Wheaton's STARS raising funds to open two group homes
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Ask the four guys living at Washington House what they like about being there and they're likely to tell you everything -- even the chores.
"It's real good," says Gary Brunette, a 55-year-old man with developmental disabilities and the designated cook for the week. "I like all of it. All of it has to be done. I love the guys I live with."
If you goWhat: "Little Patch of Heaven" radio show
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 7, and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8
Where: College Church, 332 E. Seminary Ave., Wheaton
Cost: Freewill donation to STARS Family Services
The three other guys -- Tim Davis, 36, Ian Kenneally, 32, and David Brinker, 30 -- share Brunette's appreciation for their home although Brinker admits he doesn't care much for the cooking part.
"I like being here. I like helping Trace (Nelson, the overnight staff member)," says Brinker, who recently celebrated his 30th birthday with a bowling party.
Washington House in Wheaton opened three years ago in June as the first home created by STARS Family Services for adults with intellectual disabilities who are part of the STARS ministry at College Church in Wheaton. Two more homes are under construction -- including one for women expected to open later this year.
A fundraiser for the homes in the form of a "Little Patch of Heaven," the fifth annual old-time radio show starring the Musical Moms and Todd Busteed as master of ceremonies, begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 7, and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at College Church, 332 E. Seminary Ave., Wheaton. No admission is charged, but those who attend are asked to donate toward the operating cost of the homes.
The popular show, presented by three women in College Church with professional and semiprofessional musical backgrounds, drew 1,400 last year and raised a little more than $80,000, says Ray Chase, president and chairman of the board of STARS Family Services, a nonprofit started in 2008. This year they've set a fundraising goal of $150,000.
STARS Family Services receives no government funding. Chase said generous donors have given enough to buy the land and construct the two new homes, but the shows help raise money for the operating costs. Families of residents pay toward the operating costs based on what the residents receive from Social Security disability income, but it isn't enough to run the homes.
"There's always a shortfall. It doesn't cover it all," Chase says.
The annual shortfall at Washington House is $80,000. For the new homes, which will be built without a mortgage, Chase estimates the shortfall will be $60,000.
A significant portion of budget is made up by sales at the STARS Resale Shop, 1072 College Ave., Wheaton. STARS residents along with other volunteers work at the shop, which provides 30 to 35 percent of the Washington House budget.
"It's steady money. That's gotten such a following, we have money we can count on," Chase says.
Chase said STARS Family Services will not open a new home until it has a year and a half of operating expenses in reserve. In addition to covering room and board costs, the operating expenses pay for eight part-time staff members who work with residents on life skills such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, cleaning and hygiene. Chase and nearly two dozen volunteers offer their services for free.
Need for housing
Dawn Clark, director of disabilities ministries at College Church, said the need for more housing is there. The more than 50-year-old STARS ministry at College Church serves 130 families inside and outside the church with programs that include Bible classes, recreation, respite care, music and parent meetings. A survey showed that 30 of the STARS participants live with parents 60 or older, Clark said.
The commonly voiced concern of STARS parents is what will happen to their children when they can no longer care for them. With a scarcity of housing for the developmentally disabled in Illinois, the children might have to move to a place an hour or two away, Clark said. STARS offers an alternative.
"They live with their friends. They can stay in their community," Clark says.
Chase said the next home for women will have space for five permanent residents and one spot open for respite care. So far, 12 families have taken out applications and seven have returned them.
Pat and Bill Kenneally of Carol Stream, the parents of Washington House resident Ian Kenneally, said the fact that their son was moving in with people he already knew from the STARS ministry and from going to school with one of them made the Kenneallys more comfortable with the transition.
"They are very happy. They get along well," Pat Kenneally says. "We're very happy with it, the Christian aspect of it, the friendliness."
Before Ian's move to Washington House a little over a year ago, the Kenneallys, who are in their 70s and have seven children, had never known an empty nest. They admit they have had more trouble with the transition than Ian has. Ian, who loves music and has an encyclopedic knowledge of bands, usually only calls home when he needs batteries or some other item, Bill Kenneally says.
"We figured we would keep him home as long as we could," Pat Kenneally says. "We are very fortunate that this happened."
The Kenneallys, like other parents of STARS residents, are required to volunteer a couple hours weekly at the home. Parents who may be unable to volunteer may designate a friend or another family member in their place.
"We want the families to stay involved," Clark says.
The Kenneallys, who take Ian home for weekend visits once a month, said their son has been able to participate in all the activities he did when he lived with them and added more. Ian works five days a week at the Spectrum workshop run by Little Friends and participates in recreational programs offered by Western DuPage Special Recreation Association.
All Washington House residents are expected to be out of the house from at least 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., either working or participating in recreational opportunities. Brunette, who previously lived with his mother and uncle in Wheaton, says he has a full schedule. He works at STARS Resale Shop on Mondays and Fridays, volunteers at Easter Seals on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and attends Connection of Friends, a group that provides social opportunities, on Tuesdays. He also helps with cleaning the church and offices, as well as with the chores at Washington House. For fun, he enjoys outings to local museums and Cosley Zoo in Wheaton.
"I'm always busy. It never stops," he says.
Davis, known as Washington House's resident comedian, also works at the church resale shop and attends WDSRA activities. Asked his favorite chores around home, he hedges a bit before he comes up with an answer.
"It's hard to say," he says. "Loading the dishwasher and washing the dishes."
Kitchen cabinets and drawers are labeled with pictures as well as words to help residents more easily do their tasks.
"They really know how to do a lot of it themselves and I supervise," says Janice Thomas, a life skills tutor who works part-time at Washington House. For instance that evening, Thomas reminded the residents that when they load the dishwasher, the knives should be turned upside down.
Thomas, who previously worked in recreational therapy, said she jumped at the chance to join Washington House staff after seeing a video of STARS Family Services' work at last year's fundraiser.
"I like the fact I have a Christian environment," Thomas says, noting that the residents study the Bible and pray together.
Clark says STARS Family Services is one more effort of College Church to come alongside the families of those with developmental disabilities and support them.
"I'm glad our church has taken this initiative," she says. "Often society doesn't value their lives. Not only do they need us, but we need them."
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