Lombard disability services agency strives for normalcy after crash
One moment on the roads last April made a lasting impact on a Lombard social services agency that provides day programming for adults with developmental disabilities.
That impact was not the good kind, but rather something painful, costly and mentally taxing.
Get to know RRAF
What: RRAF, "Where Reality is Respect, Appreciation and Fulfillment"
Where: 613 and 619 S. Main St., Lombard
History: Established in 1981, the nonprofit agency began providing day programming for five adults with developmental disabilities in 1987. RRAF moved to Lombard in 2001.
Mission: To provide day programs and in-home support for adults with developmental disabilities who live at their family homes in DuPage and western Cook counties.
Budget: About $500,000 a year
Staff: Six people; president and executive director Marilyn Flanagan, three full-time staff members and two part-timers
In one moment on April 27, 2012, a man who now has pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI crashed head-on into a van belonging to the nonprofit RRAF, injuring three of the four people inside, including two clients and the president and executive director, Marilyn Flanagan.
The 11 months since the crash in Addison Township have been a period of healing and striving for normalcy, Flanagan said. But the agency, which provides day programming for 25 adults with developmental disabilities, isn't there yet.
Flanagan's foot never will be back to normal, she says, and the client injured most severely in the crash, 30-year-old Bonnie Habura of Addison Township, now faces physical challenges in addition to her developmental delays.
Crash or no crash, RRAF strives to help its clients continue learning and improving their skills in cooking, shopping and communication. The agency's name means "where Reality is Respect, Appreciation and Fulfillment," and those feelings are what Flanagan hopes clients find during their time at RRAF's Lombard headquarters.
Clients are between 22 and 49 years old, and most attend day programming from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"Whatever you and I tend to do in our typical day, we fit in," Flanagan said. "If we're cooking the next day, we'll go shop and buy our groceries."
Using real money at real stores is part of the nonprofit's focus on functional training. So are vocational tasks like sorting price tags for garage sales, keeping the kitchen clean or working on a computer.
"We continue on where the school system leaves off," Flanagan said about the education provided by RRAF's day programs, which also includes training in motor development, dressing, grooming, eating and using the bathroom.
"For the families, it gives them a continuation so they can continue their jobs and keep their families intact."
The usual cycle of life at RRAF was disrupted, however, by the crash last year, which took place on a Friday afternoon on Route 53 at Diversey Avenue.
Flanagan took the wheel of a green, 2005 van after allowing the staffer who usually drives clients home to leave early so she could attend an event at her son's school.
While Flanagan was stopped at Diversey waiting to head south on Route 53, a northbound car driven by 23-year-old Nyles Nykaza of DeKalb crossed the centerline and smacked into the van.
Nykaza pleaded guilty March 8 to aggravated DUI and will serve 30 days in jail, DuPage County authorities said.
Months after the crash, Flanagan said her memory of the seconds leading up to the collision is vague, yet vivid.
"All I know was I saw this guy coming at me and all I could think of was 'so this is what it feels like,' and I couldn't even finish the words 'to die' before it came," Flanagan said from her office just outside RRAF's multipurpose space one March morning.
Her right foot was injured in the crash, and she now has a permanent slight limp. She is required to wear orthotics in her shoes and avoid going barefoot. She has a one-inch bump atop her foot and had to donate her cowboy boots.
A client with autism who was in the vehicle suffered a bruised knee and had difficulty walking.
But Bonnie's injuries were the worst, Flanagan said. It took emergency responders 45 minutes to extricate her from the van, during which time one of her legs was pinned under the front seat, her father, Paul Habura, said.
Bonnie is unable to speak, but her father says she is still suffering physical symptoms from the broken ribs, bruised shoulder and leg injury she sustained in the accident.
"She still has trouble when she gets up in the morning," Habura said. "She has to stand there first and straighten out."
Bonnie's actions tell her family she still fears certain circumstances in the car.
"When we're driving, if you take off too fast, she lets out a little bit of a yell," Habura said. "She always sits in the back seat, but she's always watching and looking in front of the driver."
Bonnie missed three weeks of RRAF day programs after the crash, but has been attending almost daily since, and her father said she seems to enjoy the companionship and activities.
RRAF receives funding from the state, paid as a certain amount per hour for each client it serves each day. So when Bonnie missed time after the crash, RRAF lost money. When she and the other injured client had to attend follow-up doctor's appointments, RRAF lost more money.
That's been part of the ongoing administrative struggle of recovering from the crash. Flanagan said the nonprofit's insurance covered the cost of replacing its damaged van, but Nykaza's car insurance only has provided $40,000 for health care costs she and the two injured clients have incurred.
RRAF's budget is about $500,000 a year, and Flanagan said the agency is financially stable for now. But its future is a bit uncertain as health insurance billing requirements are changing to a system that will require more paperwork to prove services were provided, Flanagan said.
RRAF also is looking to expand into the realm of residential care for people with developmental disabilities, a long-term goal that will require houses, furnishings and additional staff, she said.
The DuPage Community Foundation supports RRAF, as do many individual donors. And Flanagan said donations of jewelry — new, used, broken or in perfect shape — also can help RRAF because a mother's group refurbishes it and sells it at fundraisers.
While Flanagan and RRAF's five other staff members deal with the financial, medical and logistical aspects of providing daytime services for adults with disabilities, the people they serve are enjoying exercise, cooking with friends and holiday celebrations as part of the average day.
"Just being able to look out the office and see the enjoyment and the growth and the interaction that goes on on a daily basis makes the administrative part of it doable," Flanagan said. "They're the ones that keep us smiling."
Families like Bonnie's say the service RRAF provides keeps them satisfied their relatives are safe, learning and growing.
"Having a child like this, you worry about them," Habura said. "You don't trust anybody, really, but we can trust RRAF. That's one thing we can do."
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