When SEASPAR Executive Director Susan Friend looks at the area and out the windows of the new dedicated space the special recreation organization has at the Lisle Park District Recreation Center, she throws her arms out wide and smiles. "Wow," she says as much for herself as for others to hear.
"We needed more space to continue to meet the communities' needs, and Lisle stepped up," Friend said.
Within the 2,000-square-foot space, the South East Association for Special Parks and Recreation has a great multipurpose room and its first multisensory room.
Large windows open to views of Lisle Community Park. With the space having its own entrance and adjacent parking, it is easy to see why Friend is thrilled with the opportunities the facility offers SEASPAR and its ongoing service to individuals with special needs.
"We are truly excited about this facility," Friend said.
SEASPAR's mission statement is to "enable participants to discover abilities, achieve potential and realize dreams."
The first thing checked off SEASPAR's wish list to help with that mission was the installation of a multisensory room it calls Wonders.
"We had a dream of creating a sensory room for folks with autism (and) other sensory integration problems and (it) is proving to be effective for people with dementia," Friend said.
The SEASPAR staff researched many features before undertaking the project for Wonders. Generous donations were set aside waiting for the creation of the unique multisensory room.
Now a reality, the room may be tailored to different opportunities. Muted white walls allow fiber optical tubes to add bubbles of color. Projected on the floor, a high-tech image of a pool ripples when a child dips their toe into the scene, or leaves wave when a hand passes through the almost-magical illusion.
Soft white seating and a jumbo love bug dominate one corner. In another area, a Learning Chair allows its user to feel the vibrations of music along with its sound. Relaxing aromas and soothing lights can be included.
In printed material on the sensory room, SEASPAR called autism the "fastest-growing developmental disability in the country, growing at 10 to 17 percent per year."
"The cost of lifelong care can be reduced by two-thirds with early diagnosis and intervention," the information states. Friend said Wonders can provide early intervention opportunities for those with autism, but also other SEASPAR participants with limited mobility can make cool things happen in Wonders.
SEASPAR offers participants from ages 5 to 15 summer programs to explore and enjoy the multisensory room for a class fee. Offerings such as Sensory Sunday use a punch card system with advance reservations for ages 3 to 15, and Adult Sensory Time offers half-hour segments for ages 16 and older on Tuesday evenings.
General SEASPAR programming will take place in the new facility's large multipurpose room using its five computer stations, an integrated white board, wheelchair-accessible kitchen, an expanse of comfortable seating and storage space. A popular program called EAGLES will serve adults 22 and older in the new facility.
"EAGLES is our adult day program (that) we have not promoted for the last year and a half because demand exceeded what we could provide," Friend said. "This space gives us a chance to expand that program to this third location."
SEASPAR also offers its teen and young adults day camp at the Lisle facility this summer.
"As excited as SEASPAR is to be here," Lisle Park District Executive Director Dan Garvy said, "we are equally excited, grateful and proud to have SEASPAR here in our building."
The Lisle Park District Board of Commissioners offered immediate support for the idea. Within six months, an agreement was forged to build out the Lisle Park District space and dedicate its use to SEASPAR for 30 years.
Lisle is on the western edge of the SEASPAR service area that includes the communities of Brookfield, Clarendon Hills, Darien, Downers Grove, Indian Head Park, LaGrange, LaGrange Park, Western Springs, Westmont and Woodridge.
"Most of our folks are unemployed or underemployed," Friend said. "So it produces a lot of leisure time, and SEASPAR's responsibility to the people of Lisle and the 10 communities we serve is to help provide productive use of time, so that is what we are going to do here."
SEASPAR has no property of its own but relies on its community members for long-term program space. Friend is grateful for the help of Garvy, who serves as Lisle's representative on the SEASPAR board, and Lisle Park Superintendent Aaron Cerutti, who oversaw the day-to-day demolition and construction that began in January. A grand opening was held the end of May.
SEASPAR contributed $200,000 toward the construction and the park district provided the remainder and did the demolition, Friend said. SEASPAR provided all furniture, fixture and equipment costs. The new facility will serve all SEASPAR students and be convenient for Lisle residents. New programs will be added as interests develop.
Lisle Park District uses its Recreational Center for its popular preschool program, senior center, district office space and two multipurpose rooms. The SEASPAR space originally was earmarked for future growth. To the east are the Community Park Fitness Center and Sea Lion Aquatic Park.
"We won't have to get in a van and go somewhere," Friend said. "We are already here next door to a fine water and fitness center.
"The support and enthusiasm of Lisle has been overwhelming," Friend said. "We welcome feedback as we go forward."