A 'flood' of opportunities for Avenues to Independence

  • Avenues to Independence Executive Director Bob Okazaki salvages computers from the flood that devastated the Avenues to Independence office at 1841 Busse Hwy. in September 1986.

    Avenues to Independence Executive Director Bob Okazaki salvages computers from the flood that devastated the Avenues to Independence office at 1841 Busse Hwy. in September 1986. Courtesy of Ron Reeves

 
Laura Miles Lockwood
Updated 8/18/2016 6:41 PM

The mighty Des Plaines River experienced its greatest flood in September 1986. The river's crest inundated hundreds of acres of land along its banks in Cook and Lake counties, and left in its wake an estimated $35 million in damage to 10,000 dwellings and 263 business and industrial sites.

One of those dwellings was the home of Avenues to Independence, a social services agency, located at the time at 1841 Busse Hwy. in Des Plaines.

 

Founded in 1953, its mission had always been to support people with developmental disabilities. But in 1986, that nearly came to an end, as the flooding left behind damages of $500,000.

Executive Director Bob Okazaki recalls, "Thirty years ago this September, Avenues experienced the first of two floods. If not for the support of the community, we might not have been able to survive. We waded through the office, and thought there was no way we could recover from this. But we were a strong organization back then, and we were able to get through it. And when you look at where we are 30 years later, it's testimony to the people back then who worked really hard to overcome that major disaster for Avenues."

AT&T Pioneers help Avenues overcome disaster

"The waters eventually receded, volunteers and the community stepped up, and soon we were back in business," according to Bob. He credits the AT&T Pioneers from the former Teletype in Skokie, a volunteer network of AT&T retirees and employees, for their immediate action and generous support. Retired AT&T Pioneer Carl Heldmaier remembers getting approval to send two truckloads of needed supplies to Avenues; "It was the start of a relationship with Avenues that endures to this day -- 30 years later."

Bob credits the Pioneers for their "legacy of volunteering that few groups will ever be able to live up to as far as I'm concerned."

Community rallies to support

The Pioneers were just one of the many organizations that helped Avenues return to normal operations. Many individuals and foundations generously donated equipment, time and money, including Dale Kendrick, who held a fundraiser on Avenues' behalf at his Barnaby's Pizza Restaurant in Des Plaines. In the ensuing years, Dale has also become a good friend of Avenues, and continues to support the organization in many ways, including hiring Avenues' workers at his restaurant, and donating thousands of pizzas over the years for program participants.

Thanks to the AT&T Pioneers and other community support, Avenues is prepared to weather a lot more than floods in the future. According to Bob; "Avenues looks forward to another 63 years of serving adults with developmental disabilities in the community. "