When Little City Executive Director Shawn Jeffers recently got word that one of his board members wanted to talk, he immediately pulled over his car and made the call.
On the receiving end was John Duffey, sharing news that the Palatine-based nonprofit organization's philanthropic pitch had in fact worked: He and his wife, Becky, wanted to make a $1 million gift.
"I was speechless, which John knows is rare," Jeffers said. "It means so much to this organization. It will be the catalyst for many great things to come."
Among the most significant benefits will be construction of the first two homes in the new Duffey Family Children's Village. Little City, which has served people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for more than 50 years, had hoped to break ground in 2011. Funding and Cook County's arduous approval process delayed the project, however.
Ultimately, six houses will be built on the northwest part of the 56-acre campus. A total of 48 residents with autism between the ages of 5 and 21 will live there.
The innovative design, which is based on the field's latest research, includes sensory rooms, therapeutic playgrounds, soothing paint colors and textures that promote tactile stimulation.
Ground will break April 12 and the first 16 residents are expected to move in by early December. Construction on the four remaining buildings will depend on future funding.
"At a time when many organizations are cutting back and reducing levels of support, we're hoping this is one of those bar-raisers that allows other organizations to be inspired," Jeffers said.
The Long Grove couple's contribution is the largest single gift Little City has ever received from an individual donor. John Duffey, whose older sister has developmental disabilities, became a board member three years ago after hearing about the great work Little City was up to.
"There's a real need to get children into updated facilities," Duffey said. "All of us are guardians to those with special needs. With what's going on with budget cuts in the state, it's necessary for us as individuals to step up."
The $1 million gift, along with significant support from Vincent and Patricia Foglia and the family of late Little City resident Larry Rudis, will allow the agency to seek a Platinum-level LEED certification -- the U.S. Green Building Council's highest rating -- for incorporating environmentally friendly design elements such as geothermal radiant heat.
Kelly Goldstein, director of research and project development, said the long-term energy savings and the importance of "zeroing out our carbon footprint" will outweigh the upfront costs.
The new village won't expand the population that Little City currently serves. Rather, Jeffers said, most of the residents will be moved from existing campus housing.
Leaders believe the scope of the village's benefits will reach beyond those who live within its walls.
"It could raise the standard of care," Jeffers said. "And once people witness the great things that are happening, and see how these environmental modifications impact quality of life, getting support won't be as much of a battle."
Project: First residents expected to move in next December