Special needs young adults volunteer in community
Volunteers from Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association recently visited the nonprofit charity Phil's Friends to help send care packages and cards to cancer patients around the country.
The young adult volunteers with intellectual disabilities are part of a NEDSRA program called TREC that helps them transition into the community from their high school years. An acronym for Transition-aged Recreation Experiences and Community, TREC teaches life and social skills to young adults to help them learn about their communities, become self advocates, and have some fun.
Phil's Friends, started by two-time Hodgkin's Lymphoma cancer survivor Phil Zielke, is a Christian-based outreach program located in Roselle. Realizing the need for a support system for cancer patients, Zielke designed a program of sending individually designed care packages for men, women and children with cancer. Donated items like playing cards, blankets, slippers, hand lotions and other toiletries are packed in boxes designed and decorated by volunteers. Once the care packages are sent, follow-up "caring cards" are sent weekly to patients to provide encouragement and hope.
"Over 300 care packages are sent each month and 4,500 care cards are sent every week," said Lauren Coleman, Phil's events coordinator. "The TREC group has been here multiple times helping to write cards and add colorful designs to our packages. These kids are a big help and we are happy they visit because they are very inspiring and love to laugh."
Individuals with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 35 can be part of the TREC group if they can function in a one-to-six staff ratio and be fairly independent. TREC meets at NEDSRA's offices in Addison or one of its 11 member partner offices. The group currently meets each week at the Wood Dale Park District, 111 Foster Ave., Wood Dale.
In addition to visiting Phil's Friends, TREC has performed other community services that include cleaning animal shelters, singing Christmas carols at senior centers, and packing boxes for local food pantries.
TREC staffer Michael Crawford said group members practice everyday skills needed to become independent adults when they meet.
"Every day, lunch is planned, shopped and prepared by the group. They learn how to look for coupons in the paper and shop for what is on sale. We like to teach responsibility so actions can be repeated at home," Crawford said.
A new skill being taught this year is sign language. A few participants already use basic sign language to get their point across. The staff is teaching signing to the entire TREC group to expose them to something new.
The group also discusses current events every Monday to learn about the world around them. One person picks a topic from the daily news and everyone participates so they are improving their communication skills.
To learn more about TREC, call Maggie Goode at (630) 620-4500.