NEDSRA's new leader looks forward to future
Jeena Greenwalt, executive director of Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association, has a motto that explains her perspective on her new position.
"I respect the past. I admire the present, but I'm very excited about the future," said Greenwalt, a 15-year veteran of NEDSRA who took over the organization's top spot in December.
Greenwalt replaced Larry Reiner, the founding executive director of NEDSRA who led the association for 33 years before retiring in November.
She was chosen out of four candidates from within and outside the agency, said Greg Kuhs, executive director of the Wood Dale Park District and chairman of the NEDSRA board.
"Her background and experience -- having worked with NEDSRA a number of years -- is going to help her become successful in her new position," he said.
Greenwalt inherits an agency that serves 4,000 children and adults with mental and/or physical disabilities in its member communities of Addison, Bensenville, Butterfield Park District, Glendale Heights, Itasca, Lombard, Medinah, Oakbrook Terrace, Schiller Park, Villa Park and Wood Dale.
The member communities provide the biggest chunk of NEDSRA's $2.4 million budget, but 20 percent comes from fundraising, donations and grants. Twenty-one full- and part-time professional staff provide more than 600 programs and services a year.
"I think we do a good job of serving the people that we know about," Greenwalt said. "I think there is still a large pocket of individuals out there who could benefit from our services."
Greenwalt said she wants to use new Internet marketing approaches to reach more potential clients, parents of children with disabilities, volunteers and donors. She also wants to work with neighboring special recreation associations and organizations that serve people with disabilities to pool resources to expand services.
She added that scholarships are available to those who cannot afford NEDSRA programs.
"I'm excited about doing new things and serving new people in new ways," she said.
Greenwalt has been part of NEDSRA's recreational programming for nearly half its history. After graduating from Illinois State University, she worked as NEDSRA's nature specialist for its outdoor education program from 1991-93. She left for four years to work with at-risk youth in a county parks and recreation department in Charlotte, N.C.
Since returning to NEDSRA in 1997, Greenwalt has held a variety of leadership and management positions, most recently as assistant superintendent of recreation.
She helped initiate EXCEL, Experiential Community Education Leisure, a school-based program that provides community field trips and in-house educational activities to 1,300 special education students a year. The program is designed to help students meet Illinois learning standards by reinforcing what they learn in school with recreational experiences, she said.
Greenwalt also helped start the PRO (Positive Recreation Opportunities) League for students with behavioral problems in alternative schools. Based on their school attendance, behavior and academics, the students are given the opportunity get out of school on Fridays and play team sports at NEDSRA.
Both programs have won awards and continue to thrive, Greenwalt said.
Greenwalt herself learned to love the outdoors at an early age while growing up on a 1,300-acre farm in the downstate community of Carlinville. While at Illinois State, she did her internship with the Illinois Department of Conservation. A summer working with the Skokie Park District reinforced her love for children, she said.
"I've always had a passion for working with children," she said.
Greenwalt, who is single, said she has found an outlet for that passion in her 10 nieces and nephews and the few hundred children NEDSRA serves. She credits her mother with developing her sensitivity to people with disabilities.
"My mom always took us to nursing homes as kids. She always interacted with people with disabilities," Greenwalt said. "She taught me to treat everyone with respect."
Work and play
Since becoming executive director, Greenwalt said she has spent a lot of time seeking input from other staff members about what NEDSRA's priorities should be. She will be meeting with board members and welcomes input from community residents as well, she said.
Well-acquainted with the recreational side of NEDSRA, Greenwalt acknowledged dealing with administration, facility maintenance, the front office, development and the capital budget is new to her.
"I have so much to learn," she said.
Susan Balling, NEDSRA's assistant to the executive director for 32 years, said she's always known Greenwalt is hardworking and dedicated, but that it is even more apparent in her new position.
"She's right now working seven days a week, morning, noon and night, to really get a handle on everything," Balling said. "It's not been a difficult transition. It's kind of energizing."
Lisa Deets, superintendent of recreation and a NEDSRA staff member for 23 years, agreed.
"Jeena's very driven," she said. "The drive of Jeena is very infectious, and (so is) the amount she willing to take on her plate at one time."
Greenwalt isn't all work, however. A resident of Chicago, she goes back to her county roots to relax by fishing off her pontoon boat in Galena.
"I like to have fun," she said. "I enjoy any type of social activity."
• NEDSRA's administration offices are at 1770 W. Centennial Place, Addison. For details, contact (630) 620-4500 or nedsra.org.