Shady Oaks: A Home and Much More

Eye on LSSI, Winter 2012 (Download PDF Download PDF of entire publication)

William “Bill” Shroeder, 54, has lived at Shady Oaks for 17 years.Credit: Carlos Javier OrtizBathrooms often compete with kitchens when it comes to top priorities for home remodeling. In the fall, a tub room in one of two residential buildings at Shady Oaks in Homer Glen, a program of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), received a complete makeover, thanks to major gifts received from the Jonathan Goers Fund in LSSI’s Cornerstone Foundation, and Raymond and June Benson. Parents and guardians of the residents of Shady Oaks also contributed to this project. Complete with new cabinets, wallpaper and tile, the renovated space ensures this intermediate-care facility for adults with developmental disabilities continues to create a warm and welcoming home for its residents.

“The room was beginning to show its age and was gray and dull,” says Kristen Stockle, director of Shady Oaks. “Now, it’s cheerful and cozy, just like you’d expect the bathroom to be in your own house. Ensuring that our facility feels like a home mirrors how we feel about our residents and how we hope they view Shady Oaks.”

Personal photos and knickknacks distinguish every one of Shady Oaks’ two-bedroom living quarters and the unique individuals who inhabit them. In each room, residents’ favorite TV shows flicker on overhead sets. The tantalizing smells of meal preparations waft from the kitchen and throughout the residence. Clients, staff and visitors chat in the hallways, as one resident gives his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” In this group home that LSSI built and manages, a large extended family lives and works, and lovingly supports each other — residents and staff alike — as they make their way through life’s challenges and triumphs together.

“It’s a family-oriented place,” says Laterria Bass, a direct care aide. “I enjoy working with the residents with all their different personalities. And you can tell that the residents care about the staff. I was gone for a few months because of a car accident. When I came back, they were really excited to see me.”

Building a Family

In 1994 and 1995, LSSI constructed two 16-bed residences on a 10-acre campus next to the Shady Oaks Camp for Individuals with Cerebral Palsy. The opening of Shady Oaks East and Shady Oaks West fulfilled a 20-plus-year dream of several parents who came together to ensure that their developmentally disabled children would have a place to live and thrive as they matured into adulthood. Providing not only housing, the facility also offers support, services and encouragement so that residents can live as independently as possible in a safe, non-institutional environment.

Shady Oaks accommodates up to 32 adults, currently ranging in age from 19 to 74. Many of the residents have cerebral palsy and rely on wheelchairs. Depending on the individual needs of clients, staff members help them with bathing, shaving, eating, dressing and dispensing medications. Additionally, they manage clients’ wheelchairs, communicative devices and other adaptive equipment. Residents have access to medical and therapeutic services from a broad spectrum of healthcare professionals who regularly provide care on site. Staff members also transport residents to medical specialists and other health care settings when necessary.

Shady Oaks residents work at Helping Hand, a day-training vocational program housed in the Evans Center on campus. Program residents are required by state regulations to participate in a day program or to work at least five hours per day, five days a week. Helping Hand tailors activities to each person’s abilities and interests. Programs can range from acquiring computer skills to participating in paid subcontracting work, such as assembly projects or paper shredding. Social outings and special interest clubs, as well as volunteering in the community, engage residents in life, learning and contributing — no matter their level of independence. And many, despite the difficulties their disabilities can present, work toward realizing tangible dreams and passions made possible by living at Shady Oaks.

Exploring Opportunities

“Oh, Cheryl, you are dressed so professionally today,” exclaims a Shady Oaks staff member to a young female client. Resident Cheryl Czepiel, 32, replies, “Yeah, I was volunteering, and now I am getting ready to go bowling.”

Cheryl grew up in Wheaton and found a home at Shady Oaks four years ago. “After my mom passed away, I moved around a lot and was even in some nursing homes.” Her father, whose house is not wheelchair accessible, lives down the street from Shady Oaks and thought the LSSI-operated facility would be a good place for Cheryl. She agrees. “There are only 16 of us in this building. I had lived in a place with more residents. I really didn’t like it. It was too much, too overwhelming.”

Like many of her fellow residents who are willing and able, Cheryl spends a good portion of her week, Monday through Friday, at Helping Hand. Striving toward individual goals, Cheryl enjoys working on the computer and earning a paycheck by recycling CDs or working on other subcontracting projects. She hopes to find a part-time job in the community, but first she needs to figure out what she’d like to do. Enter volunteering. Cheryl recently began helping out at nearby William E. Young Elementary School in Homer Glen, where she sorts books in the school library and assists the librarian with other duties.

When she’s not working or volunteering, Cheryl leads an active social life. She supplements her Shady Oaks outings by independently signing up for activities sponsored by nearby community special recreation programs. She appreciates the Shady Oaks staff for the freedom they give her.

“The staff is pretty cool,” says Cheryl. “They help me with my needs, take me wherever I want to go and let me do my own stuff.”

A Stepping Stone

Joining the Shady Oaks family in 2007 served as a major milestone for Chris Blogg. The now 37-year-old had only lived with his parents and two sisters in Peotone until Shady Oaks became his first home away from home. “I was a little nervous at first, just being on my own and away from my family,” he recalls. “But I visited Shady Oaks, liked it and moved in. The staff and the residents here sold me on the place.”

Resident Christopher Blogg with Shady Oaks staff person, Susan Wellbourn. Chris, who’s lived at Shady Oaks since 2007, says, “The staff and the residents here sold me on the place.” He hopes to eventually live on his own with some assistance. Credit: Carlos Javier OrtizA desire to become more independent prompted Chris to find Shady Oaks — a stepping stone he plans to use to eventually live on his own with some assistance. At Shady Oaks, Chris hones life skills that will help him make the transition. He has learned, for example, to make his own doctor’s appointments and figure out the intricacies of finding accessible transportation. He says, “That was one of the issues living at home. Our house was far from everything, and I had to rely on my family to get around.”

Until recently Chris had worked the front desk at the Orland Park Park District office, answering phones and helping visitors. Looking for a more challenging position, Chris hopes to find a part-time job that utilizes his computer skills. In the meantime, he, like Cheryl, volunteers in the community: He helps tutor elementary school children and enjoys attending social events with his Shady Oaks friends and others.

“Staying here won’t be permanent,” shares Chris. However, he knows wherever he ends up in his life’s journey, he’ll always have the support of his Shady Oaks family.

Living a Full Life

Michael Laird, 67, has a knack for entertaining. Every summer at the Shady Oaks Camp for people with disabilities, he opens and closes the “Mickey Laird Talent Show” by lip-synching his favorite Frank Sinatra songs. Bass shares, “He gave all the girls roses last year!”

A long-time Shady Oaks resident, Michael proudly completed his G.E.D. in his 50s. He has also enrolled in college courses online, using a special computer keyboard that Shady Oaks staff obtained for him. Although Michael uses a communication aid — a small, handheld board printed with words and the alphabet — to help people more clearly understand him, it doesn’t slow him down. He writes for Helping Hand’s newspaper and has a keen interest in politics.

Michael loves classical music, opera and theatre, and finds outlets for these passions through Shady Oaks social outings and amenities, including a computer in his room. Surrounded by supportive staff and residents, he has only positive words for Shady Oaks.

Carefully pointing out by hand individual letters and words on his communication board, Michael says, “Shady Oaks is the best.” Truly words well chosen for a place that has become a home and much more to its residents.

For more information on Shady Oaks, please visit www.LSSI.org or call 708/301-6870.