class project. Then she just kept going and even started baby-sitting for one of the families who participated.

"It's a very welcoming environment," she said. "When you see the joy in the kids' eyes, it makes anything you may have given up for the day worth it."

On that Saturday in October at NEDSRA's headquarters in Addison, the kids happily played with a variety of toys. made trick-or-treat bags, received piggyback rides, rolled balls, and took a trip outdoors to the playground

"I like the crafts," said Soren Myra, 5, of Glendale Heights, who was there with brothers Brennen, 4, Leif, 2, and baby sister, Liliana, 10 months, who is receiving early intervention services.

Parents pay $15 per session or $20 for two children or more -- far less than they typically would have to pay for baby-sitting, Payne said.

"We also have scholarships," Yurik said,

Volunteers in the center-based program receive an orientation and have staff to turn to for help on-site, They are asked to commit to a September to May period. Not all volunteers will be able to come every month so Clearbrook trains more than it needs per session, Yurik said.

"When they (the children) come into the program, they need to see familiar faces," she said. "I do look for that one-on-one."

In-home volunteers receive 20 hours of training, including CPR and first-aid instruction, and go through a background check.

The next DuPage Take a Break in the Afternoon session will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 17 at NEDSRA's headquarters in Addison. For information, contact Yurik at (847) 392-2812, ext. 35, or visit the Clearbook website at www.Clearbrook.org.

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